We kick off with the director of Super 8, J.J. Abrams. Before winning over the hearts of millions as creator of Felicity, Alias and Lost, Abrams was just a boy trying to impress his parents. According to Abrams, he was only 7 years old when he made his first clay animation movie with his father's camera. By the time he was a teenager, he was already submitting his work to festivals. Super 8 sees the much-anticipated collaboration between Abrams and Steven Spielberg. Both filmmakers began their careers on the 8mm camera from which the movie takes its title.
M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan has made a career out of keeping secrets from his audience, for better or worse. The writer/director of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable has struggled to sustain his reputation with audiences in recent years. But he remains an enormously talented filmmaker. Growing up in Philadelphia (the location of nearly all his films), Shyamalan reportedly shot 45 home movies by the time he was 17! If you've stumbled upon the DVD extras to The Sixth Sense or Signs, you may have seen one of them. You can check one out here.
Next up, a filmmaker who began his career directing commercials and music videos (with an especially memorable one for the Beastie Boys). Before kick-starting the Jackass franchise, Jonze worked at a BMX store in Rockville, Maryland. The frantic tracking shot that begins Where the Wild Things Are is very similar to some of Jonze's first experiments with home movies. As a young man, he would attach his video camera to the sides of skateboards and bicycles, coupling the extreme stunt reels with Dirt, the bike magazine he helped create.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is the next entry on our list. The writer/director has amassed an impressive resume thus far in his career, including Boogie Nights and his most recent There Will Be Blood. The son of a Cleveland-based TV host, Anderson got his start shooting 8mm, home video and eventually 16mm cameras. The Stanley Kubrick aficionado learned early on how to wield a range of cameras. I only hope-that unlike his idol Kubrick, who produced relatively few films over a lengthy career-Anderson has many more movies to come.
Chris Nolan has reached a rare stratosphere in recent years. The man behind The Dark Knight and Inception is the most sought after director in Hollywood, with each of the aforementioned films grossing over $800 million worldwide. Perhaps it is a cross-cultural appeal that dates back to his childhood. Nolan grew up as a dual citizen of the U.S. and the U.K. Early on, at the age of seven, he discovered his father's 8mm camera and began making movies with action figures. Nolan developed his storytelling skills as a Lit. major in college. But credit is also due to his younger brother, Jonathan, a frequent collaborator on film scripts. The two siblings make quite a team.
Tim Burton's unique style and vision sets him apart, way apart...perhaps in his own universe. While I'm a huge fan of Beetlejuice and Batman Returns, I find his recent work somewhat tired and overplayed. But what do I know! Last year, Burton's Alice in Wonderland grossed nearly $1 billion dollars worldwide! The eccentric filmmaker has never been more popular. Early on, he was just a young boy from Burbank, immersed in science fiction, Vincent Price and classic horror, making stop-motion animation films on the ol' 8 mm camera.
Young Spielberg, like Young Indiana Jones, got his start as a boy scout. Using his father's movie camera, Spielberg made his first 8mm short film and earned his photography merit badge from his scout leader. By the age of 13, Spielberg had produced a 40-minute war film. And by age 16: a 140-minute sci-fi adventure. He charged 25 cents admission for the latter and earned a net profit of $1. Very humble beginnings for a director whose films have grossed a total of $8.5 billion worldwide. And what happened to Spielberg's old reels? Years ago, they were-in fact-given to a young J.J. Abrams to refurbish, after Spielberg saw Abrams' 8mm work at a film festival. It sounds like the beginnings of a super Super 8 club!
There seems to be a correlation: massively successful filmmakers, each getting their start with self-produced home movies. One does not get more massive than George Lucas. With an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion, Lucas is the most successful filmmaker of all time. However, Lucas found filmmaking relatively late. After a stint in his youth as a racecar driver, Lucas did not discover the camera until he was 19 years of age. If it wasn't for a near-fatal car accident, Lucas may have chosen a different career path. Let the creator of Star Wars be an example for aspiring filmmakers: it's never too late to pick up the camera!