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'Thor' director on working in Hollywood: 'I’m still indie at heart'

Taika Waititi has premiered four films at Sundance. He directed 2017's "Thor: Ragnarok."
Taika Waititi has premiered four films at Sundance. He directed 2017's "Thor: Ragnarok."
Amy Iverson, Deseret News

PARK CITY —The Sundance Film Festival can often lead to huge breaks for actors and directors, and on Friday afternoon, Sundance hosted three festival veteran directors who have gotten some of the biggest breaks in the business.

At the panel discussion "Power of Story: Indies Go Hollywood," directors Catherine Hardwicke, Taika Waititi and Justin Lin spoke about the challenges and joys of making the transition from independent films to directing major Hollywood blockbusters.

Before taking the stage at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Hardwicke spoke to the Deseret News about the impact Sundance has had on her career. Hardwicke’s film "Thirteen” premiered at Sundance in 2003, and she went on to direct the first movie in the mega-popular Twilight series in 2008.

“It was just my dream to make a movie that would get into (the) Sundance dramatic competition,” she said. “And we did it with 'Thirteen' and then we won the Director’s Award, and so at that moment other people start paying attention to you.”

Director Taika Waititi has had four independent films at the festival and talked with the Deseret News about how he never planned to direct a blockbuster like last year's “Thor: Ragnarok.”

“It wasn’t ever my goal to go big budget,” he said. “It just happened.”

Even with a $180 million budget for “Thor,” Waititi said Marvel gave him a lot of creative freedom that people wouldn’t expect with his first studio film.

“I didn’t lose much control,” he said. “I didn’t get the film taken away from me, luckily."

Hardwicke had a much smaller budget for “Twilight” — $37 million — but said it was still a world of difference from feeling like she had no money while shooting her independent film.

“I love the indie film because you're just, like, super scrappy,” she said. “Your own car is in the movie, your own clothes are in the movie, your furniture’s in the movie, you’re making the food, you’re doing everything, so that’s the fun part.”

During the panel discussion, Justin Lin, who has directed four films in the Fast and Furious franchise, weighed in as well. His first film, “Better Luck Tomorrow,” premiered at Sundance in 2002 — a film, he admitted, that he financed by charging $250,000 on 10 credit cards.

“I remember getting my first studio gig,” he said, ”and getting the call saying, ‘Now you’re not broke.’”

Lin also credits Sundance for launching his directing career.

“It was literally less than a month going from nobody returning calls,” he remembered. “Getting into Sundance and then getting calls, hundreds of calls literally every day.”

Although these three filmmakers have made the leap from indie to Hollywood, they all said they try to carry some aspects of the independent film world into their big-budget films.

For Lin, he tries to always use his process for telling a story — even while directing action films like 2016's “Star Trek: Beyond."

“I wanted the viewers to feel the humanity behind the shots composed,” he said.

Waititi said that while directors do have to be very aware and careful with money while making independent films, that is not always the case with studio films.

He said prior to shooting "Thor," Marvel asked him what he’d like in his director’s tent. At the time, he scoffed at the idea, telling them, “I’m indie at heart. Give me an apple box (and) I’ll sit next to the camera; just want to be there with the actors.”

“Two weeks into the shoot," he remembered, “I’m on a chaise lounge. I’m not joking — chaise lounge in my tent looking at the TV screen with a cheese platter. It’s very easy to forget yourself, but I am still indie at heart.”