With the recent success of films such as A Star Is Born, A Quiet Place, and Mid90s, this year’s American Film Market has been rife with productions featuring actors making their directorial debut. With the vast majority of film releases failing to make money, producers have become interested in having stars become directors, as their attachment to a film can still drive sales even from behind the camera, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
There are at least a dozen projects at AFM this year featuring stars who have become novice directors. Viggo Mortensen is directing the family drama, Falling, Adewale Akinnouye-Abaje is helming the Nigerian-set coming-of-age story, Farming, while two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is taking charge of Georgetown. Additional stars directing films for the first time include Chiwetel Ejiofor of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, Halle Berry for Bruised, Dev Patel of Monkey Man, and Charlie Day for El Tonto.
Many of the first-time directors are helping their own cause by accepting dual roles as both director and star of their own film. Mortensen, Patel, Waltz, and Berry will all star in their own film.
Endeavor Content partner Christine D’Souza Gelb explained the star-to-director trend by pointing to the success of this year’s films.
“It helps that two of this year’s strongest films have come from actors-turned-directors, namely Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born and Jonah Hill’s Mid90s,” she said.
“Films like A Star Is Born, A Quiet Place… these tangible success stories are excellent flag bearers,” said HanWay managing director Gabrielle Stewart. “We’ve sold first-time directors who aren’t actors, and it takes more convincing.”
Therein lies the hook, but films featuring stars as first-time directors have more than just audience curiosity going for them.
“They have contacts,” said Stewart. “They can cast their films, get below-line talent, and even get financing through personal relationships.”
“Things often go smoother on set with an actor-turned-director compared with other first-time directors. Actors have been on film sets all their lives. They know what’s involved in making a production work,” Jonathan Kier of Sierra Affinity, which picked up Halle Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised, added.
The trend toward films featuring stars-turned-directors comes at a moment of intense uncertainty in the independent film industry. According to Variety, the collapse of Global Road Entertainment and the reorganization of Annapurna have damaged the confidence of independent film producers, while the encroachment of Amazon and Netflix have threatened the future of traditional outlets.