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Forgotten, But Not Gone: 10 Directors Overshadowed By Their Collaborators

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By Stephen Saito

IFC News

[Photo: Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams on the set of “Cloverfield,” Paramount Pictures, 2008]

The next film Matt Reeves is planning to direct is called “The Invisible Woman,” but if he wanted to make it autobiographical, it could be called “The Invisible Director.” Following years of anonymity as a director despite one big screen helming credit (“The Pallbearer”) and a co-creator credit on the TV series “Felicity,” Reeves remains an enigma, even after his latest film, “Cloverfield,” broke box office records. That’s because his longtime friend and “Cloverfield” producer J.J. Abrams is getting most of the attention for the monster movie (though some tenacious bloggers like Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells have been valiantly trying to get Reeves his due). And Reeves isn’t alone in his unknown status. Rightly or wrongly, here are a few other directors whose work on beloved films has been forgotten in favor of the involvement of others.

“The Empire Strikes Back”

Directed by: Irvin Kershner

But everyone remembers: George Lucas

It may be one of the top grossing movies of all time, but can you name the director? It wasn’t George Lucas, who was so frustrated after directing “Star Wars” that he told The New York Times he would never direct again back in 1982. That opened the door to Lucas’ old USC professor Irvin Kershner to take the reins of the second Skywalker installment, though Kershner, who had previously directed smaller dramas like “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” turned the film down at first. Some speculate that it was Kershner’s experience with more intimate films that resulted in what is arguably the most beloved entry in the “Star Wars” saga, but casual fans still probably credit the film to Lucas. As for the director of “Return of the Jedi”? That was Richard Marquand, who told the Times that directing “Jedi” with Lucas was “like having George Bernard Shaw standing behind you while you direct one of his plays.”

“Clash of the Titans”

Directed by Desmond Davis

But everyone remembers: Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen should be known for many things, but directing the Grecian special effects extravaganza isn’t one of them. Of course, he did the stop-motion effects for the film, but in his capacity as producer, he hired journeyman director Desmond Davis to handle the helming duties. Even though a sun-soaked Harry Hamlin and Laurence Olivier were the names at the top of the marquee, it was Harryhausen who went on a month-long tour of colleges and museums to drum up audiences for the 1981 flick, leaving Davis a nice paycheck and not much else in terms of recognition.

“Poltergeist”

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

But everyone remembers: Steven Spielberg

The term “creative force” in filmmaking may have been around well before the 1980s, but it was popularized when Steven Spielberg produced but didn’t become the full-time director of “Poltergeist.” Instead, he gave that responsibility to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper. When “Poltergeist” was released, Spielberg insisted that he was the primary “creative force” behind the film since he had written and produced it, and Hooper didn’t seem to mind until the Directors Guild of America actually launched an investigation into who directed the 1982 supernatural thriller. Hooper’s directing credit was upheld, though actors such as Zelda Rubenstein later claimed that Spielberg did most of the directing on set.

“Pretty in Pink,” “Some Kind of Wonderful”

Directed by: Howard Deutch

But everyone remembers: John Hughes

Howard Deutch edited trailers for “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles” before John Hughes handed him the script for “Pretty in Pink.” Soon after, Hughes fired Martha Coolidge as the director of the next film he’d write and produce, “Some Kind of Wonderful” and replace her with Deutch. Yet, as Janet Maslin succinctly wrote in her 1987 New York Times review of the duo’s second collaboration, “That Mr. Hughes did not actually direct ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ is almost beside the point.” IMDb is quick to point out that Deutch holds the rare distinction of directing three sequels to films he didn’t direct, which is the definition of a hired gun, but at least he wasn’t firing blanks while working with Hughes.

“To Be or Not To Be” (1983)

Directed by Alan Johnson

But everyone remembers: Mel Brooks

If you look in your Mel Brooks DVD Collection, there’s anomaly amongst the eight films included in the boxed set — that would be “To Be Or Not to Be,” the remake of the Ernst Lubitsch classic that he produced and starred in, but did not direct. It would be the only time Brooks starred in someone else’s film, but at least it was a trusted somebody, since Brooks gave the opportunity to his longtime choreographer Alan Johnson, famous for staging the “Springtime for Hitler” number in “The Producers.” Most critics noted that the shot selection of the film was identical to the original, and Johnson went on to helm only one more film, the sci-fi “Solarbabies,” which was also produced by Brooks, before going back to choreography. Brooks, of course, was accused of being a svengali once again when the musical version of “The Producers” was directed by Susan Stroman.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Directed by: Henry Selick

But everyone remembers: Tim Burton

Tim Burton considers himself a patron of stop-motion animation, but the macabre maquettes that have been so identified with the director in fact are a product of another — Henry Selick, who helmed both “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach” under the auspices of Burton’s production banner. A reported falling out between Burton and Selick led to Selick striking out on his own and then simply striking out with the live action/animation hybrid “Monkeybone” before finding other patrons for his unique sensibilities, including Wes Anderson, who employed him on “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou,” and Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, who has rebuilt the Vinton animation studio around the historically underappreciated Selick.

“V for Vendetta”

Directed by: James McTeigue

But everyone remembers: The Wachowski brothers

The theory wasn’t that farfetched. Rather than face the massive expectations that would come with following up “The Matrix,” the notoriously reclusive Wachowski brothers would hire their protégé James McTeigue to serve as a front so the duo could work in peace out of the spotlight. The Wachowskis even took the unusual step of taking on the second unit directing duties. But similar to the torture suffered by the graphic novel’s lead heroine Evey, McTeigue survived the queries of hundreds of suspicious journalists to remain the bonafide director of “V for Vendetta.” Heck, in an interview with Cinema Confidential, it was revealed that the former assistant director to the Wachowskis and George Lucas even wrote a draft of the screenplay before the brothers did a final polish.

“The Last Kiss”

Directed by: Tony Goldwyn

But everyone remembers: Zach Braff

Can a mere soundtrack producer overshadow the film’s director? Apparently one can when the soundtrack producer in question is Zach Braff, who lent his music tastemaking and acting abilities to this 2006 romantic dramedy, but not his recently discovered skills as a director. After tapping into the zeitgeist of the under-30 crowd with his Shins-heavy directorial debut “Garden State,” Braff once again cobbled together a collection of Snow Patrol, Joshua Radin and Coldplay tracks to accompany his performance. Audiences weren’t completely fooled, since they gave the kiss off to “The Last Kiss,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knew Tony Goldwyn, the villain from “Ghost,” directed it.

“What Would Jesus Buy?”

Directed by: Rob VanAlkemade

But everyone remembers: Morgan Spurlock

When “What Would Jesus Buy?” made the rounds of the festival circuit last year, audiences could be forgiven for mistaking the documentary, with its snappy title and its ripe for humor subject matter, as Morgan Spurlock’s follow-up to “Super Size Me.” After all, Spurlock, who was the film’s producer, managed to do the lion’s share of interviews about Christmastime consumption as director Rob VanAlkemade sat on the sidelines. The film was an expansion of VanAlkemade’s award winning short “Preacher with an Unknown God,” but, despite the fact that the director did the heavy lifting, Spurlock proved he was bigger than “Jesus,” at least to those who cover the documentary world.

“Superbad”

Directed by: Greg Mottola

But everyone remembers: Judd Apatow

While audiences can expect to see the header “From the guy who brought you ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up'” on advertisements for a long time to come, Judd Apatow can’t possibly have time to direct every single film set to bear his name as a producer. Fortunately, he had a stable of directors from his short-lived TV series “Undeclared” to call on — an impressive group that includes Jon Favreau, future “Along Came Polly” director John Hamburg, “Super Troopers” director Jay Chandrasekhar and Jake Kasdan, who would go onto direct “Walk Hard” for Apatow. But for “Superbad,” Apatow chose Greg Mottola, who’d been helming television ever since “The Daytrippers” came and went in 1997. Granted, Mottola recently got the greenlight for his semi-autobiographical dramedy “Adventureland” on the strength of “Superbad,” but only indie fans probably recognize his name from “The Daytrippers.” “Pineapple Express” director David Gordon Green should prepare himself.

[Additional photos: “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1980; “Clash of the Titans,” MGM, 1981; “Pltergeist,” MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 1982; “Pretty in Pink,” Paramount Pictures, 1986; “To Be or Not to Be,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1983; “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Buena Vista Pictures, 1993; “V for Vendetta,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005; “The Last Kiss,” DreamWorks SKG, 2006; “What Would Jesus Buy?”, Warrior Poets Releasing, 2007; “Superbad,” Columbia Pictures, 2007]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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