Iain Softley first gained international plaudits with his directorial debut, the 1994 Backbeat. A fictional account of the early years of The Beatles, the film told the hitherto obscure story of original band member Stuart Sutcliffe, who died a tragically premature death. Featuring strong performances from its leads, particularly Stephen Dorff as Sutcliffe, Ian Hart as Lennon, and Sheryl Lee as Sutcliffe's girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, Backbeat became a sleeper hit both in England and the States, propelling its first time director into the realm of relative fame.
A graduate of Queen's College, Cambridge, where he directed a number of highly regarded theatrical productions, Softley earned an early reputation for his work as a specialist in various areas of the arts, particularly for his work on music documentaries and music videos, and collaborations with such musicians as Andy Summers and Robert Fripp. Backbeat combined Softley's musical inclinations with his ability to give an oft-heard story (in this case, the legendary beginnings of rock's most famous band) an original spin. Following the success of the film, Softley went in a completely different direction with Hackers, his 1995 thriller about a group of cyber pirates. Sleek, fast-paced, and starring the then-unknown Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, the film received mixed reviews and did negligible business at the box office, although it did enjoy something of a cult video following.