Michael Apted, the award-winning British filmmaker behind the groundbreaking 7 Up documentaries and such feature films as Coal Miner’s Daughter, The World Is Not Enough, Gorillas in the Mist and Gorky Park, has died. He was 79. The Gersh Agency confirmed the news but did not immediately provide details of Apted’s death.
Apted served as DGA president for three terms from 2003-09, the longest consecutive presidential service since the 1960s.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of esteemed director, longtime DGA leader and my friend Michael Apted,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme. “His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our Guild. A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled Guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication.”
Apted had dozens of film and TV credits during his half-century career — ranging from the long-running British soap opera Coronation Street and ITV Playhouse to Chasing Mavericks and Masters of Sex. Along the way he also directed such features as Agatha, Continental Divide, Thunderheart, Class Action, Critical Condition, Amazing Grace, Extreme Measures and Enigma.
Winner of three BAFTA Awards and multiple DGA Awards — including a pair of the guild’s career nods — Apted gained international fame for the 7 Up documentaries that chronicled 14 British children every seven years from ages 7-63. He took over the series with the second installment — 1970’s 7 Plus Seven — and helmed all of its subsequent iterations which thereafter were titled 21 Up, 28 Up, etc.
28 Up and 35 Up won BAFTA Awards, and the next two installments earned nominations from the group.
Among Apted’s best known films is Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), which starred Sissy Spacek in her Oscar-winning role as country music legend Loretta Lynn. The film also scored five other Oscars noms including Best Picture, but Apted was overlooked. He did get a DGA nom for the film, though.
Apted also helmed 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, the 19th James Bond movie and Pierce Brosnan’s third of four as Agent 007.
His numerous other film directing credits include Unlocked, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Nell and Enough. His documentaries also included Incident at Oglala, Bring on the Night, Moving the Mountain, Me and Isaac Newton and Power of the Game.
Apted joined the DGA in 1978 and became active in guild service in 1997, when he was first elected to the Western Directors Council. In 2001, he was elected to the National Board and became fifth vice president the following year. He also founded, together with Steven Soderbergh, the guild’s Independent Directors Committee in 1998, and served as chair until he was elected president of the guild. In the years following his presidency, he furthered DGA’s efforts in Washington as co-chair of the Political Action Committee Leadership Council and in educating the world about the guild’s history as chair of the 75th Anniversary Advisory Committee.
“I spent countless hours literally two feet from Michael and loved every minute of it,” said Soderbergh, a former DGA national vice-president and Creative Rights Committee co-chair who served alongside Apted in both roles throughout Apted’s presidency. “Apart from his own remarkable body of work, what he gave to the DGA can’t be measured; he put his entire being into the Guild, and inspired us all to follow his example. We were lucky to have him and to know him.”
DGA negotiations during Apted’s tenure as president included the 2004 round that successfully protected health benefits and the 2007 round that established jurisdiction and compensation formulas in new media. Following his presidency, Apted served as co-chair of the DGA Negotiating Committee, together with current DGA president Schlamme, in the 2014 and 2017 cycles – most recently achieving unprecedented gains in subscription video on demand residuals which set the pattern for the industry. He also continued to serve on the National Board as Secretary-Treasurer through 2019.
“Whether having the foresight as a young man to conceptualize the revolutionary documentary series 7 UP or helming large-scale features, whether negotiating directors’ rights throughout our industry’s digital revolution, or advocating for independent filmmakers and inclusion, Michael’s search for the truth and what’s right was evident in all that he endeavored,” Schlamme said. “With his steady hand, acerbic wit, and keen eye to the future, he has steered our Guild through times of great change, setting the path for our industry and benefiting thousands and thousands of us. He always generously extended a hand to those behind him and understood the importance of activating leadership in the next generation. What I thought was an innocent lunch with him twenty years ago turned into my lifelong commitment to this Guild, all thanks to his passion and belief in me. I, like so many others, will be forever grateful for his mentorship. Words can’t express how much he will be missed. Our hearts go out to his wife Paige, and his children Jim, John, and Lily.”
Here are some more tributes from Apted’s DGA colleagues:
Jay Roth, former DGA national executive director who worked with Apted at the guild for more than 20 years:
“Michael led with strength, tremendous sensitivity and heart,” said “He became passionate about the guild after his creative rights fight around the deletion of 30 minutes from his carefully researched film, Thunderheart, about Native Americans. He would go on to help create our Independent Directors Committee, bringing new blood into the guild, and quickly became involved in governance and leadership. And while independent film, creative rights and documentaries were his passion, it was not long before he became president of the DGA.
“Michael helped define our guild for the past two decades,” Roth added, “and through it all he was my friend, my confidant and my comrade. As his ‘squire,’ we traveled the world, shared books and stories, enjoyed good wine and food and stood tougher in the toughest of times. He enriched all of our lives.”
Former DGA president Paris Barclay, with whom Apted also served alongside as secretary-treasurer:
“Michael had a deep and profound impact on the Guild, and on me. His shrewdness in negotiations, how he energized the Guild’s efforts towards inclusion, and how he led the Guild with rapier wit and elegance inspired me and so many others to participate in leadership. He was my teacher, my mentor, my advisor, and my friend. We owe him so much – losing him leaves a hole in the Guild’s heart.”
Former DGA president Taylor Hackford, who succeeded Apted as DGA president, and whom Apted also served alongside as secretary-treasurer:
“Michael Apted was the definition of ‘mensch’ – like the wonderful director he was, you could always count on him to deliver a clear and well thought out point-of-view, usually leavened with a dollop of dry wit. He was my trusted colleague at the DGA for over 30 years, and I was privileged to follow him as President of our great organization – his were huge shoes to fill. I will miss him dearly.”