TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray, designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
NYTVF STAFF: We're hearing from more and more independent filmmakers that are interested making the transition to TV. Do you think there's a natural fit for those artists in the TV landscape?
TG: Absolutely. More and more we are seeing the stripping away of the idea that film is art and television is commerce. Well-known filmmakers are moving to television to tell some of the greatest stories of their careers. The core of both television and film is storytelling. While they are two separate media, their goals are remarkably similar.
NYTVF STAFF: Can all films be made into television series?
TG: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all films can be made into television series. Every film, by its very definition, is a standalone piece of work. Even when you are looking at film franchises, the ones that work are the ones that tell a complete story, encapsulated within the runtime of the film. With television, you have to be able to tell that story over a much longer period of time. While this opens up possibilities of long-form character and narrative progression, it also might be an unsustainable model for some film characters and situations.
NYTVF STAFF: What’s the greatest obstacle to transitioning a film to a televisual landscape?
TG: The greatest obstacle is proving that the story you’re telling could unfold over a much longer timeline and without a definite endgame. Television is shaped and changed by viewers, by criticism, and by what’s working from week-to-week. When re-working a film concept to TV, you also need to be ready to lose some control. Creating television is a collaborative process. Simply by nature of the amount of content that needs to be made, there are many more people working on a television show than a film. It’s the nature of the beast and more in line with a big-budget studio film, with lots of voices working to create one product.
NYTVF STAFF: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when making that transition?
TG: Again, you have to tell compelling stories regardless, and you may have to dramatically reshape your concept to do that. If you look at a writer like Aaron Sorkin, his work in television, theater, and film are drastically different but contain similar themes, tonal consistencies and are attempting to tell similar stories. We recently did a panel on this transition and one of our panelists was Ray McKinnon, who has won an Academy Award for short film and recently created, wrote, and directed the Sundance Channel series Rectify. He spoke on the transition, and that television allowed him additional time to unfold the story that he wanted to tell and develop characters in a more realistic and deep way. He also spoke of TV and Film in the vein of literature, where a film is a full book and television episodes work as chapters in a longer story.
NYTVF STAFF: Now, speaking of the book metaphor, there is still a persistent message that television is a medium suited for writers. Do you feel that TV is a landscape that uniquely highlights the strength of writing, or is there more room for other types of creators who currently work in film?
TG: I think that television is always going to be a great place for writers, because they’ll be called on to produce the most content over the run of any show. However, television, like film, is still a primarily visual medium. I read an article by Matt Zoller Seitz recently in New York Magazine about the importance of directors in television, and that there is still a need to shape television stories through directing, cinematography, and other elements that are at the core of filmmaking. Now, not all shows are like How I Met Your Mother, where most if not all episodes are directed by one person (Pamela Fryman). Still, shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which often hire different directors for each episode, are still able to tell evocative stories through direction. Directors and filmmakers are still able to make their mark on television. Some of the most iconic images on screen today are on the small screen.
NYTVF STAFF: So it’s a little clearer HOW filmmakers can transition into television, but what is the WHY? Why should filmmakers consider television?
TG: In the simplest sense, there are more opportunities for creators on television. In a panel we hosted at the Festival last fall, filmmaker Jack Lechner compared the media to two different kinds of relationships. Film is all flirtation and no results, whereas television is always willing and available. There’s so much work for filmmakers in television, either as creators of their own series or as important members of the television-making process, be it as directors, DPs, writers, producers, etc. With that aura of collaboration comes a lot more jobs, and a lot more opportunities to get your voice heard and your work seen. Also, it is always important to remember that networks have evolved in many ways to distinct programming brands and whenever you're pitching, your concept should absolutely have a bend that appeals to that buyer.
NYTVF STAFF: Are you seeing anything from the recent network Upfronts that shows a filmmaker sensibility in television?
TG: I wouldn’t say that this year represented a bigger push to taking film concepts to the small screen, but, especially in network dramas, there is an idea of taking big concepts, which traditionally are the realm of film, and translating that to television. At ABC you have Joss Whedon’s Marvel show about S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Once Upon A Time spin-off focusing on Alice in Wonderland. NBC greenlit a number of big concepts that are spearheaded by people associated with film and television, including J.J. Abrams. Upfronts this year just further cemented the idea that television can be a place for auteur creators and personalities with distinct styles and voices. The door is wide open.
NYTVF STAFF: Thanks for the chat.