Cast Away: Robert Zemeckis and his Leading Men

Last year Craig and I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening to James Cameron talk about his two passions, film and underwater exploration. It was a fascinating look at the way he was wired and the way in which he approached both passions. What became really apparent during the chat was how skills from both passions transferred across one another. For me the main point I took away from it all was that Cameron is a natural leader.

Great leadership can come in many forms and if you go into a book store you’ll see a shelf dedicated to a myriad of ways in which people believe leadership can be delivered. But if there’s one thing that I feel is consistent amongst great leadership is the fact the great leaders are like magnets. People are drawn to them. While discussing his submarine work, it became very apparent that Cameron had accumulated a group that are the best of the best. Because he was a proven leader in not just his film projects but more importantly his scientific work, people wanted to work with him.

Directors are leaders. In film, they are THE leader, and the great directors are leaders with vision. There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Zemeckis is a visionary leader. You only need to take a look at his filmography to see that there is an astounding amount of talent that he has worked with. We’re a little over half way into his body of work and so far he has featured some of the best actors working today! To feature Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Michael J. Fox, Bob Hoskins, Bruce Willis, Matthew McConaughey, Harrison Ford and of course Tom Hanks by the half way point of his career is just bonkers. Then you see who Zemeckis will go onto work with (Denzel Washington and Brad Pitt for example) and you realise this is someone that people want to work for.

His list of leading men is enough to be the top of any working directors wish list, actually the list is probably the envy for most A-List directors. But it’s when we start to take a look at why it is that so many great actors have worked with Zemeckis that, even though it’s speculation, I can’t help but think that Zemeckis’s leadership plays a massive part in the team that works alongside him.

Now I’m going to tangent off here for a moment but stick with me, we’ll be getting back to it all. The first few films of Zemeckis’s career we’ve described in previous episodes as the times where he is finding his feet and films like Used Cars and Romancing The Stone, while popular now, had their challenges in production. It was really Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit that Zemeckis began to find his leadership feet. They are solid films, and as our ranking of his films currently show solid to the point of being extremely high on the list of 14 films. These early films become springboards for their star’s careers and once he has found his feet as a Leader/Director the caliber of star increases as well.

As we’ve discussed Zemeckis’s work more and more during this season, I’ve realised that he is a far more versatile director than I gave him credit for and gosh is he consistent! But this versatility and consistency isn’t limited to his work, all his leading actors could be described the same way. Consider Tom Hanks’s work, each film and character is different and yet you still get Tom Hanks in each of them. From leader in Apollo 13 to endearing single Dad in Sleepless in Seattle to the joyous Forrest Gump and as HIV/AIDS advocate in Philedelphia. Each role is constantly different on paper and yet you never lose Hank’s soul that he brings to each role and each film is crazy consistent. I can’t think of many duds in his very long career and this goes for almost all of Zemeckis’s leading men.

Zemeckis is constantly working with the best talent and you only have to look at his next two films where he has Dwayne Johnson, arguably Hollywood’s most bankable actor at the moment, and Anne Hathaway, who I am hoping will see a career resurgence as I think she’s an amazing actor, to see that he is going to continue to work with amazing talent. Leaders are like a talent magnet and I wholeheartedly believe that the talent Zemckis works with is as a result of the kind of leader Zemeckis is. He is so much more than just a director and far out I am loving discovering this about him.

Big Love, Yeah