Fifteen awesome film directors…What were their first feature films-?
Okay – so – a Pop-Quiz:
Can you name the first feature film made by each of these famous Directors listed below?
And – much more importantly – what was the common element? (i.e. – across, all of those first features)
(and, hey – no scrolling down and peeking…! )
- Sir Alfred Hitchcock
- Stanley Kubrick
- Martin Scorsese
- Sam Raimi
- Francis Ford Coppola
- George Lucas
- James Cameron
- Christopher Nolan
- Peter Jackson
- Steven Spielberg
- John Carpenter
- The Wachowskis
- David Lynch
- Kathryn Bigelow
- Shane Carruth
Okay – so here are the `quiz’ answers:
- Sir Alfred Hitchcock: #0 – (`Number 13’… this film was unfinished…) so – his #1 actually = `The Pleasure Garden’
- Stanley Kubrick – Fear and Desire
- Martin Scorsese – Boxcar Bertha
- Sam Raimi – The Evil Dead
- Francis Ford Coppola – Dementia-13
- George Lucas – THX-1138
- James Cameron – Piranha 2: The Spawning
- Christopher Nolan – Following
- Peter Jackson – Bad Taste
- John Carpenter – Dark Star
- The Wachowski’s – Bound
- Steven Spielberg – Duel
- David Lynch – Eraserhead
- Kathryn Bigelow – Near Dark
- Shane Carruth – Primer
And (drum-roll…) here is the common element across all of them:
Nah, just kidding, some of those films are actually terrific. (Well – in my humble opinion.)
For example, The Evil Dead is a top 20 RoI film – and a classic of the horror genre. Dark Star, Duel, Near Dark and Eraserhead are cult classics. Following and Bound are amazing films. Primer is a work of genius – and is also, probably, the most intelligent sci-fi/time-travel film ever made.
But – look more closely at all these films. What – if anything – do they share in common?
(1) They’re all genre films. (None of them is: a Drama.)
(2) They were all really cheap. i.e. Low-budget…
(3) Some of them are, actually, pretty crappy films. (Not suggesting I could do better.)
A brief, closer look at each film:
- Sir Alfred Hitchcock: #0 – (`Number 13′) [this film fell over – and wasn’t finished] so – feature film #1 (for him as Director… as he was originally a Production Designer) for Sir Alfred was the 1925 silent film – Pleasure Garden […Have you seen it? It’s no Vertigo, or Psycho… nor, North By Northwest. Yet – it has some classic Hitch memes, tropes, and moments. It’s also freely available to view on the interwebs.]
- Stanley Kubrick – Fear and Desire (Budget: $33,000 in 1953) [Kubrick – probably the `master’ of all cinema – actually withdrew this film, from circulation after it screened – as he admitted himself, it’s so bad.] Check out what he says about its creation, in this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa-KBqOFgDQ
And here it is:
And back to the list (sorry the numbers have restarted… maybe, mentally, add 2 to each of these numbers.)
- Martin Scorsese – Boxcar Bertha (Budget: $600,000 in 1972) made for the legendary Roger Corman.
- Sam Raimi – The Evil Dead (Budget: $375,000 in 1981), and financed from a very similar short film
- Francis Ford Coppola – Dementia-13 (Budget: $42,000 in 1963) and it ain’t no The Godfather
- George Lucas – THX-1138 (Budget: $777,777.77 in 1971) – and the result of a film school film lighting exercise.
- James Cameron – Piranha 2 (Budget: $145,786 in 1981) and – James Cameron was fired from it.
- Christopher Nolan – Following (Budget: $6,000 in 1998. Yes, $6,000 and, it’s brilliant. Have you seen it?)
- Peter Jackson – Bad Taste (Budget: NZ$30,000 or US$26,000 in 1987.) It’s no Lord Of The Rings.
- John Carpenter – Dark Star (Budget: $60,000 in 1974, and it’s no Halloween, though it sure is a lot like Alien (1979), as – Dan O’Bannon wrote both.)
- The Wachowskis – Bound (Budget: $6m in 1996. This is the `low-budget’ film Warners made the Wachowskis make, to show off their chops, before they were allowed to make The Matrix series. Important: it only made $3.8m in the US.)
- Steven Spielberg – Duel (Budget: $450,000 in 1971). This was a made for TV movie that later got a theatrical release.
- David Lynch – Eraserhead (Budget: $100,000 in 1977). The movie that Mel Brooks saw and made him want to hire Lynch, to direct The Elephant Man.
- Kathryn Bigelow – Near Dark (Budget: $5m, in 1987). Fascinating genre mashup of the Western, biker, and vampire genres. i.e. A classic creativity example of bisociation/combinatorial creativity/hybrid-genre movie.
- Shane Carruth – Primer (Budget: $7,000 in 2002). Also a top-20 RoI film.
Note just how many of these are horror-genre exploitation films. (Some of them might even be called “schlocky”)…
Note also – how many of the top 20 RoI films are Horror-genre films (i.e. 10 of them. Half of them.)
So – What does this mean?
Well – it implies that, most likely:
(1) Your first feature film is going to be: low-budget. (All investors are risk-averse. And – so should you be!)
(2) It’s also – probably – not going to win any Oscars. But – it may well become a cult film.
(3) It usually takes around 10 years to master any creative domain, e.g. say, directing films. Or, film screenwriting…
For more on all that, see: Creative Practice Theory.
I guess my main point here is that – with all of these amazing Directors, we all tend to remember their classic films, but – we (mostly) don’t know their first/early films.
Hey – and check out:
Taste of Cinema’s `The 24 Best Short Films of Famous Directors You Can Watch Online’
So – it’s a really fun exercise to pick your favourite Director, and then, go back and watch their first feature film, and also check what the production budget was.
Apart from how enjoyable it was to make, it was also – probably – a complete nightmare to make, i.e. not enough money; and probably took ages (Eraserhead took 4 years to shoot, on weekends, The Evil Dead took over a year); and they probably all totes busted-their-humps making it; and, it was likely a labour of love / passion / patience / persistence…
So – Your favourite Director – whoever they may be – is probably worthy of much more praise, than they will ever get…(!)
On the other hand, look at, how easy it is – comparatively – now – to make a film than back in the Olden Days. Nowadays, you can make a feature film (like, a proper movie) for $7,000 – and it can become a Top 20 RoI (highest Audience-Reach compared to Production-Budget) movie.
i.e. Three of the top 20 RoI movies did it. (Apparently, half the $15k budget of Paranormal Activity was spent on doing up the staircase in the house, and stuff).
Anyway – I think that’s: just utterly amazing.
– Comments always welcome.
See also: StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle
And – for detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:
StoryAlity #132 – The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)
And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:
StoryAlity #71 – On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication
Comments, always welcome.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.