A few things about that.
Look, I know the movie business is a mess for everyone but the dozen or so top of the heap writers and directors. I'm sure midlevel directors have been struggling for a long time, fighting for financing, trying to get into rooms, trying to get their projects on screen. I get it. I know why you came to television. That's why feature writers have come, too. There's work here. Now, what happens generally is that when big fish come to a smaller pond, the fish who actually created the pond and have maintained it so well that it's actually more fashionable than the bigger pond, get pushed out onto dry land. And the bigger fish decide that they are going to make television better, because they have come from a medium that has produced some of the finest art the world has ever seen.
(not that they themselves have necessarily made that art, but they come from a medium that did, so I guess that counts somehow)
Some feature writers and directors flourish in television. Some do not. It's not for everyone, and the thing that usually gets them is the pace. TV moves FAST, y'all. Now, making an episode of Game of Thrones isn't the same as making an episode of a cable series. You get more money, more time, a bigger crew and more locations with Game of Thrones. When Paris Barclay talks about making little movies every week, he's not talking about the majority of television. Because he doesn't know anything about the majority of television. He doesn't know that TV directors have to shoot eight or nine pages a day, have sometimes only six days to shoot a 52-page script, cram dozens of set-ups into each day, and have to make their days and stay on budget. If you've never been on the set of a regular TV show, you really have NO idea what goes into producing one.
People who have likely not been on the set of a regular TV show: TV critics and the head of the DGA.
This is the quote that blew up Twitter today:
“A good script really helps, of course. But even if it isn’t so good, we can move in and save the baby. In this brave new world, we’re making little movies.”
Notice the judicious use of "we." By "we," he means directors. He doesn't mean the dozens of other people -- the little people, I guess -- who actually spend twelve to fourteen hours a day bringing his vaunted "vision" to life. He doesn't mention the fact that he and his fellow directors don't have a job unless they are hired by the writer of that not-good script that will be saved by the director. He doesn't mention the fact that the writers spend months dealing with the network and studio, the budget, hiring an entire cast and crew, breaking and writing those stories that will be saved by the director.
You know who knows this? Freelance TV directors who move from show to show, adapting their talents to fit budget, tone, time and locations. These journeymen and journeywomen are partners in the process of creating an episode of television. Basically, this attitude isn't just insulting to show creators. It's insulting to the bread-and-butter television directors who direct a staggering majority of all episodes of all series. And when the time comes for directors to be chosen for TV pilots, these directors are not in the conversation. Because they aren't feature directors who can't get movies made and decide to slum it to television. THOSE people, the guys (99.999% of the time) who have never directed any television, are handed the task of shooting a TV pilot that will set the template for an entire (hopefully successful) series. Yes, the people who HAVE NEVER DONE IT BEFORE.
And then they walk away, having gotten more time and more money to make an episode of television than any of those television directors will ever get. The bad ones walk away yammering about how they're elevating the medium by directing a ten million dollar television pilot. I don't know if everybody knows this, but the director of a TV pilot gets a fee for every episode. That's a moneymaker right there, y'all. So if you wondered why directors fight for pilots, it's about money.
But even with a pilot guys like Paris Barclay conveniently ignore the fact that when they deliver their cut, it's the WRITER, that person who handed them the thing that THEY needed to elevate, who gets final cut. Yes, don't mention the FACT that it's the writer, the show's CREATOR and executive producer, who gets FINAL CUT ON THEIR BABY! And sometimes, a feature director doesn't deliver something awesome. So the writer has to fix it. They have to bring it back to the show they envisioned and sold in the first place. It's the writer who has to ensure that the pilot is a good template for their show. But you don't hear writers going to the press and complaining about how the feature directors ruined their show, do you? No, because writers don't have time for that nonsense. They're too busy making a television show.
I've worked with some TV directors who made big features. I haven't had a negative experience yet. They're incredibly collaborative and smart and I'm dying to work with them again. But at the end of the day, TV is still a writer-driven medium and they know that. It doesn't take away from their contribution at all to recognize that, just as film is largely driven by the director. So what is going on, then? Why are some of these guys so into grabbing credit and trying to marginalize the writer? Tell you what, guys -- start from the beginning, all by yourself, and YOU make the show. Be the auteur that you so desperately want to be.
The notion that it's the directors who are fully responsible for making television more cinematic is just so much crap. Like writers don't think visually. Poor writers, just using their mouth words to tell a story! It's funny how writers know they need directors, but directors don't think they need writers. What the hell are you going to shoot if you don't have a script, guys? If directors are going to hold onto their "vision" and staunchly avoid collaborating, they aren't gonna get hired. Look, once you're in prep and getting ready to make the show, there's nothing better than a director with great ideas. But those great ideas are BASED ON THE SCRIPT, on the vision of the writer. A director feeling threatened by a writer is as bad as a writer feeling threatened by a director. It's inefficient. We don't have time for this.
If I ever got to make a TV pilot, I have a pretty good-sized list of directors I'd love to work with. But these would be directors who have proven to be good partners and collaborators. Paris, dear fellow, you are not on that list. Nor, I suspect, are you on other lists.
There was also this little ditty that someone linked to during the conversation. And all I could think of while reading it was that it's the writer, in the editing room, making all of those final choices. I don't know if the writer of this article understands that the executive producer has final cut or not, but I'm guessing not. To wit:
It’s not wrong to attribute a program’s personality to showrunners—the Matt Weiners (Mad Men) and Vince Gilligans (Breaking Bad) and Shonda Rhimeses (Scandal)—but it doesn’t tell the whole critical story. Showrunners aren’t on the set every single minute, and within the showrunner’s big picture are a series of smaller pictures: the scenes, the moments, the shots. It’s on these smaller canvases that episodic directors work their magic.
While showrunners may not be on the set every minute, the writer of the episode generally IS. And if they aren't, dailies are being watched and communication is happening. Tech scouts, concept meetings, tone meetings and production meetings have already happened, and those meetings are driven by the executive producer. In fact, if he or she wants, the executive producer can be involved in literally EVERY choice made during prep, production and post. This nonsense is a disservice to everybody who works so hard to make television.