Film & TV

From Film to TV: Why are Film Directors Flocking to the Small Screen?

There’s no disputing the fact that television is going through a Golden Age. Shows like Breaking Bad, The West Wing, Game of Thrones and countless others have led to a steady rise in the quality of television. Now, Hollywood is at a point where TV may even be surpassing film in terms of substance, audience size, innovation and talent – indeed, that last one poses an interesting question. Why are more and more film directors – and well-established ones at that – dabbling in television?

Paolo Sorrentino (whose Italian film The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014) is just one of several accomplished directors – including, but not limited to, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Woody Allen – to dip into the television industry. Although they continue to make films, they can hardly be blamed for wanting to experiment with television, as the small screen, quite frankly, may have more to offer than the big screen.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is currently at a place where the divide between small, independent projects and massive, big-budget blockbusters is ever increasing. Studios are becoming less inclined to spend money on innovative ideas because the financial repercussions of a flop can be catastrophic.

However in television, directors are allowed – even encouraged – to try out new ideas, as production companies have the luxury of hiding a more avant-garde episode (like “Fly” from Breaking Bad’s 3rd season and “Shadow Play” from Pretty Little Liars’ 4th season) amongst the rest of their ‘safer’ episodes, in case of a poor response. As a result, it’s easy to see why a director may be more inclined to explore this new territory, where there is an active interest in original concepts.

Additionally, with Marvel grossing billions of dollars, studios are constantly on the look out for the next cinematic universe. This constant pressure to make a film that could be developed into a franchise is very restrictive for a director. Joss Whedon himself said that making Avengers: Age of Ultron was exhausting – and a significant cause of that was balancing character development and plot, while also ensuring that the film could set up storylines for Marvel’s ominously named ‘Phase 3’. Even though television has the similar aspect of having to plan for future episodes, directors can have a much bigger creative input in the overall tone and focus of the show, especially when taking on the role of executive producer.

Of course, that’s not the only factor to put pressure on film directors. This past summer, we saw movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Warcraft performing well solely due to big openings in China. The fact that this market is projected to surpass the US box office in the very near future has already started influencing decisions made in film production. Most notably, token Chinese actors have started appearing in the casts for these blockbusters and, while I thoroughly support diversity in film, it should be done on the basis of talent, rather than for the sake of statistics and revenue.

With this trend still relatively new, it’s difficult to say how this story will unfold. After a summer of critical and commercial disappointments, one would hope that film production companies will finally decide to take a gamble on more exciting projects or allow directors to have both a bigger budget as well as more creative input.

Although there’s nothing wrong with film directors being involved with television shows, hopefully this will mean that the silver screen can learn from it’s younger sibling before running itself dry. 

Sarah Quraishi

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Media Courtesy of VanityMan

Film & TV

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