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There has always been a battle between the film and television industries, but with the rise of digital content the battle has gotten downright nasty at times. Netflix kicked it off with the development of House of Cards, produced by David Fincher, and has collected a menagerie of auteurs in the film industry who seek to tell new types of longer form stories. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) tried his hand with the expensive throwback The Get Down while the Wachowskis (The Matrix)  brought their favorite blend of science fiction and drama with Sense8. It’s not even isolated to just Netflix, with HBO being the largest risk takers with new properties from respected directors and Amazon getting into the television game. With both of those shows recent cancellations, it’s worth an examination of the creative risks that these directors encounter by delving into television. First comes a distinction; with the rise of the digital format, the concept of “television” becomes a bit fractured. So, for the sake of clarification, a separation of television networks and digital content providers is mandatory. We’ll be referring to both in terms of an artistic sense, so the major difference in play for us is a miniseries (such as Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake) versus television season (such as Sense8).

So why would a big name director decide to take on a series? The directors who tend to gravitate towards the small screen tell stories that eclipse the standard feature length as it is. Luhrmann, the Wachowskis, Fincher, Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire), and Soderbergh (The Knick) are filmmakers who tend to tell complex stories with varying degrees of accessibility for mainstream audiences. So, being offered a platform to tell a longer story with a decent budget and limitless creative control is extremely appealing. As for the shows, they get the clout of the filmmaker’s name which carries a built in audience. To a director with less recognizability, the possibilities are endless. Filmmakers such as Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Swanberg (Easy) have taken their distinct styles and created powerhouses of television. They blend their art into the narrative, defining both their past and their present with a firm hand. True Detective’s first season became a cultural sensation under Fukunaga’s eye, catapulting his career in the process. This freedom allows for the best of both worlds; a talented visionary takes a well developed script and creates, essentially, two feature films worth of content.

There is an unfortunate drawback to this current model of content. For the most part, all of the shows listed do not have longevity and very rarely is it because of a lack of an audience. The Get Down and The Knick were both abandoned by their directors, Fukunaga departed True Detective after its first season, Luck was canceled due to production problems, and Sense8 was cancelled after a turbulent second season. Any shows that are still running have had new show runners take over with the filmmakers stepping into the executive producer role such as with House of Cards, Boardwalk Empire, and The Strain. The only sustainable projects seem to be the miniseries format such as Top of the Lake, Crisis in Six Scenes, The Young Pope, and Tanner ‘88. Despite critical acclaim, a passionate audience, and a supportive platform, most of these shows tend to flame out quickly. Is the problem based on the artist or the medium? Depending on speculation, the source of frustration tends to be the cheap nature of making television in comparison to movies, as well as the time commitment. So is there a future for more film auteurs in television?

One man successfully transcended both mediums. Alfred Hitchcock Presents lasted for seven seasons with seventeen of the episodes directed by the host and executive producer himself. His show, unlike any other film director discussed, is an anthology based series. This is actually pretty fundamental for his own success as the show would constantly be rotating its plots and actors, shooting for smaller consecutive days and being a cheaper production. Interest was and remained high due to Hitchcock’s high profile image, allowing the show to essentially be crafted around him. The nature of the show makes it distinct against the background of other film auteurs mentioned, however it’s hard to ignore Hitchcock’s influence in the medium of television. If a film auteur is interested in longevity, he has to adapt to the television medium instead of just trying to cram a movie’s production into smaller audience chunks. Only time will tell if any filmmaker decides to take up television and run with it in earnest for longer than three seasons.

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