Great Directors Moving To Television

The dynamic between film and television is evolving, and doing so quickly.
Back in 2008, George Clooney, a man familiar with both film and television stardom, said the following: “There is a strange pecking order among actors. Theatre actors look down on film actors, who look down on TV actors. Thank God for reality shows, or we wouldn’t have anybody to look down on.”
Nine years later, this statement still mostly rings true. Having been around theater actors for most of my life, the first part of the sentence *definitely* rings true. But the film/television segment might be different, considering that we are seeing a large swath of actors previously considered to be film stars moving onto television. Think Dustin Hoffman in “Luck.” Or Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards.”

So what’s the catalyst for this shift? Of course, it’s never one thing. In the opinion of this writer, there are two primary drivers: 

  • Television provides more job security than film
  • Television is *much* better than it’s ever been
 These two reasons are why not only film actors are slowly transitioning to television, but film directors are as well. Here are just a few of them.
Barry Jenkins, “The Underground Railroad”
Jenkins hardly has an extensive filmography. But what little he’s done has been remarkably impressive. There aren’t too many directors who have won the Best Picture Oscar for their second feature (or for any feature, for that matter). Of course, “Moonlight” was not an ordinary movie. I still need a tissue anytime it crosses my mind. With a movie like “Moonlight,” it was inevitable that many doors would open for the young auteur. However, his announcement of his next project was more of a surprise. Jenkins will be going the Amazon Prime route with limited series adaptation of “The Underground Railroad,” Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winner. It’s not clear when the series will premiere, but given all of the pedigree attached, I think it’s clear that audiences are in for something special.
Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire”
Despite the fact that he has no connection to the “Godfather” trilogy, Martin Scorsese’s name is essentially synonymous with mafia movies. There’s good reason: “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and “The Departed” are all-time greats. And even though Scorsese may have no connection to “The Sopranos,” it’s fair to say that he has made an impact on television crime drama. Scorsese was an executive producer on HBO’s cult favorite “Boardwalk Empire.” Even more important than that, he directed the pilot episode. As most TV enthusiasts know, the pilot episode usually sets the tone for the rest of the series, at least visually. “Empire” would go on to receive much acclaim for its style, and even if Scorsese only directed the one episode, it’s hard to say his contributions to the show weren’t paramount. And let’s be real: Scorsese could direct an episode of “Jersey Shore” and turn it into must see TV.
David Fincher, “House of Cards”
Any cinephile will tell you that David Fincher is the MVP when it comes to breaking the mold. The mastermind behind “Fight Club” and “Seven” has been cited for his willingness to indulge in dour, nihilistic themes (see the examples I just mentioned). So when Netflix announced that it was getting involved in the original programming business, it wasn’t *that* much of a surprise to see David Fincher’s name attached. Fincher is an executive producer on “House of Cards,” Netflix’s original series about a ruthless politician. He also directed the first couple of episodes. His visual stamp–darker hues, shadows–are all over the place. And of course, Fincher was born to be associated with a project featuring a powerful sociopath for a protagonist.
Ava Duvernay, “Queen Sugar”
Duvernay’s career is still relatively short. The former public relations exec only released her first full length feature film back in 2010. That said, in that short amount of time her career has taken off. Her Martin Luther King biopic “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture, and when her adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” comes out next year, she will officially become the first black woman to ever helm a live action movie with a budget over $100 million. But Duvernay has not pigeonholed herself to only cinema. She is the creator, director, and executive producer for “Queen Sugar,” which has been a flagship show for the Oprah Winfrey Network when it premiered last September. The show features Duvernay signatures: emotional sincerity in favor of sentimentality, powerful performances, and a highlight on previously untold stories. Between this show and her filmography, there’s no reason to believe Duvernay won’t have a long career, and we should all be grateful for that.
Woody Allen, “Crisis in Six Scenes”
Woody Allen has a long resume, and that’s quite an understatement. He’s been making movies since 1969. And unlike the majority of steadily working directors who tend to turn out a new movie every 3-4 years, Allen has been on a torrid pace of a movie a year for the entire time. Sure, his films don’t require a ton of complex staging or elaborate special effects, but that’s still impressive. It’s even more impressive that the legendary stand-up comic turned filmmaker found time to develop a series for Amazon Prime. In 2016, Prime uploaded “Crisis in Six Scenes,” a six episode series developed by Allen. The show featured Allen trademarks, mainly sarcasm and nostalgia. Unfortunately, it shared another trademark similar to many of Allen’s more recent films: bad reviews. It’s unlikely that “Scenes” will see a second season. Allen himself has publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the final product. Of course, he has also said that he’s only ever made three movies he was proud of, and those *didn’t* include the gems “Annie Hall” or “Manhattan.” Some people just can’t be pleased (a frequent theme of Allen’s).

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