If asked, would you direct a TV episode or season (like Criminal Minds, ER or even a sitcom for example) or would you be faithful to film?
The easy answer is that “it depends.” I think that today’s television contains the best writing in the business, especially the output of the cable networks and the BBC (“Luther” and “Wallander” are superb, both from a technical and writing standpoint). In television we’re allowed to take characters on interesting journeys because we have the benefit of a pilot episode that gives us origins and backstories, and then we can go wild from there.
Every filmmaker dreams of that amazing opportunity to do an HBO/ Showtime series, where censorship and ad revenue are not a concern, and budgets tend to be more robust. If I had an opportunity to direct an episode of “The Wire” when it was airing or “Breaking Bad” I’d jump on it.
But this is where I have to be absolutely truthful, in that I’m partial to the feature film format. I’ve always loved the idea of building a world from scratch, and making it a complete capsule of a time and era. Feature films also allow me the opportunity to really put craft into each shot, whereas television is more about productivity, volume and delivery, and the narrative takes absolute precedence over any kind of cinematographic or aural flair. In feature film, everything is of equal importance and gets equal emphasis. In my mind, at least.
I also have a theory about what direction television is moving in, and of course this doesn’t apply to every television show but I’m finding it more and more prevalent. With the downfall of the daytime soap operas (General Hospital / Young and the Restless in the US, EastEnders / Coronation Street/ Brookside in the UK, Neighbours / Home and Away in Australia, etc.), much of television is filling that void by creating “high concept soaps.” These are shows that focus almost entirely on relationship dynamics but place them in incredibly bizarre circumstances. I think of “True Blood” essentially as “Days of Our Lives” with a lot of blood and fucking. Same thing with “Spartacus,” “The Borgias.” “The Tudors.” These shows all start out interesting because of the concept but become ever more “relationshippy” as writers work out different combinations of leads - they fall in love, fuck, and move on to the next character. All with amazing production values.
I used to watch this for the stories…and Nicola Charles.
Thing is, I’m not a big fan of soap operas, and if I had an opportunity to do a major television show my nature is to go far off the beaten path and really try something new. Not long ago I was watching the Tarantino-directed episode of ‘CSI’ (which was excellent), and I wondered what I would do if handed the opportunity to direct an episode. After thinking long and hard, I thought of an episode which focused on the CSI staff on their days off, doing mundane shit like going to the grocery store, buying a new television, getting an oil change, etc. and showing how they inadvertently apply their CSI skills to those tasks. Very black humor, almost disturbing, a commentary on how their work defines them to an absurd extent. Somehow I don’t think that would fly, but my friend keeps telling me that I need to write that spec script and submit it.
I’ve written television bibles before and it’s a hell of an undertaking, and everything I write tends to be rooted in more cinematic origins, which means those television projects require more money and creative freedom. With television you never know, but it also responds to trends more than film. If you have one successful cop show, you’ll spawn ten copycats. For every successful ER there’s twenty other emergency room dramas, but with that one, teeny tiny difference. Sometimes there’s no difference at all, it’s just being opportunistic.
‘Modern Family’ vs ‘The New Normal’ - can you tell the difference?
So long answer short, I would do a television show if it allowed me to be faithful to film. That answer works because I can’t do a film and be faithful to television, right?