The filmmaker David Yates grew up about as far from the lights of Hollywood as you can imagine. "I was born in the north of England, in a very industrial, very blue collar, very tough town," he reflects on his upbringing in the former mining town of St Helens in Merseyside, England. "Good people, but there was a big recession as I got into my teen years, so there were zero jobs. It was a pretty tough time in England."
Yet somehow, Yates would go on to become the steward of one of the biggest franchises in movie history, directing the final four Harry Potter movies, beginning with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) up until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) — and then all three installments in the Fantastic Beasts series.
Outside of the Wizarding World, he is a prolific television director — he won two BAFTA Awards for The Way We Live Now (2001) and Sex Traffic (2004), and received an Emmy nomination for The Girl in the Café (2005). Yates is also the filmmaker behind the period drama, The Tichborne Claimant (1998), and the action-adventure, The Legend of Tarzan (2016), which starred Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as Jane. His latest is Pain Hustlers, an opioid-crisis crime drama starring Emily Blunt and Chris Evans.
For Yates, Pain Hustlers proved "just as compelling and as rich and as complicated as any big complicated visual effects movie," he says. "We wanted to create something for the audience that was involving, intoxicating, entertaining, but which still left them with something to think about by the end credits rolling."
Below, Yates shares with A.frame his Top 5. "These are the five films that set me on this journey that I've been on here for, what, 35 years? [But] they're more than just favorite films. They are films that have shaped me and shaped my life."
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
I saw Jaws when I was 13 years of age. My father was a seamen. He was away for most of my childhood, and it was always a big deal when he came home. So, the sea for me held some kind of power and mystery. At 13 years of age, my dad is on one of those very rare trips back to see us, and he says, 'Come on, son, I'm going to take you to see this film.' And we go to the cinema, because we've heard about this film called Jaws.
What really struck me at age 13 was the portrayal of men. As I was growing up, men were always the heroes of movies, especially these big blockbuster movies. They tended to be quite machismic. They had superpowers, they had guns, they were always very alpha. And what struck me as I watched this movie was Roy Scheider's character was awkward, and shy, and afraid of the water. And he was responsible for looking after the community, but wasn't very good at it. And then Hooper turns up, and he's a geek and kind of awkward, but is hugely empathetic and super bright. These were role models of men in a big movie that actually spoke to me as a kid. Actually, the sort of machismic character in it, played by Robert Shaw, was somewhat inert as a character, and he ends up getting eaten at the end. So, that left a real impression on me as a kid, how much more interesting those portrayals of men were than the machismic heroes I was seeing on the telly.
The other thing that struck me was the way that Spielberg used the camera. Not only immersing you in the moment — putting the lens right on the water — but he was able to capture the emotional landscape of the actors. Like, the famous contra zoom as Roy Scheider is watching the victims in the water. The contra zoom in and of itself is a bit tricksy, but it isn't tricksy the way Spielberg uses it. It absolutely makes your tummy seize up, and it conveys what's in that character's head in a really evocative way. I was aware that he was using the camera in a way that was truly expressive, and that started making me think about the craft of film.
The day after my dad took me, I said, 'I'm going to go back and see it again.' And I didn't go back once or twice. I went back about 27 times to watch this film. What pulled me back in was anticipating the audience response to certain moments, like when the head falls out of the boat, or when Hooper squashes the can in front of Robert Shaw. I relished hearing the audience laugh or jump out their seats, to re-experience what I experienced the very first time. Tracking forward to when I made Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I had the same experience. I deliberately structured the sequence where this snake jumps out and goes after Hermione to make sure that we got a big jump. It was an evocation of my 15-year-old self sitting in that theater, enjoying this experience with hundreds of people, when you all respond to the same thing in the moment. So, Jaws was fundamentally the film that made me want to tell stories and to make films.
Written and Directed by: Steven Spielberg
When there weren't any jobs in the north of England, I decided on three possibilities: Before I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker, I wanted to be a professional footballer. But that wasn't going to work out, because I wasn't very good at football. The second choice was even more unlikely. At the age of 8, I decided I was going to be an astronaut. There were no astronauts in St Helens or in England or in Europe, so wanting to be an astronaut was a long shot. However, a fascination with space stayed with me right through my teens. And not long after I'd seen Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out, and it blew me away.
I had a very good childhood. My mom and dad were lovely, I had great friends, but there was something, even at a very early age, whereby I felt somewhat contained by the place I was growing up in. I felt there was more to discover in life. And somehow, watching Richard Dreyfuss obsess over the mashed potatoes he would build up to recreate the tower in Wyoming, I really related to his desire to get to the truth of his experience and to what was beyond the boundaries of his life. I also found the movie and the way Spielberg told the story incredibly moving. I wasn't particularly religious growing up, but this idea that there was this life force beyond our world and we were able to engage with it really fascinated me. I found it so moving when Richard Dreyfuss meets the aliens for the very first time.
Ultimately, I think what it was for me is, it made me think about the world beyond the one I was in. It wasn't just the enjoyment of Jaws and Close Encounters as films. They were both spectacularly enjoyable films with great humanity and great craft. But they spoke to me, as a young kid, who had aspirations and ambitions, beyond the landscape that was in front of him. And they motivated me, not just to want to make films, but to want to go beyond the boundaries of what was in front of me.
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund | Written by: Bráulio Mantovani
I went to the University of Essex in Colchester — and also briefly to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to study politics for a year — and at university, I went to see this film I knew nothing about. And the lights went down, and up came this sequence of this gang chasing a chicken. It was City of God. Compared to the craft and elegance and classicism of Jaws and Close Encounters — two movies that followed a certain rule book, in a brilliant way — here was a movie that broke all boundaries, editorially, in terms of its cinematography, in terms of its music and its soundtrack.
I saw it at a time that was incredibly stimulating for me. I was at university, and I was having amazing new experiences with groups of people from all over the world. This movie completely exploded the idea of how you could put a movie together. It was so inventive. One of the things I absolutely loved about it was it had a cast of people I'd never seen in a movie before, many of which were non-professional actors. There was this beautiful authenticity, and spontaneity, and originality. It just blew me away. That movie inspired me to think about film in a slightly different way.
Directed by: Mel Brooks | Written by: Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks
I saw Young Frankenstein when I was a teenager. Every Saturday night, the BBC would show a horror double bill. They were usually old Universal movies or Hammond movies from the 1960s. My mom would let me stay up late and watch these two movies back to back. I was obsessed with the horror genre. Then, along comes Young Frankenstein, which is a real poetic homage to that genre, and yet is able to be ridiculously funny at the same time. That's what I adored about that movie.
Also, I'm in St Helens, this blue-collar town, and the audience is loving this black-and-white film. It was the first time I had ever seen a film in black and white in a cinema, and it had this extraordinary effect. It really transported you to a period and a sense of time. So, Young Frankenstein has stayed with me, and as a result of that, many of the things I make are always threaded with humor. I think humor is such a big part of life. We can't escape it, even in periods of enormous trauma. So humor's been a sort of thread through all my work.
Directed by: Mick Jackson | Written by: Barry Hines
Threads was a hugely impactful film for me in the '80s. It was made for the BBC, and it's about a nuclear attack on Great Britain. I was a member of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as a teenager, and that film deals with it in the most austere, authentic way possible. It's the kind of movie that stays with you for many weeks. It sends chills down me still. Film has the ability to resonate and remind you of the fragility of our world, if things tilt out too far, and Threads is a remarkable piece of work.
Those are the five films that have had a big influence on me, in terms of inspiring me to want to make films, but also, they're movies that had an influence on the shape and direction of my overall life and the way I view the world. So, they're significant for me, not just as a film lover, but in terms of how my life has evolved.