One of the biggest joys in life for me is trying new things. There’s nothing better than getting that butterfly in the stomach, conquering it and along the way gaining some context and a new perspective of the experience.
A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to direct an episode of COMMUNITY (it’s still mind boggling that I could be watching a show one day and then be on set shooting it the next.) In the past I’ve had opportunities to direct TV shows but my schedule was either full or it just wasn’t the right fit (sorry car themed projects) But when this came up, it was a no brainer. To me the show is hilarious, amazingly well written, and has an unbelievable cast. I love comedies. That’s all I have on my DVR. And it was truly an honor (and surreal) to get asked to be a part of my favorite show.
Going in, I had some preconceptions of shooting in television. I had heard that TV moves much faster than feature productions. And since I came from the indie world, I thought I’d be used to it. But the reality is that TV is like shooting an indie film on steroids but with a studio and network right there with you. Forget Jenny Craig, if you want to really lose weight go shoot a TV show. Not only is time money, you better go in knowing what you want because things will shift and if you don’t know the core of what you’re trying to achieve, you’re in trouble because you’ll have no time to figure it out. Before we go on I want to make sure I don’t overstate the position of the episodic director. In feature land the director is like Magic Johnson (and for you kids Lebron James). But in TV land the episodic director is like Michael Cooper (or Anderson Varejao). The creator and the writers are what drive the engine. The director of the pilot establishes a visual style and tone for the show. The actors are responsible for crafting and honing their characters as they grow from episode to episode. The job of the episodic director is to come in, learn as fast as possible the essence of various aspects of the show and deliver them within the confines of the specific episode without hopefully missing a beat.
The other thing I learned is that television is the one lone standing medium where one has to earn their way. This might sound obvious but we do live in an era now where anyone can pick up a camera and proclaim themselves a “filmmaker”. They can’t do that in TV. In feature world as long as one can get their hands on funding or equipment they can set out to tell a story. There’s no way a person can come in and be a writer or create a show without some body of work to back them up. A feature film production can average two to three pages (about two to three screen minutes) a day but in TV it’s doubled most of the time. In feature world filmmakers spend usually at least a year to complete two hours of film but in TV they have to produce eleven hours of quality content for a half hour show in about 25 weeks. There is independent cinema but there’s no such thing as independent television.
So as I pack up and return back to the feature filmmaking world, I feel nothing but respect for television shows and its cast and crew, especially the quality ones that deliver week in and week out. And it is comforting to know all of that is the result of hard work from proven talent.