Debate Club: Fans as filmmakers

Debate Club: Best genre fans turned filmmakers

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Jul 18, 2018, 5:24 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Hello, fellow geeks and nerds. In this week's installment, we're giving props to the biggest movie fanatics who became some of our best genre filmmakers.

Sometimes, it seems like movie fandom has become a dirty word. Where once it meant you and your buddies obsessing over your favorite superhero film, James Bond movie or Star Wars installment, now it can be an ugly realm of petty turf wars, misogyny and comment-section vitriol.

Screw that: loving a particular movie or franchise ought to be one of life’s great pleasures, and so we'd like to spotlight how a pure love of cinema can be transformed into exciting, personal moviemaking.

The five directors we've selected are all passionate advocates for movies themselves. They're just as happy shouting-out their desert-island favorites as they are in talking about their own work. What connects these auteurs is a sense of being part of a larger tradition, drawing from the lessons of the past and bringing something fresh and new to the language of films.

Through their eyes, we fall in love with movies all over again...


J.J. Abrams

Abrams has been classified by some as the movies' greatest mimicry artist, but if you're going to steal, steal from the best. Abrams is a child of the age of Spielberg and Lucas, and there isn't a moment in any of his films where you can't see that same nerdy kid looking up at the screen in awe and wonder. Abrams brings a little bit of himself to each of his movies, but mostly, he sees movies as nostalgia factories, a place to recreate some of the most iconic films of his youth. Whether he's aping Spielberg in Super 8, rewiring old circuitry in Star Trek or channeling early Lucas with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams is a fan first: he knows why we watch.

Guillermo del Toro, double Oscars

Guillermo del Toro

A film nerd from an early age who geeked out over horror movies and special effects, del Toro has made Hollywood fandom seem like a religious calling. (After seeing The Exorcist as a boy, he ran out and bought Oscar-winning makeup artist Dick Smith's kit in a toy store.) Del Toro's career has been an experiment in merging the pulp pleasures of genre films with the sensitivity and emotional nuance of high art. Few filmmakers could make Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth and Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water — movies designed for different demographics but each appealing to audiences' love for intelligent, old-fashioned entertainment that can appeal equally to the eyes, heart and soul.

Rian Johnson Last Jedi premiere

Rian Johnson

Johnson's fandom approach to filmmaking was apparent long before Star Wars: The Last Jedi; his Brick is an ode to the classics of film noir, and Looper is a smart sci-fi actioner that has moments when characters seem to be talking directly to fans. (Remember Bruce Willis' nudge to not get too knotted up with time travel threads and timelines?) But of course The Last Jedi teems with the affection of someone who has seen these movies hundreds of times, specifically with its treatment of Luke Skywalker, digging down to the true essence of the character, as a peaceful and flawed philosopher, not a warrior.The Last Jedi delivers the big moments as well as readjusting the franchise — but more than anything, it's Johnson's love for this franchise that shines brightest.


Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino famously worked as a film store clerk before making his first movie, and his style has always jived with that original job: he's the guy in the back of the store, speed-riffing recommendations at you faster than you can follow. At first, this could seem like outright thievery — boy, are Reservoir Dogs and City on Fire similar — but Tarantino is such an inherently talented filmmaker that he always makes it his own. Tarantino is basically running alongside his movies, chattering on, "This is from John Woo! This is from John Ford!" The guy loves movies more than anything, and it's obvious in every frame.

Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright

Obsessively making short films in his youth, Edgar Wright has always been attracted to cinema's sleek, giddy thrills. Every one of his films is a salute to films themselves, starting with his 1995 Western spoof A Fistful of Fingers and continuing through his pillaging of the horror (Shaun of the Dead) and cop genres (Hot Fuzz). Wright's movies have their dark and somber moments, but at their heart they're about transmitting the auteur's pure enchantment directly to an audience, bombarding us with eye-popping visuals and killer, curated soundtracks. But Wright doesn't lord his film knowledge over us — he's like a friend trying to turn us on to Kurosawa or Romero. He makes cinephilia look fun and friendly — not the bastion of snobs or bullies.


Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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