Fake news. Rogue puppets. One f–ked up clown. And a stolen police cruiser.
Meet your new Spider-Man director.
When Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios revealed The Impossible star Tom Holland as their new webslinger, they also announced the director of the new standalone reboot would be Jon Watts—which likely triggered countless online searches from fans wondering, “Wait, who …?”
Just as Jurassic World’s producers selected Colin Trevorrow to direct the dino-relaunch after just one small indie film, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, the makers of the new Spider-Man have gone a similar route, hiring a filmmaker known mainly for Cop Car, a thriller starring Kevin Bacon that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. They made a similar move when selecting The Amazing Spider-Man director, Marc Webb, who had just made his mark with the indie romantic-comedy (500) Days of Summer.
This is bound to stir questions about how a filmmaker with such limited experience ends up with such a high-profile job, but the indie world has increasingly become the farm team for tentpole franchises. Producers of these big-budget projects love finding brand new talent who know their way around a narrative, stay within a limited budget, but also don’t have the klout to push back against studio demands.
The gamble is whether a newbie like this will become a Trevorrow or a Josh Trank, the Chronicle filmmaker who, according to numerous confidential sources, had such notorious difficulties stepping up to a bigger-budget project with the Fantastic Four reboot that he was pushed out of the upcoming Star Wars spin-off film.
In terms of style, Watts has more spiritual kinship with the original Spider-Man filmmaker, Sam Raimi, since both come from a background that blended comedy and horror, although Raimi certainly had more years under his belt before being handed one of the biggest franchises in the comic-book universe.
After a series of short films, Watts distinguished himself in satire as a crafter of cable-news parody, directing both Comedy Central’s Onion Sportsdome and IFC’s Onion News Network in 2011, spoofing the blowhardery and general cluelessness of TV news the way TheOnion.com skewered the stuffy conventions of print journalism. One of the segments Watts featured on his website was this favorite: John Clarkson, the presidential candidate in a coma.
Watts also directed and co-wrote the puppet cop drama, The Fuzz, a Sesame Street-wise saga that combines gritty gunslinging with cuddly good-guys and bad-guys. It owes a debt to another epic filmmaker who started out with a sick take on Muppet culture: Peter Jackson’s 1989 grim, gross-out fest, Meet the Feebles. The Fuzz is now available as a webseries on Yahoo Screen.
In addition to assorted videos and commercials, Watts also developed the pilot for a fake 2012 talk show called Eugene! starring comedian Eugene Mirman, which (sort of) explains this clip featuring John Hodgman introducing a clip from a fake Jason Bourne-like action film that gets as nasty as it is meta by the end. Watts repeatedly has demonstrated an affinity for comic-style action, which likely helped him land the job.
From there in the Watts filmmography, things take a freakier turn. He and collaborator Christopher D. Ford created a fake trailer for a horror film about a man who becomes trapped inside an evil clown costume, which caught the attention of Hostel filmmaker Eli Roth (who was credited in the spoof as director.)
Roth loved it and joined on to help produce the film about a man who literally cannot rip off the clown costume that is grafting itself to his body. The feature version was released in 2014, but here’s the short that started it all.
From there, Watts steered his somewhat twisted imagination toward a more traditional thriller—Cop Car, the Sundance drama set for release Aug. 7. The film follows two young boys who happen upon an abandoned police cruiser in a field and take it on a joyride, provoking the anger of an unstable sheriff (anyone smell Bacon?) who left something horrible in the trunk.
So that answers the question: Who’s Jon Watts? But it leaves another open-ended—what does he intend to do with Spider-Man that rescues the wall-crawler from the lowly state we’ve seen lately?