10 Indie Screenwriters And Directors Who Prove TV’s Still Not Better Than Film
It’s a common refrain these days for people to claim “TV’s so much better than film”. Being a die hard film fanatic I would have to disagree. And in this article I’d like to champion 10 indie screenwriters and directors who prove that film in the 21st century is not all about cartoons, robots and superheroes. Great films are still being made by great screenwriters and directors. You might just have to look a little harder to find them.
In looking at these top 10 writers and directors, I’m going to eschew the obvious choice indie darlings, such as Noah Baumbach, the Duplass Brothers, Gus Van Sant or Richard Linklater (Everybody wants some) who, with his 2014 monster hit, Boyhood, became practically a household name. Instead, I’m going to take the opportunity to highlight some of my personal favorite movie writers and directors currently blazing a trail slightly under the radar of the average TV fan. So, let’s dive on in.
1. Shawn Christensen
Shawn had been quietly knocking out serviceable horror/thriller movies such as Abduction and Enter Nowhere for a few years before he really blew me out the water with his 2014 movie Before I Disappear. What a great little comedy drama this is. The movie is an expanded version of a short he made called Curfew about a suicidal young man who’s forced to look after his estranged sister’s daughter for the night. It’s almost flawless and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
2. Jeremy Saulnier
Judging from 2007’s Murder Party I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how accomplished a filmmaker Jeremy was to become. Blue Ruin, a quirky crime thriller about a guy who returns to his childhood home to get revenge on the murderers of his parents, had critics all in a spin and was one of my top five movies of 2013. His latest, another high tension thriller called Green Room, is almost as good.
3. Amy Berg
Amy is a documentary filmmaker, most widely known for her devastating expose of the Arkansas police department’s handling of the West Memphis Three — three boys wrongly accused of murdering three other boys in a satanic ritual. Following West of Memphis, she went on to direct the feature film Every Secret Thing, before returning to form with some fantastic documentaries on sex abuse in Hollywood, cult leader Warren Jeffs, and Janis Joplin.
4. Justin Lader
After a couple of short films, Justin came to my attention with the quirky relationship movie he wrote called The One I Love. To me, this is just a beautiful film. Starring indie stalwart Mark Duplass alongside Elisabeth Moss, the movie tracks the bizarre trajectory of their relationship after they move into a secluded vacation home in the country. They’re the only two characters in a film which mixes drama, romance, comedy and science fiction in a self-contained, brilliantly original 90 minutes.
5. James C. Strouse
James is one of the most consistently brilliant writer directors on this list. Lonesome Jim, Grace is Gone, The Winning Season, People Places Things are all expertly crafted, touching movies. The Winning Season is probably the best place to start for the uninitiated as it stars Sam Rockwell in a hilarious yet bittersweet tale about a washed up guy who’s asked to coach a girl’s basketball team. But then I would say that as Sam’s probably my favorite working actor right now.
6. Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling
Zal and Brit have together been responsible for two of the most original and captivating and movies of the past decade — The Sound Of My Voice and The East. Specializing in drama, thriller and science fiction, the pair really know how to get audiences thinking long after leaving the movie theater. Another Earth, co-written by Brit and Mike Cahill is another gem. Side note: The Keeping Room starring Brit Marling, is of course a Furious Cinema favorite.
7. Lynn Shelton
Humpday, a movie about male bonding gone wrong, is one of my favorite indie comedies of all time. It’s about an uptight husband who receives a visit from off-the-wall buddy who somehow manages to convince him they should shoot a gay porno. To me she’s never quite been able to recapture the magic of this film with later efforts such as Your Sister’s Sister, Touchy Feely or the movie she directed in 2014, Laggies. Nevertheless, she’s definitely up there as one of the best indie writer directors out there.
8. Patrick Brice
In Patrick’s 2014 horror, Creep, he stars himself as an unsuspecting videographer lured to the house of a weird guy via a Craigslist ad for a one day job. Great though this little two-hander shocker is, it’s with his next film, The Overnight, in which he really won me over. This time he lightens up and plunges LA newcomers Adam Scott and his wife into a strangest night of their lives as they visit new acquaintance Jason Schwartzman at his home in the Hollywood hills…
9. Edward Burns
The main inspiration behind Ed’s work is of course Woody Allen. All his movies share a similar sensibility and, like Woody’s, also focus on the amusing problems surrounding familial and romantic relationships. The difference is, Ed’s films are mainly set in and around the working class Irish neighborhoods of Boston, while Woody’s are mostly set in the upper class neighborhoods of New York. And Ed doesn’t use jazz in the soundtrack, but that’s about it. Ed is a must-see writer/director if you’re in any way a fan of Woody Allen.
10. Mike White
Most people have seen the Jack Black hit, School Of Rock, but I doubt most people who claim “The best writers are all in TV nowadays” also know that Mike was the writer behind indie classics, Orange County, The Good Girl and Year Of The Dog. Even from his first ultra low budget feature, Chuck & Buck it was obvious we’re in the company of a distinctly original talent, and while Mike also writes for TV, I personally think his best work is in film.
Is TV better than film? It’s a purely subjective question of course, but to me these 10 indie screenwriters and directors prove that filmmaking is far from dead as many people proclaim. In fact, this article could’ve gone on to include many more writer/directors such as Debra Granik, Colin Trevorrow, Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff), Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), Michael Showalter, Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines), Alex Holdridge, Kenneth Lonergan, Miranda July, Tom McCarthy, Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), David Gordon Green, Jennifer Chambers Lynch, Adam Wingard, James Ward Byrkit, Craig Johnson and more. In the end, I guess it all comes down to personal taste, but I know what I’d rather watch given the choice of a movie or a TV show. Especially if that movie is by one of the guys listed in this article. Film’s not dead if you know where to look.