According to a recent article in Variety, the hands-on experience that effects supervisors have gotten while working on big films with major directors has helped them move from, as Variety puts it, "behind the computer screen right into the director's chair." Don't get me wrong, I realize supervising visual effects means you're managing a large team of people towards a single vision. And yes, that's a part of directing. But really, one of the most important things about directing is being able to tell a story and work with actors. I don't know about you, but most of the visual effects people I know have a pretty hard time talking about anything that doesn't happen on Battlestar Galactica or South Park so I fear their communication skills may be lacking in some areas.
Again, there are always exceptions. I'm sure some visual effects supervisors are fine communicators and able to manage their teams effectively -- or how else would they ever get any work done? But should they be given the chance to play in the show when there are so many actual directors with proven talent and success going without work? I have a hard time thinking that's a good thing. In the article, Variety discusses some of the current crop of visual effects supervisors-turned directors like Gore Verbinski, Andrew Adamson and Stefen Fangmeier who all have effects backgrounds and who are all now directing major Hollywood films. And in some cases -- especially with Verbinski and The Pirate's of the Caribbean franchise -- the promotion to director has been a huge financial success. But does financial success mean the movies they made were any good -- or just that they sold a lot of tickets? I think the latter. After all, Verbinski did make The Weather Man -- not a big hit critically or commercially.
The financial success of some of these films has, however, paved the way for more visual effects masters, like John Dykstra and Eric Brevig, who are both in the process of preparing their feature film directing debuts. Still, I have to wonder if this trend is a good one -- which leads me back to the source of my confusion. Certainly someone like John Dykstra, who practically invented modern visual effects, deserves a chance at a movie of his own. He's paid his dues and has the Oscars to show for it. But these other guys seem like much more of a gamble. Even if it pays off in some cases, there are also the times when it won't -- and I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. After all, look what happened to the Halo movie and its director Neill Blomkamp -- a man with a less-than-stunning visual effects background but virtually no directing experience. Gone before it really even got started.
Maybe instead of jumping right in and directing a huge "tentpole" film right out of the gate, they should start with something smaller? You know, learning to walk before they can run? Let them get some actual directing experience on a set and finish a movie -- then they can go out and direct a bigger one. That's how it used to work. Look at some of the most successful directors working today -- Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, Jackson -- they all started out making much smaller films before they ever got the chance to make Jaws, Star Wars, Titanic or The Lord of the Rings. I think Andrew Adamson puts it best in the article when he says: "The danger is to lean into the visual mastery you already have, but what you need are story and characters to make a great movie. It's kind of a cliche that it's about storytelling and characters, but it's a cliche for a reason: It's a cliche because it's true." Smart man.