Most directors want one single thing: total control. That’s what makes them want to direct in the first place. But while there’s infamous control freaks like Stanley Kubrick and Alejandro González Iñárritu, some take this to another level by writing, producing, editing and shooting their own film, all in the name of upholding their vision.
With writer, director and cinematographer Warwick Thornton’s latest film Sweet Country now in cinemas, I thought I’d shine a spotlight on those that have pursued creative control and produced phenomenal work in the process. To these directors, we salute.
Shane Carruth produced, wrote, edited, composed and even starred in his directorial debut Primer (2004) – a time travelling masterpiece made on a shoestring budget of $7,000. His next experimental science-fiction effort Upstream Colour (2013) saw him do it again, only this time he added cinematography to his filmmaking duties.
If you haven’t heard of Carruth or his exploits, Primer explores some of the most realistic possibilities of time travel, while Upstream Colour is… a complicated tale that’s difficult to explain.
Carruth is arguably the master of modern experimental film, and has been described by director Steven Soderbergh as the illegitimate offspring of David Lynch and James Cameron. His next film The Modern Ocean is set to add to his impressive filmography, with stars such as Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves and Daniel Radcliffe on board, but let’s hope he can get the job done – the project has been in pre-production since 2015.
One of my favourite directors in recent years, Matt Johnson is an eccentric, comedic filmmaker whose skills can be meticulous at one moment, then completely improvisational at the next. Like Carruth’s Primer, Johnson’s first film The Dirties was made on a microscopic budget, but instead of scifi, Johnson went into mockumentary territory, with a script that was almost entirely adlibbed (only key plot points were drafted beforehand).
Johnson produced, wrote, edited and acted in the film, with the latter allowing him to steer each interaction to his will. He continued this formula in his next film Operational Avalanche and his recent TV series Nirvanna the Band the Show, which works perfectly as a canvas for him to run riot with his Borat style of humour. I can’t recommend his work enough; he’s made some of the funniest films of the past 5 years.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Time for someone more mainstream. Paul Thomas Anderson, the multitasking master, is a name synonymous with high standards of filmmaking. He has produced, written and directed 6 films in the last 20 years, from stories of the golden age of 70s porn, to the epic heights of the oil rush in colonial America. His hunt for control was nearly extinguished with his debut Hard Eight, as although it was critically successful, it wasn’t faithful to his vision. To release his original cut of the film, he had to rename it and raise additional funding to complete it. Thankfully, he had A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly on his side, and from that point on, a genius was born. His next film Phantom Thread is available in Australian cinemas soon.
Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018