Cable TV in the USA has become more innovative, and top moviemakers such as Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Gus Van Sant are taking advantage.
Michael Mann, director of movies such as “The Insider” and “The Last Of The Mohicans” said he would never go back to TV, after writing Starsky and Hutch and producing Miami Vice. Then a new HBO script, set in the world of horse racing and penned by David Milch (“Deadwood,” “NYPD Blue”), landed on Mann’s desk. “I really didn’t want to get back into television, but the script was just so damn good,” Mann said of the series “Luck,” which stars Dustin Hoffman and will air on HBO in the USA next year. “It was one of the best things anyone has ever given me to direct.”
Irish writer-director Neil Jordan had a similar experience. After spending the majority of his career in film (“Interview With a Vampire”), DreamWorks convinced him that his concept for a movie based on the 15th century papacy would be better suited for television, with its older, more sophisticated audience. The Showtime series “The Borgias” was born, which is set to air on W on Foxtel, August 29, 2011.
“Hollywood isn’t doing anything like this material anymore,” Jordan said. “With cable, there’s this wonderful domain that’s emerged for film directors like me who enjoy the kind of material that Hollywood finds too boring for words.”
A-list directors including Martin Scorsese, Mann and Gus Van Sant are jumping into TV, not solely for financial gain but as a way to explore a more expansive narrative than film allows. It helps that television — specifically cable — has become more innovative in recent years, with deeper character development and edgier story lines, while the major movie studios largely have abandoned intricate, character-driven stories for superheroes,vampires and pirates.
HBO has become such a draw recently that the cable programmer has even said no to acclaimed directors. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” but her pilot about a Broadway producer, “The Miraculous Year,” was turned down by the network for a series. Bill Condon experienced a similar fate — despite landing the job directing the two-part film adaptation of the final “Twilight” book, “Breaking Dawn,” his buzzed-about pilot “Tilda,” centered on a snarky Hollywood blogger, was not picked up.
A few directors are creating entire television projects themselves, such as Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”), who has spent years directing various TV episodes in addition to her film work and is developing an unnamed series with HBO.
Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho) finished his television directorial debut on the Starz original series “Boss,” starring Kelsey Grammer, just weeks before flying to Cannes to unveil his most recent theatrical endeavor, “Restless.” “Salt” director and Aussie, Phillip Noyce helmed an episode of “Luck” along with “Brotherhood” for Showtime and the ABC pilot “Revenge,” which just got picked up for a series. “Superbad” director Greg Mottola’s most recent movie “Paul” opened in March, and he will next helm the pilot for Aaron Sorkin’s cable newsroom series “More as the Story Develops” for HBO.
“It used to be that you only did television if you couldn’t get a movie going…. And then you’d get stuck,” said Curtis Hanson, director of “L.A. Confidential” and “8 Mile,” who directed the recent HBO movie “Too Big to Fail,” starring William Hurt. “Now excellent directors are choosing to do certain things in television.”
Director Oliver Stone is back to dabbling in the medium, prepping a 10-hour documentary called “The Untold History of the United States” for Showtime. He’s also working with FX and Virgin on a series called “The Dark Side.” “Television would not be my first place to go. Absolutely not,” said the Oscar-winning director, who has been working for the last three years on “Untold History,” a project he calls the most ambitious of his career. “You go to television when you need the long form or when you can’t get the subject done in a theatrical manner.”
Thankfully with this callibre of talent, our small screen content will only be enriched and our quality improve.