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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.


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.


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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