by Kyle Seago
Over the past 10 years, over 1,000 young directors have showcased their cinematic creations at NFFTY – the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. At NFFTY, we take pride in knowing that we are providing an avenue for many first-time directors to showcase their work on the big screen for the very first time. Many NFFTY alumni have gone on to successful, prolific careers in the film industry and others have used their experience being in the festival to jumpstart similar visual arts endeavors.
Becoming a successful film director, especially at a young age, requires an acute focus on storytelling while maintaining a big picture view of how all the elements of your film – acting, cinematography, editing, to name a few – will piece together to create a cohesive narrative. It also takes the determination to pull off a very challenging endeavor, often with a small budget and limited resources.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of NFFTY we’ve compiled a list of some of the best directors who kicked off a successful career by directing a film before their 25th birthday. Someday, you may just see some NFFTY alumni added to this list!
Sam Raimi – EVIL DEAD
The original cult horror classic about five friends in the woods came out in 1981 with a very young Rami at the helm. With a budget under $500k, the film was critically acclaimed and birthed one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. Raimi went on to direct three Spiderman films and experience simultaneous success as a producer.
Lena Dunham – TINY FURNITURE
Dunham took the festival circuit by storm with her unnervingly honest 2010 young adult relationship comedy. Pioneering a wave of young female directors, Dunham established her cred as the voice of the quarter-life crisis, and has since helmed multiple seasons of the hit series Girls on HBO and is one of the most sought after comedy actresses working today.
Kevin Smith – CLERKS
When you don’t have a lot of money, you work with what you have. Smith certainly took that to heart, setting most of his debut film in the convenience and movie stores where he worked. His hilarious black-and-white dark comedy was made for under 40k and birthed Jay and Silent Bob as comedy superstars.
John Singleton – BOYZ N THE HOOD
Singleton hit the jackpot with his honest depiction of life in South Central Los Angeles. The film garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, making Singleton the first African-American and youngest ever director to be nominated. Not only that, the Library of Congress deemed this film so culturally significant it is now preserved in the National Film Registry.
Robert Rodriguez – EL MARIACHI
The king of DIY filmmaking, Rodriguez landed on the map with the first film in his Mexico Trilogy. Shot for around $7k and completely in Spanish, the film grabbed the attention of Columbia Pictures, who gave it a wide theatrical release. Rodriguez has since gone on to direct big Hollywood features such as Spy Kids and Sin City in addition to films in his favored Mexican gunslinger wheelhouse.
Kyle Seago is an acclaimed filmmaker and the founder of the NFFTY Film Festival.