Film Directors Who Should Be Working on Television
Apple recently secured the rights to distribute a new TV series that is executive produced by M. Night Shymalan. This will be Shyamalan’s second TV series, following his earlier project, Wayward Pines. I’m not surprised that Shyamalan is turning to TV again because working on Wayward Pines helped resurrect his career, alongside the film, The Visit. He’s far from the only one to take advantage of TV to help boost their career. Whether if its because no one likes their films, no one’s seeing them, or just because they feel like it, big name directors from Ben Affleck to The Wachowskis to Spike Lee are all turning to television. There isn’t anymore stigma in going to TV from film work, and, if Shyamalan is any proof, that move can save careers. With that in mind, I thought of a few directors that I think would benefit in going to TV for a while.
This one might be a bit controversial, but I think David Ayer should move to TV for a while just to save himself from himself. He’s one of the more fascinating, and certainly one of the most confusing, writer-directors working in Hollywood because he’s relied on pretty much the same storytelling tricks his entire career. He’s proven himself as a skilled writer with films like Training Day, Fury, and End of Watch, however, he’s just never really shown himself to be very versatile, especially when he has to direct something that came from someone else’s vision. As a result, he’s the only director I’m including here more for his writing abilities than his artistry or direction. I’d rather see him direct secondhand as a TV show runner than as a film director for now.
There isn’t anything wrong with having a specialty, but I think he turns to his “Ayer-isms” too much; he relies too heavily on L.A. based gang imagery and the kind of stylistic grittiness that was already tired by the late 2000s. Street Kings, Harsh Times, Suicide Squad, the abysmal Bright— Ayer has a very spotty record that leans more toward bad than good. Still, there’s something there. He’s a good writer, and he’s a meticulous, self-described “ruthless” director with a distinct set of interests. Basically, he’s the perfect kind of show runner for modern TV. I’d like to see him flesh out his morally complex characters over a season or two, and focus on the kind of story that he wants to tell. Also, I’d want to see how other writers and directors reign in his vision to work as a serialized story. We don’t really need anymore cop shows, but since that’s Ayer’s bread and butter, I’d be willing to give it a shot if it was on a channel that let him be as bloody and gritty as he wanted to be. I think, at the very least, Ayer knows how to write characters that are fun to ride along with.
The disaster film genre seems all but dead at this point. Maybe it will come back and Roland Emmerich can become king again, but until then, I think he should try his hand at making binge-worthy, spectacle driven TV miniseries. The man who wowed audiences with Independence Day has had a hard time getting anywhere near that level of “acclaim” with his later films. Even though he’s known for his dazzling spectacle driven disaster films, Emmerich’s Godzilla, 2012, and certainly 10,000 BC are known more for boring audiences than exciting them. White House Down was the definition of unremarkable (it even has a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes), and The Patriot is only mildly enjoyable at best.
In all honesty, Emmerich never was a great director or writer, but he can conceptualize some cool ideas. Everybody remembers the shot in Independence Day where the White House gets blown up by an alien spaceship; it’s awesome. Emmerich should be an executive producer or showrunner for a TV show where all he needs to do is pitch a basic plot for each season, think up some overblown, but visually stunning disasters for each season, and then let a talented group of writers take it from there. He would get a few episodes each season to showcase what he’s really good at— he could even direct those episodes— and the writers could use the rest to of the episodes to tell an actual story. Perhaps he could make an anthology show with a new disaster each season, or different groups of people all reacting to the same disaster. At the very least, he’d shine as an executive producer for a miniseries, and as long as there was a more sane and capable person by his side to balance him out, it could work. He may not be able to blow up the whole world on a TV budget, but I think that limitation could lend itself to more creativity.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go through a regrettable early teen, hipster like period of thinking Tim Burton was the best producer/director in Hollywood. I’m still a fan of his ’80s and early ’90s stuff (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is a top five for me), but everything after Ed Wood is of shockingly varying quality. Some, like James and the Giant Peach or even Big Fish, still stand up as decent. Most, however, just feel uninspired. Burton suffers from the same issue as Ayer: style serving as a crutch. Burton used to be weird because he was weird, and his off-beat style was how he delivered a heartfelt story.
Now, his quirk is a branded quantity that studios use to market to niche audiences. I honestly don’t understand why Burton hasn’t made the move back to TV. He seems like the kind of director who would love to take advantage of an anthology series format. He’d be able to think of any kind of weird setting he wanted, and fill it with lanky sad-eyed desaturated emo characters. I wouldn’t want to see a serialized show from him because he seems like the kind of guy who thrives on the spark of new ideas, and flounders when he has to expand those ideas into long stories. I imagine Burton would want to write all or at least most of the episodes himself, and for the most part, I’d be fine with that. However, I would hope that he’d have a co-showrunner or another executive producer to offer something other than the by the numbers Burton way of doing things. I don’t know if Burton would be willing to do it unless Johnny Depp does it with him, but if that’s what it takes to see an inspired work from Burton again, I might be willing to take it.
This is the other director I loved as an early teen hipster. I don’t know if it was a result of growing older and wiser, or if it was because I watched Mallrats, but once I got to ninth grade, I realized Kevin Smith may not be the tortured genius he and I thought he was. Still, Smith is good at the simple things; he can write good dialogue and he can offer some fun humor. Besides that, he’s a nerd. He knows how to tell stories and he knows what makes good stories because all he does is read, watch, and discuss comic books and films. The problem with his own films is that they stopped being films for mass audiences a while back. Smith started making things more and more just for himself and his inner circle to enjoy. The meta humor and references that gave Clerks a fresh sense of cynical fun that people could relate to became “you had to be there” style humor by the time Clerks II rolled around.
Of all the directors here, I think Smith is most capable of writing a series that could play on basic cable, or even network given that he’s recently been directing episodes of CW’s The Flash. He likes his swear words, but as a nerd, he knows how to tell stories without them. I know he has Comic Book Men on AMC, but I think he could easily make a Community style show, or something like an edgier version of The Orville based around a Star Wars parody.
I don’t know if any of these directors would consider moving long-term to TV (probably not), but I genuinely think they could make some interesting stuff if they did. TV schedules are getting a bit overblown, so I wouldn’t be surprised if TV producers try to court more established, but ‘down on their luck’ film directors to make new stuff.