Film’s New Anxiety of Influence

Audiences are often surprised to hear me speak. They expect the president of the Directors Guild of America to be an American, but I'm English. Born in the U.K., I came to America because I fell in love with Hollywood movies and knew in my heart that this was the place to be if I wanted to create a serious body of work.

Europeans gave me the inspiration to make movies; Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" was my epiphany at 16, and once the appetite was there, I feasted on Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Fellini, Antonioni, Olmi, Bu?uel. But it was the Americans who showed me how to do it. As I was starting my career in the 1970s, I became greatly influenced by American cinema. I sensed a spirit of independence, work done within the studio system by directors like Coppola, Altman, Scorsese and Lumet—that was every bit as original and daring as the work of my European idols. There was one big difference: these films had lines around the block. Filmmakers were talking to people, and the studios were part of the equation, creating a fusion of art and commerce. The vision of directors, writers and actors was given free rein. Take a look at the lists of Academy nominations from 1974—"Chinatown," "Day for Night," "The Godfather: Part II," "Lenny" and "A Woman Under the Influence"—and weep at how good it all was.

I managed to make my first film, "Coal Miner's Daughter," in 1979, but the golden age was over. As budgets and fees got out of control, the industry's sense of freedom and courage began to disappear. But America was still the only place for me. Even if it became more difficult to make the sort of films that interested me, the sheer energy and ambition of Hollywood provided a constant stream of work. This was where things happened. Whether it was exciting new talent—Soderbergh with "sex, lies, and videotape," Tarantino with "Pulp Fiction"—or technological advances, in Hollywood I felt I was in the middle of it all, which was immensely energizing.

Today in Hollywood there is a different and unnerving kind of energy as we find ourselves facing new frontiers. We are now deep into a digital age that has begun to fundamentally alter the relationship between creators and the audience. Our industry faces many challenges in determining how to take advantage of new technology while still protecting the environment for our artists to work.

The business of entertainment has changed dramatically.?Talent and labor once worked under strict contracts in a?paternalistic studio system; now they are freelancers. The studios and networks have grown into the roles of banker, dealmaker and distributor, and look increasingly to the world as a global marketplace. Some of us wonder in what form the studios will continue to exist with Google and Microsoft breathing down their necks. At this moment, the industry is struggling to create an order in the economics of New Media. How should content makers be compensated for the reuse of their work? How can the guilds and unions protect their jurisdiction in a rapidly fragmenting industry? Not for the first time in our history, strife has led to strike.

On some issues there is no disunity. Both producers and talent agree on the need to protect what we've created. Piracy and copyright violations continue to be huge issues for our industry. Billions of dollars in income are lost every year to piracy, and its impact is as damaging to the crew member as it is to the multinational movie studio. Everybody loses.

But even with all the extensive innovation and experimentation, the debate and uncertainty as to where the industry is headed, producers keep producing and artists and crews keep imagining new worlds, new characters and new stories. Entertainment remains a major U.S. industry whose films and TV programs are seen by billions around the world. It is a window into who we are, and while some of it may not be to everyone's taste, this powerful art form continues to connect to people like no other. Who doesn't remember where he was when he first saw a favorite film … who she was with … what she felt in that moment? Everyone who experienced that magic in some theater somewhere in the world was sharing in a universal experience. That is the power and the beauty of what our industry creates and gives to the world.

But the truth is that "Hollywood" is a concept as much as a physical location. And in that sense, it is not so difficult for it to adjust to changes like the explosion of entertainment industries in Asia and the Middle East, or economic incentives drawing productions from the United States to other countries, or foreign-born directors—like the trio of Alfonso Cuar?n, Alejandro Gonz?lez I??rritu and Guillermo del Toro—inking major deals with U.S. studios. Boundaries are shifting, and there's something exciting about our ability to influence each other. From the beginning, Hollywood welcomed immigrants and thrived by absorbing their cultural influences. Hollywood flourishes because it changes as the world does. We can shine a light on each contributor—the writer, the director, the actors, the crew, the audience, the studios, the producers—but in Hollywood, all come together to create a whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

As our world grows increasingly interconnected, the entertainment industry will continue to take advantage of the best talent and the most creative minds available. It's not about where people come from but the chemistry they make together. As a director, I work with writers, actors and crew members from all over the world to tell these stories in the best way possible. And as somebody who has been in this business for more than 40 years, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have served in my "field of dreams" my whole working life. To have the chance to tell a story, to watch it unfold on a screen and to be able to share that vision with an audience, well … it doesn't get much better than that.

Apted is president of the Directors Guild of America and will direct the third"Narnia"movie,"Voyage of the Dawn Treader."