Why do not so successful directors keep getting second chances in Hollywood?

Just curious. Why do directors who have not had a successful movie in quite some time, like M. Night Shyamalan, keep getting people to give them tens to hundreds of million of dollars to direct? Is the pool of major motion picture directors really that small?

Because you’re talking about two different talents. The fact that their first movie sucked may be proof that they don’t have a talent for directing movies. But the fact that their first movie got made shows that they do have the talent for convincing people to finance their movies.

Despite any “poor quality” of films, money is still made, and that’s what counts.

Since Shyamalan was used as an example, I’ll go with his movies:
Movie Title: (gross world-wide box office - budget including marketing)
Sixth Sense: +$608 mil
Unbreakable: +$175 mil
Signs: +$297.5 mil
The Village: +$144 mil
Lady in the Water: -$2.3 mil
The Happening: +$103 mil

So overall, Shyamalan has made his studios over $1.3 billion, even with some poor reviews and one true dud. (Not even including DVD sales and rentals.)

Yes Shyamalan isn’t a good example. While his last three films have been critical duds, two of them have been reasonably successful financially. And his next film will probably be promoted as part of the Avatar: Last Airbender franchise rather than a Shyamalan film.
Actually I can’t think of any director who continues to receive big budgets after making a series of flops.

Uwe Boll comes to mind. However, I have zero desire to look up his financial track record. I do know that he uses his own production company and exploits German tax law incentives for making films.

A director with as many years in the business as Shyamalan is going to have contacts and friends who will be willing to give him work even after a string of flops because they like him and his fee for directing will suddenly be a lot lower.

Heck, people kept investing in Ed Wood’s films? WHY?

A slight nitpick, though your point that profit is a major consideration in selecting directors is still valid. Gross box office does not equal studio profit. From gross box office comes distribution costs and the theaters’ take, plus marketing and production costs. I’m not sure what the average studio net is but I’d be surprised if it’s as much as 25% of gross receipts, and then taxes have to be paid on that. So it’s entirely possible that a movie grossing 200 million dollars may net the studio no more than 25 to 30 million dollars after subtracting all costs and taxes.

I probably should have said he “grossed” the studios the given figure.

The thought process of studios handing out directing jobs is obscure and then some. It’s not just directors with a track record. Consider “Catwoman”, from a recent article at Box Office Prophets:

“Warner Bros. handed directorial duties to Pitof. … The only movie Pitof directed prior to Catwoman was Dark Portals, a French language sci-fi flick. To recap for those playing along at home, the brilliant minds at WB placed a $100 million movie in the hands of a one-named Frenchman with a solitary prior credit, scant experience working on an English language set, and zero experience directing with a big budget.”

My take is that studios consider people such as directors as interchangeable. One is just as good as another. As long as you can put the required number of scenes on film in the allotted amount of time, you’re a director. Quality is not something to lose sleep over.

Another factor is that income alone is not the main figure a studio, or any other business, will be looking at. They want to know about the return on their investment.

A movie with a $100,000,000 budget that earns $125,000,000 earns a 25 cent profit on every dollar that was invested in it. But a $5,000,000 that earns $10,000,000 earns a one dollar profit for every dollar that was invested. Studios are businesses - they don’t think in units of movies; they think in units of money. Money invested that made a 100% profit is better than money invested that made a 25% profit.

Except, this is what a lot of people point out why the studios are not run like real businesses. The execs love the big tentpole movies. They really would rather make 25% profit on a big film than 100% profit on a string of small films. These are ego-driven enterprises. A huge film with a small profit counts a lot on a resume.

Gary, where are you getting your figures for “budget/marketing”? It’s easy enough to find the box office grosses, but I’ve always been under the impression the true cost of making and distributing a movie is something studios like to keep under wraps to make their “creative accounting” easier. There are estimates of course but I want to know if you have an accurate source.

Robert Altman had the answer. He had a long list of critical successes but commercial flops over the years, yet still was able to work regularly. When asked about it, he said that producers would think, “Well, this was the guy who made MAS*H.”

In other words, Altman had one smash hit, so producers would think that maybe he could do it again*. M. Night Shamalayan is in exactly the same position: one monster hit and several much weaker films. So producers think, “This is the guy who did Sixth Sense” and hope to catch lightning in a bottle again.

*Altman was also able to get along on relatively low budgets and pay actors well below normal because they wanted to work with him.

I went to the-numbers.com. Not all the figures they gave had marketing, and some were estimates. The point is that Shyamalan isn’t some movie-money sink-hole.
Real money-losing directors don’t get to keep making big films, only you don’t notice.

Huh? Wasn’t he the guy who directed that Depardieu movie about a Napoleonic era French detective?

Cos that one was pretty nice.

That was the science fiction/thriller/detective movie alluded to above.

It’s always a crapshoot. There is no way of telling if a director will make a good film or a bad one. You sometimes just have to take a chance and see.

Even a great director making a great film may have it be a box office flop. And sometimes an unknown director can direct a blockbuster.

Another factor, of course, is schmoozing. If the director is a friend of the producer, he may get directing gigs when some better known or more successful talent decides not to work on the film. If you have everything in place but the director and need to start shooting in two months, then you call your old pal and have him do the job.

In the case of Catwoman, the script was certainly to blame. The WGA shows three people working on the story (two of them a writing team*) and another person brought in for the screenplay. That’s not a sign of a good screenplay.

*Key to understanding WGA credits: “and” indicates one person wrote the script and the second person rewrote it. “&” indicates two or more people worked on it together. Thus, “Written by Joe Screenwriter and Mary Hack & Tom Writer” means Joe Screenwriter wrote the first script, while Mary and Tom worked together revising it.

The writing credit on a movie is determined by a WGA arbitration process. If the credit is contested - it usually is because getting a credit means more money and prestige for future deals - a committee of writers goes over the claims, the drafts and revisions and makes a decision.


It’s not unusual for a script to have 10 or even more writers working on it, with only one or two writers being awarded the credit. Uncredited script doctors like Carrie Fisher (yeah, her) are routinely brought in to punch up a script before it starts shooting. Anyone with a power position - stars, director, executives, can demand script changes, typically executed by their favorite screenwriter of the moment. End result, five or six writers and a mess of a script, which has to be shot as is because the production schedule’s been set, the stars and director have committed, and the studio needs product for its upcoming season.



Woody Allen said a few years back that he wasn’t sure why he kept getting money to make movies since most of them lose money.