Rumors of Hollywood’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. However, everything is upside down: The top-heavy old-guard studio dinosaurs bear the whiff of desperation, while the real power is bubbling up from below in the form of an inspired and mobilized creative class that’s more reliant on big ideas than big budgets. No one is who they seem: Writers are becoming directors, directors are becoming moguls, actors are becoming all of the above instead of lying around praying for a spin-off. And nothing is static: Partnerships want to be companies, companies want to be cultural movements, cultural movements want to fundamentally change the way we define entertainment. All this constructive chaos is being fueled by the fevered, risk-taking innovators who see tumult and transition as the time to pounce, to kick up dust rather than wait for it to settle. These bold thinkers have no time for sky-is-falling prognostication and no need for affirmation. They’re too busy working, building the future—because they know they have one.
The Creative Collectives
A group of iconoclastic writer-producer-director teams aren’t just subverting the system, they’re replacing it.
Last year’s Margin Call, the Oscar-nominated drama about the 2008 financial meltdown, was the first project developed by Before the Door—one of a new wave of production houses designed to curb Hollywood’s habit of chewing up and spitting out emerging talent. And it offers a nice bit of symmetry: After all, it was the movie industry’s own too-big-to-fail practices that made ambitious, tightly knit creative partnerships like theirs possible. “We arrived at the moment when studios started making fewer movies, but there were these new platforms to watch them on,” says Neal Dodson, who founded the company in 2008 with fellow Carnegie Mellon theater geeks Corey Moosa and Zachary Quinto. “People didn’t know how to make them at the right price, and we pretended that we did until we actually did.”
The same was true for other like-minded collectives. “DVD sales were plunging, the economy collapsed, financing sources dried up, and people who’d been producing for 20 years found it hard to make movies,” says Nick Spicer, one of the three UCLA-film-school grads who formed XYZ, also circa 2008. Their surprise Indonesian-language martial-arts hit The Raid: Redemption puts the lie to the notion that the term indie is a synonym for earnest, talky fare, and the company’s philosophy of tapping international talent and markets reflects the industry’s decentralization.
Meanwhile, Borderline Films, a Brooklyn-based three-headed hydra of NYU pals, is less about capitalizing on a world-is-flat economic Zeitgeist and more about creative checks and balances. Sean Durkin, who wrote and directed last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene; Antonio Campos, the director of the upcoming Simon Killer; and Josh Mond, who’s finishing the script for his directorial debut, are a package deal—when one directs, the other two produce, and they rotate roles as needed, as do their counterparts at Before the Door and XYZ. And if there was a time when studios would balk at this all-or-nothing philosophy, it has passed. “It took a while for people to get our system,” Campos says. “We had to prove it by doing it and having success with it.”
To ensure that this success continues, the collectives must learn to avoid the mistakes of their monolithic, hierarchical forebears. XYZ has around 20 projects in development—a fraction of what its studio-based equivalent might have—and Before the Door has a graphic-novel division. “It really is instinct, knowing the moment to escalate the company,” says Quinto, whose responsibilities are a welcome counterpoint to donning Vulcan ears every few years. “We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves, we have solid work behind us and projects we believe in.”
Before The Door
Corey Moosa, 34; Zachary Quinto, 35; Neal Dodson, 34
Credit check: Margin Call, All Is Lost, The Jones/Havemeyer Wedding
Origin story: Quinto and Dodson knew each other as teenagers in Pennsylvania; all three were friends in the drama program at Carnegie Mellon