The studio system is long gone and as the Hollywood powerhouses reign supreme over the box office, smaller production companies fall by the way side. Yet innovative filmmakers are currently redefining the industry and creating powerful companies of their own, ones which could change cinema for the better as well as possibly competing with these Hollywood heavyweights in the future.
Due to Pixar’s success as a family orientated studio from the mid 90’s onwards, others are catching on to this ultra collaborative notion. Pixar has a large but focused family of filmmakers which work together to produce perfect movies. We’ve all seen glimpses inside the studio with its fuss ball tables and arcade games; they promote creativity and work together for the greater good. There are no egos at Pixar just a unit pushing forward as a team.
Here’s a look at some promising and quite successful production companies that are too pushing the collaborative process, going the Pixar way and making a difference in the current film climate. You’ve all enjoyed their films, now let’s look at the team behind them…
Bad Robot Productions
Main Players: J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk
Regulars: Kurtzman & Orci, Damon Lindelof, Michael Giacchino
Major Movies: MI3, Cloverfield, Star Trek, Super 8
Future Films: Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, the untitled Star Trek sequel
Before J.J. Abrams decided to try his hand at feature films, he was the Godfather of American TV, the likes of Alias and Lost ruling the small screen. His company Bad Robot produced them and then the films which followed. Abrams knows storytelling and he knows the art of mystery. His marketing campaigns and teaser trailers have become legendary; the guy knows how to wet our geek appetites.
His company makes Hollywood blockbusters yet not your typical Transformers or Big Momma’s House sequels; no he understands narrative and throws style in with the substance. Maybe not a studio actually fighting the system but one which puts most box office hits to shame, Bad Robot can be seen as a company slowly overtaking many of its rivals by simply making great cinema. Abrams has already rebooted two laughable franchises and made them cool again and we can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with the rest of the decade.
Main players: Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan & Quentin Tarantino
Regulars: Danny Trejo, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jeff Fahey
Major movies: Sin City, the Grindhouse movies, Predators, Machete.
Future films: Possibly Sin City 2, Machete sequels and Madman
Although to date mostly hit and miss, Troublemaker Studio’s are very promising for their determination to please a certain Grindhouse cinema niche and at this point doesn’t seem too overly concerned if there films make any money! Based in Austin, Texas, the films are made with heavy green screen and can be as extreme and outrageous as Rodriguez and his winning team deep in the desolate desert want.
Their B-movie slant of action/fantasy has a cultish edge, yet with the likes of Sin City we can see what mainstream success they can find when Rodriguez bases his films on a great story already in print rather than coming up with his own. What makes Troublemaker Studios so juicy though is how they’re able to challenge Hollywood yet on a smaller budget and on their own terms; they craft almost a genre of their own, as you can tell a Troublemaker film with Rodriguez’s imprint being inescapable.
Main Players: Kevin Feige & Avi Arad
Regulars: Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L Jackson, Clark Gregg
Major Movies: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America
Future Films: The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Ant-Man and Dr Strange
I’m not a comic book fan in the slightest yet what I have seen of Marvel’s independent films so far has been glimpses of greatness, mainly in Jon Favreau’s endlessly entertaining Iron Man and this year’s surprise hit; Captain America. These Marvel comic book adaptations may still be weighed down by anxious producers’ input and money is very much the main goal here, yet the world they are creating is quite inspiring and where they want to go with this notion of a universe spread across multiple films, well it’s unique and highly promising. The Avengers next May just feels like the beginning.
Different directors have tackled each of the Marvel superheroes with differing results, yet the actors remain throughout each film. Samuel L Jackson for one must be loving this system, what a deal he’s made, a cameo here, a cameo there and guaranteed money every year for little work. These big Hollywood films may be bringing in the benjamin’s and appealing to fanboys worldwide, but what’s intriguing me is the talks of these smaller films such as Ant-Man and Dr Strange in the pipeline. They are hoping to push the Marvel Studios name to give us stories in more unusual genres and with non-mainstream characters.
I have little hope that next year’s The Avengers will live up to the hype or that these inevitable sequels will go on to critical acclaim, but with smaller characters getting a voice, and with a universe being developed, exciting times are surely ahead.
Big Talk Productions
Main Players: Edgar Wright and Nira Park
Regulars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rafe Spall, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy
Major Movies: Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Paul and Attack The Block
Future Films: Sightseers (directed by Kill List’s Ben Wheatley), The World’s End, Ant-Man.
Edgar Wright is not the founder of this company, though his success has certainly helped the company as a whole. He is a director at the top of his game and now he’s dipping his foot into producing with Spaced and long time collaborator Nira Park (the founder).
Big Talk Productions collaborate with a whole range of filmmakers, but always come back to the same regulars, a tight knit community of those which have worked so well together in the past. Everyone knows of the relationship between Wright and Pegg, between Pegg and Frost. This family ideal works wonders over at Big Talk and even with Wright not helming a project, the same actors are involved (Nick Frost stars in Attack The Block). Obviously Wright’s films are the breadwinners here and they haven’t hit gold just yet without Wright’s stylised direction, but they have been close with this year’s Paul and Attack The Block. If Wright continues to shine, and up-and-coming British directors work under his guidance (Wheatley is next), well the future will most certainly be bright for this home grown company.
Main Players: Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson
Regulars: Adam McKay & Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel, Paul Koechner, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Evan Goldberg, I could go on.
Major Movies: Anchorman, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Funny People, Bridesmaids
Future Films: Wanderlust, This Is Forty, The Five-Year Engagement
Most definitely not a studio, there is no base in deepest Texas yet, but Judd Apatow, the new king of comedy does work to the same notion. His very large and impressive résumé boasts countless number of memorable collaborations with talented actors that keep coming back again and again to work with his ‘sweet and sour’ concepts, much like John Hughes had done in the 80′s. In many ways Apatow created this generation. The likes of Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco, John Francis Daley (who most recently co-wrote Horrible Bosses) and Lizzy Caplan were all spotted by Apatow and brought together as part of his Freaks & Geeks cast.
He saw comedy gold in Steve Carell and Paul Rudd whose careers weren’t going anywhere and started them on their way onto becoming two of the biggest comedy box office stars of their generation when he cast them in Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin. He gave Kristin Wiig the platform to perform as a leading lady/writer/producer (Bridesmaids). We could go on and on and on.
Apatow is a genre, a brand, the comedy styling’s of Stiller and the likes of Sandler with his laughable Happy Madison house of horrors, well they just don’t come close. Apatow is carving classic cinema by reworking a tried and tested filming style over and over again. He uses improv and weaves narratives out of genuine heart and laugh out loud humour.
Warp Films (and Warp X)
Main players: Shane Meadows, Paddy Considine
Regulars: Richard Ayoade, Chris Morris, Paul King
Major movies: This Is England franchise, Four Lions, Submarine, Tyrannosaur
Future films: well TV – This Is England 88’
Who are these people, you may be asking? Well they are a company based in Northern England who are steadily but surely crafting indie hit after hit, films with critical acclaim and real resonance. This year’s Tyrannosaur by Paddy Considine was a gripping drama made on a shoe string budget and in 2010 they brought us Four Lions and Submarine, not a bad first few years right?
Working with some of Britain’s most promising talents (Meadows, Ayoade) this company are quickly on their way to challenging bigger British companies in the box office stakes. If there were more companies like Warp Films, then Britain would be safely competing with Hollywood’s output hands down. A quaint but motivated team, channelling the Northern ethics, the Northern way, this company won’t be found on every internet ad or on every billboard; no they are quietly and assuredly progressing in this industry, another one to look out for, the North isn’t looking so grim anymore is it.
Plan B Entertainment
Main players: Brad Pitt, Brad Grey
Regulars: Andrew Dominik
Major Movies: The Departed, Kick-Ass, The Tree Of Life
Future films: Cogan’s Trade, World War Z, Twelve Years A Slave
So yeah, Brad Pitt is not happy just being one of the most talented and innovative actors of our time, he’s now turned his hand to producing. In interviews Pitt passionately talks of his love for cinema and how he chooses projects he thinks will stand the test of time, unfortunately he’s sworn never to direct, but as producer he is bringing his true cinematic wealth to a saturated market. The movies he puts his name to are challenging, anti-establishment and push boundaries.
Pitt has the passion and wits to back more controversial or underrated directors he believes in. He has become a regular colleague of Andrew Dominik’s (The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) and they’re currently shooting next year’s Cogan’s Trade. Not only a challenging actor but a man who understands cinema and using his powers to further improving the industry. Man crush much!
Main Players: Andrew MacDonald, Duncan Kenworthy, Alex Garland
Regulars: Danny Boyle, Kevin MacDonald, Anthony Don Mantle, Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy
Major movies: Sunshine, The Last King Of Scotland, the 28 Days Later franchise
Future films: Dredd
DNA Films has quietly being going about its business for the best part of the noughties, the British company that works with such home grown talents as the MacDonalds, Mr Danny Boyle and the exceptional writer Alex Garland has become somewhat of a little community, working together on projects to capitalise on the success. One of the best Britain’s got to offer they’ve yet to exactly compete with their cousins across the Atlantic, but they are steadily growing.
Next year’s Dredd hopes to be their biggest success yet, a gamble by no means, everyone seems to expect failure, but they are fully going for it and full credit to them. Just to add; is Dredd the first British superhero movie; I think it may just be?
Main players: Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor
Regulars: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Andy Serkis
Major movies: The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, King Kong, District 9, Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tintin
Future films: The Hobbit films
As film geeks we all bow before the legendary WETA, the company that makes the impossible possible, the company that made all those little Orcs and Uruk-hai come to life in Mordor, made the magical world of Avatar so mesmerising with all those sparkly creatures and breathing plants, Pandora is just a treat, and of course made a pirate ship sail across a desert. WETA, Peter Jackson’s brainchild, a place literally where dreams come true has revolutionized special effects and made these Hollywood mammoths not only believable, but enthralling.
The fantasy film has come a long way since the early 90s and special effects which seemed unreachable are now a reality, the team over at New Zealand are currently perfecting films most controversial technology, that being 3D, and the footage we’ve seen so far has us begging for more, if anyone can make 3D worth the extra admission fee then its Jackson and his team. It’s also worth mentioning Mr Andy Serkis, a kind of underrated thespian, this guy has been a major part of WETA, an actor who has mastered mo-cap and been a part of their major successes, a filmmaker to watch out for in the coming years.
Pixar Animation Studios
Main Players: John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Regulars: Way too many to mention!
Major Movies: the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., WALL-E, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up
Future Films: Brave and Monsters University
…and getting back to the studio which started this all and a resurgence in the studio system, one which has worked wonders for them ever since Toy Story came onto our screens in 1995 to shock and awe us all, it was love at first sight. The company which were helped largely by the saint Mr Steve Jobs, are now at the forefront of the animation world, each of their releases has become an event in itself, and although they did stumble slightly with the Cars franchise they have had an unbeatable reign over both critics and the box office. The likes of Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story trilogy are just a delight and the passion which each filmmaker over at Pixar has placed into each project hasn’t gone unnoticed. They are the true film family and as they push the movie going experience forward with each new year, they look set to continue on their winning streak well on into the future.
This article was first posted on November 14, 2011