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|Birth Place:||Hertfordshire, England, GB||Profession:||director, producer, editor, screenwriter, assistant cameraman|
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British director Simon West was the guiding hand behind a string of highly polished action-thrillers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including "Con Air" (1997), "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001), and the popular TV series "Human Target" (Fox, 2010-11). A former director of commercials and music videos, West brought the skills from those mediums to his feature film work, which resulted in fast-paced, visually striking movies that succeeded on purely visceral levels. Despite sometimes threadbare scripts, audiences rarely had time to breathe between action set pieces in "The Mechanic" (2011) or the barrage of shock effects in his 2006 remake of "When A Stranger Calls." West's streak of hits began to falter after "Stranger Calls," but the director, who also produced numerous TV-films and pilots, remained in demand for his numerous strengths: breakneck pace, jaw-dropping stunts and minimal plot to distract from the spectacular action West put on to brilliant display.Born in 1961 in the English town of Letchworth in Hertfordshire, Simon West began his career at the age of 20 as an apprentice film editor for the BBC. From 1981 to 1985, he was involved with a number of award-winning documentaries and...
British director Simon West was the guiding hand behind a string of highly polished action-thrillers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including "Con Air" (1997), "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001), and the popular TV series "Human Target" (Fox, 2010-11). A former director of commercials and music videos, West brought the skills from those mediums to his feature film work, which resulted in fast-paced, visually striking movies that succeeded on purely visceral levels. Despite sometimes threadbare scripts, audiences rarely had time to breathe between action set pieces in "The Mechanic" (2011) or the barrage of shock effects in his 2006 remake of "When A Stranger Calls." West's streak of hits began to falter after "Stranger Calls," but the director, who also produced numerous TV-films and pilots, remained in demand for his numerous strengths: breakneck pace, jaw-dropping stunts and minimal plot to distract from the spectacular action West put on to brilliant display.
Born in 1961 in the English town of Letchworth in Hertfordshire, Simon West began his career at the age of 20 as an apprentice film editor for the BBC. From 1981 to 1985, he was involved with a number of award-winning documentaries and series, including an adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" (1985). At the end of his tenure, West left the BBC to work as a freelance director, and after receiving a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain, filmed a documentary called "Dolly Mixtures" (1983). The short, which followed the exploits of a teenaged pop band as they navigated the music business, led to a contract with Limelight London to direct commercials and music videos for such British pop acts as Rick Astley ("Never Gonna Give You Up") and Mel and Kim ("Respectable").
In 1991, West moved to Los Angeles, where he signed with Limelight's West Coast office before moving to Pilot Pictures the following year. Shortly thereafter, he won a Clio and a Golden Lion Award from the Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival for spots for Little Caesar. West changed agencies again in 1993, when he joined Propaganda Films. There, he filmed spots for such major companies as Ford, Budweiser, McDonald's, and AT&T. An eye-popping commercial for Pepsi, in which a young boy's enthusiasm for the soda resulted with him being sucked into his own bottle, aired during the 1995 Super Bowl and was named the highest rated commercial of the year by USA Today.
In 1997, West made the leap to feature films with "Con Air," an action thriller with Nicolas Cage as a wrongly accused prisoner who found himself aboard a transport plane hijacked by dangerous criminals. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the film was critically razzed but well received by audiences, which led to a string of similarly explosive action-dramas with an emphasis on style and star power over storyline. However, his sophomore effort, "The General's Daughter" (1999), featured John Travolta as an Army warrant officer investigating the brutal murder of a fellow officer, proved less successful.
While preparing to work on the live-action feature version of the popular video game "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," West read a series of newspaper features about a disastrous 1993 U.S. mission in Somalia. He brought the material to Jerry Bruckheimer in the hopes of turning it into a feature, and spent the next two years developing "Black Hawk Down," a military drama based on the actual events. But scheduling conflicts, as well as the threat of a Screen Actors Guild strike, forced West to serve only as the film's executive producer in order to finish "Tomb Raider." Though "Black Hawk" went on to receive two Oscar nominations for director Ridley Scott, "Tomb Raider" turned out to be the more successful of the two pictures. The sleek, action-packed adventure film, starring Angelina Jolie as the British adventuress, debuted in the top spot with $48.2 million in ticket sales, but again suffered mightily at the hands of critics.
Flush with his second success, West set out to conquer the small screen with a flurry of television projects. His first, "Keen Eddie" (Fox, 2003), was a slick but smarmy action-comedy with Mark Valley as an American detective who worked with Scotland Yard investigators on a variety of cases. Featuring Sienna Miller and some appallingly blunt sexual innuendoes, the series received aggressive press build-up from its network, which then promptly cancelled it after audiences failed to respond after seven episodes. West helmed the pilot for "Keen Eddie," as well as for his subsequent TV effort, the legal drama "Close to Home" (CBS, 2005), about a determined prosecutor (Jennifer Finnegan) who only took cases that occurred in her hometown. It too was cancelled after a brief network run.
West then returned to features with "When a Stranger Calls" (2006), a glossy remake of the unnerving 1979 thriller about a babysitter plagued by harassing phone calls from an unseen stalker. The remake, starring Camilla Belle as the babysitter, showed its cards early by revealing the menacing caller's identity before the conclusion of the film, which reduced the remainder of the picture to a standard issue slasher-thriller. Response to the picture followed a similar path as his previous efforts: an early box office windfall followed by a sharp drop-off, accompanied by searing negative reviews.
West returned to television to direct and produce a handful of unremarkable features, including the police drama "The Man" (CBS, 2007) and the futuristic adventure film "Revolution" (Sci Fi Channel, 2008), before launching his next TV series. "Human Target" (Fox, 2010) reunited West with Mark Valley as the DC Comics hero Christopher Chance, who provided security and bodyguard duties for select clients. The action series received mixed reviews, but gained enough of a following to enjoy a second season before story changes and numerous time slot moves spelled its doom at the end of its second season. His subsequent TV effort, "The Cape" (NBC, 2011), about a police officer that became his son's favorite comic book hero in order to fight crime, received more positive reviews but was cancelled at the end of its debut season run.
His return to feature direction was "The Mechanic" (2011), a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle, with Jason Statham as a meticulous assassin who trained the son (Ben Foster) of a murdered friend (Donald Sutherland) to be a hired killer as well. It fared poorly at the box office, despite the popularity of its leads. Undaunted, he quickly amassed a number of projects in various states of production, including "Medallion" (2012), a thriller with Nicolas Cage as a thief searching for his missing daughter, and "Red Sonja" (2012), a live action version of the fantasy comic book heroine. In 2011, West was announced as the director of "The Expendables 2," the follow-up to Sylvester Stallone's blockbuster comeback film.
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CAST: (feature film)
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West won the Golden Lion from the International Advertising Festival in Cannes for Little Caesar's "Italian Feast" and a Clio for Little Caesar's "Airplane". A USA TODAY poll voted his Pepsi "Innertube" spot the most popular commercial of the 1995 Super Bowl. The ad also won the Cannes Golden Lion and the Clio Awards. In addition, his highly regarded Budweiser "Ants" spot won a Bronze in Cannes in 1995.
About working with the talented actors assembled for "Con Air": "I never tried to make them all meld because they're all such different people. They all got along and had a really great time in this very male environment. They'd have competitions, who could do the most press-ups, who could run the fastest. Really childish boys' humour. I think they were clever enough to realise that as long as the work was good on the screen they were going to be well thought of, so they didn't have any interest in pushing their ego on the screen.
"John [Malkovich] was all right with me. He would do 20 takes and each one was completely different: he would do it in a child's voice, or he would sing. I kept thinking, 'no way is any of this going to get in the movie', but when I was editing more and more of those scenes when he's being more psychotic came in."
"All the characters are based on real people except for Steve Buscemi. One of the things that almost put me off the script was that there was a serial killer in it and it is such a cliche. So, instead of making him the worst of the worst, he does nothing. The audience has all the horror in their heads." --Simon West to "Film Web Interviews", at www.futurenet.com
"[In the action genre] you're working in quite a strict structure of rhythm. The audience has a rhythm in their head, and even though they may not be able to articulate it, they have that pattern [in mind as to] when things should happen and whether the end is big enough and things like that.
"And you suddenly realize you're in the middle of this quite classical piece of drama that you have to stick to. If you start breaking too many rules, everyone gets uncomfortable. I think that 'under two hours' [running time] really does help the action movie because of the level of visceral bombardment you're being given. The body can only take it for so long." --West quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, June 13-15, 1997.
"There's nothing English about my work at all." --Simon West quoted in Variety, July 24-30, 2000.
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