Friday, November 20, 2009

Film Director Gets Schooled In TV

The CRTC hearings are melting my brain, so it was a nice diversion to read this entry from director Justin Lin, mostly known for directing features (The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious), relating his first foray into directing television on the comedy series Community.

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.

Lin then goes onto say something very interesting.

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.

In Canadian TV try triple the page count a day!

Speaking from experience, I couldn't agree more. It was a serious 'holy crap' slap in the face moment moving from independent movie/one-off production to the careening almost out of control train that is series TV...first as a director then as a writer/producer. The 'reality' vs. the preconception was almost overwhelming. Note I say 'almost' - you either embrace it or avoid it. I embraced it.

But when I teach film and TV production or screenwriting, I always feel like the students leave class never really grasping much less appreciating how massive an undertaking it is to write, produce, shoot, edit, and get to air a season of a TV series. The crew and cast may be the same size, but the fact that production goes on and on for the better part of a year while delivering the equivalent of ten or twenty quality feature films, it's near impossible to execute and deliver without an experienced leader and qualified team who have battled through the gauntlet time and time again. Not to negate the work involved in producing a feature film, but Lin speaks the truth...getting a feature made doesn't ever really prepare you for the making of a TV series.

Though there's many in the feature world that would like you to believe otherwise.

Read the rest of Lin's post HERE.

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