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Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
Last week, the film world raised a collective eyebrow when Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” was released on Netflix as a four-part miniseries.
This week’s question: What major filmmaker should try their hand at television?
Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse
Though John Waters is most known for his films, his career has seen him work in numerous mediums—from live shows, to books, to art installations. It would be fascinating to see him develop projects for TV, where many artists have been able to pursue entirely new opportunities and freedoms over the past few years. And on that note, I don’t even think a Waters TV series would even have to be an episodic narrative: his success in such a wide variety of formats proves he can keep audiences engaged in just about any context.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
The prime success stories of filmmakers turning to television, Bruno Dumont (with “Li’l Quinquin”) and David Lynch (with “Twin Peaks: The Return”), involve artists seeking a drastic shift in (pun intended) direction. So the question is: who is sufficiently daring to be up for a combination of new subject matter, a return to long-familiar ground, a change of tone and mood, a reconsideration of themselves and their place in the art? And, at the same time, who has displayed a sufficiently prolific imagination to make a longer format a liberation rather than homework? The first name that comes to mind is James Gray, whose entire career is one of trying to do more and being told or made to do less, and whose view of cinematic form has been, I think, contained (in both senses of the word) by what he himself calls the “architecture” of the feature film. Television might provide him the site on which to build a whole fantasy-city from the ground up.
Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire
That’s easy: Sofia Coppola. I would give anything to see Coppola’s take on the teens of today — we’re talking “Bling Ring” teens, six years on — in episodic format, not that I would limit her to some sort of classy teen-centric soap opera, should she make the jump to the small screen. Television has changed immensely since Coppola started working, and the sort of richly designed settings and music-heavy stories she’s so adept at telling via feature films are now the norm in prestige television. Give her a limited series on some big-spending channel and let her go, that’s must-see television in the making.
Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned), The A.V. Club, The Week, Nylon
Assigning a director you love to a potential TV project is a little like putting them on superhero duty: You have to wonder if the good job they’d do, or the blank check they might or might not earn, would be worth the movie or three that they might have to skip to get it done. With that in mind, I’d select George Lucas, because it’s not like he seems all that dedicated to making movies these days anyway; he hasn’t directed a non-Star Wars feature in, well, my entire lifetime. Lucas has made plenty of noise about wanting to return to his smaller, more experimental roots after he finished up with Star Wars; though it’s hard to take that seriously in retrospect, it is true that mainstream filmmaking is not exactly at peak experimentation levels in 2019. But TV still seems inclined to throw some money at a major auteur Just Because, and maybe an anthology series would be a good venue for Lucas to make some experimental doodles. I’d definitely watch it right away, which is more than I can say for most streaming shows. Hell, if he just wants to take a crack at directing an episode of “The Mandalorian,” that would be cool, too.
Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects/One Perfect Shot, Birth.Movies.Death.
There are plenty of directors I would be interested to see work in television, but for theoretical top picks like Sofia Coppola or Paul Thomas Anderson, I’d be afraid that that would extend the gap between their last and next movie tenfold, and that would not be okay. So, I’m taking how consistently directors work into account here and choosing Richard Linklater — a brilliant writer/director who has tried seemingly everything and proven that he has no limits. Whether it’s a lazy “Dazed and Confused” bumming around sitcom, a philosophical “Waking Life”-esque mini-series, a heist thriller, or a prestige drama of sorts, I really don’t care. It could be something totally unrecognizable from anything he’s done. Just give him a pen, camera, and a decent budget. It seems like territory he would thrive in without having to sacrifice his cinematic work.
And while I’m here, a pitch: six hour-long episodes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel Weisz, Nicole Kidman, and Bill Murray as respective couples on a vacation on the Peruvian coast in some beautifully smooth, charming, talky dramedy. Like Linklater’s “A Bigger Splash” without the sensual suspense, or his “Non-Fiction” without the cheating.
Daniel Joyaux (@thirdmanmovies), freelance contributor for Vanity Fair, The Verge, MovieMaker Magazine, Filmotomy
Of any recent film, “Widows” is the one I feel most strongly should have been an HBO miniseries instead of a movie, and that’s why Steve McQueen is my answer. In 129 minutes, “Widows” tried to be a heist flick, a commentary on nepotism and political corruption in urban politics, and an insightful portrayal of both racial and gender inequality, and you just can’t cover that much ground in that little time. That “Widows” still managed to be very good is a testament to McQueen’s immense talent, but the amount of ideas he’s clearly trying to wrestle with simply demand a more expansive medium.
I think of McQueen’s first three films—”Hunger,” “Shame,” and “12 Years a Slave”—as being a sort of trilogy about the ways we suffer. “Hunger” was about suffering for a cause, “Shame” was about suffering from addiction or disease, and “12 Years a Slave” was about suffering from human cruelty. Each of these films was hyper-focused on one idea, and that idea was explored to its most dire end. When the first trailer came out for “Widows,” my initial temptation was to try and mentally box it into what I thought was McQueen’s distinct oeuvre. “It’s about suffering from your choice of spouse,” I joked.
But the reality of “Widows” turned out to be so much more, and while watching it, you can almost see McQueen’s emotional canvas expanding before your eyes. No doubt this is partially due to his collaborator on the film, screenwriter Gillian Flynn. But McQueen spent three films working out his thoughts on suffering, which makes me think he likely has a lot more to say about the issues raised in “Widows.” And if that’s the case, I hope he considers saying them through television. After all, the tragedy of “Widows” is that if it were an HBO miniseries rather than a movie, McQueen could have likely gotten the same budget and the same cast, but with double the viewership and triple the runtime.
Rosie Knight (@Rosiemarx), Freelancer for Nerdist, Slashfilm, Ms En Scene
My dream television project would be a horror / science fiction show from Clair Denis. I’ve loved her ever since I first saw “Trouble Every Day” and her catalog is eclectic, kind, thoughtful, violent, and visceral in all the ways that move me. I can’t quite fathom the exact story I’d want her to tell as her choices are always so unique to her own vision, but I’d love to see a sprawling genre story unconfined by feature film times and budget that Denis had full creative control over.
Anne McCarthy (@annemitchmcc), Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, Bonjour Paris
I would love to see Julie Taymor take a stab at directing for television (again, that is – Taylor has a couple of TV credits to her name from the early 90s). Not only would it be nice to have another female director taking charge on the small screen, but Taymor’s wild imagination and unique vision are a treat in any form – no matter the medium (see: her adaption of Disney’s “Lion King” for Broadway, for example).
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant
I’ll go with Tim Burton, a once-innovative director whose film career has been on autopilot for more than a decade (“Big Eyes” aside). Maybe a change of format would restore some of the creativity and energy that marked his early works. Those things sure weren’t evident in “Dumbo.”
Aaron Neuwirth (AaronsPS4), We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, Out Now with Aaron and Abe
If Yorgos Lanthimos wanted to make a series out of “The Lobster” focused on just the hotel, I would not mind. Perhaps it could be an “Office” or “Superstore” style situation comedy that plays up the incredibly tense and awkward scenarios in which emotions are dialed way down, while the stakes remain incredibly high, as guests stay with the intention of either finding love or being turned into an animal. The rules would, of course, still be in full effect, with punishments being dealt upon those who dare to satisfy themselves or cheat the system. Some big guest stars could hop in for a few episodes at a time, but Lanthimos trademark bleak humor would remain the highlight, as it could transfer well for those looking to be on edge while getting in some giggles.
Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz), RogerEbert.com
I wish Todd Solondz would make a series, probably somewhere like Starz or HBO where he could go as dark as he wanted, and play around with form as much as he wanted. So much of black comedy on TV post-90s has a vaguely Solondzian feeling — the sense that the characters are deeply lonely, yet obliviously to everyone else’s loneliness because of their narcissism.
Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson and Medium.com
One of the qualities of this exponentially expanding era of television that I really admire from the outside looking in as a cord-cutting film critic is the increased investment being applied to production value on the small screen. The current levels of production design, set decoration, costumes, makeup, and even musical score are often as good as their cinematic peers. TV no longer looks cheap and the time is now for high style being granted the breadth to linger longer than a two-hour movie. With that in mind, some conference room of execs needs to give “A Simple Man” and “Nocturnal Animals” director Tom Ford a blank check and creative freedom to make something dramatically gorgeous. Give him something with sharp intrigue, lavish style, and a TV-MA rating. The gears in my head imagine Tom Ford making something like a long-form Philip Marlowe detective series adaptation. Just imagine the look, feel, and tone of Ford’s dashing work and his level of character work glowing for multiple hours to savor, examine, and enjoy.
Allison Shoemaker (@allisonshoe), The A.V. Club, RogerEbert.com, Consequence of Sound
Is it a cheat to say that I wish more people were watching Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar,” given that I’d have to include me, a person who is two seasons behind, in that wish? Probably. Instead, let’s go with Sean Baker.While anything that would take one of our most exciting working filmmakers away from making movies even temporarily would sting, presumably the trade-off would come with some of the intimate, evolving, and often contradictory character portraits that distinguish most of my favorite television shows. As it happens, that kind of character work is part of what makes Baker’s two features to date, “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project,” so unforgettable. Baker’s knack for capturing all of a person, all their flaws and mistakes as well as their gentleness, passion, and invention, seems perfectly suited to this particular moment in TV, when stories of quiet complexity (“Russian Doll,” “Ramy,” “Lodge 49,” even “Barry”) can thrive in the shadow of juggernauts like “Stranger Things,” “The Walking Dead,” “Westworld,” and the Sansa Stark show. In the end though, if I’m honest, I suppose I just want more Sean Baker, in any medium. Maybe he’ll revive “Greg The Bunny”?
Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM), Solzy at the Movies/Freelance
The hands down choice would be Christopher Nolan. Among major filmmakers, the Oscar-nominated director hasn’t really tackled television, by way of directing or even producing.
Andrea Thompson (@areelofoneson), The Young Folks, A Reel Of One’s Own, The Chicago Reader, Film Girl Film
Don’t make me choose between Paul Thomas Anderson and Greta Gerwig. They’re both highly skilled filmmakers who are deeply, uniquely committed to telling stories so human they’re painful, but in all the right ways. While Anderson’s characters are caught in the grips of the various forces Anderson wants to explore, Gerwig’s are coping with whatever stage of life they happen to be in and the struggles inherent in it.
Both approaches, so equally yet differently based on characters and their development would be highly suited to an episodic approach that television allows. If they were also given the freedom to let their creativity run wild, even the most awful streaming service imaginable couldn’t keep me from experiencing it.
Ethan Warren (@EthanRAWarren), Bright Wall/Dark Room
My gut instinct was to pick a filmmaker with a tendency for loose and sprawling storytelling—Richard Linklater, say—who could use the opportunity to really stretch out and relax beyond the confines of a feature runtime. But then I remembered that in the streaming era, the opportunity to relax and sprawl is being taken advantage of by more than enough series. So for that reason, I’ll go to the far end of the spectrum and pick the most rigorously precise and energetic filmmaker I can think of, one who could provide us an episodic story so tight and lively you can’t look away. And that, of course, would mean bringing someone back to TV: Edgar Wright.
Wright came into our lives via the half-hour comedy “Spaced,” which premiered 20 years ago on Channel 4 and ran for two pitch-perfect but painfully brief series. And while the second series in particular provided a glimpse of the electric shooting and editing and the adrenalized tongue-in-cheek comedy that would become his trademark, each of his successive films has seen Wright hone and tighten his craft to the point that “Baby Driver” may be the most ruthlessly constructed comedy of the decade. In a media landscape where even the best half-hour comedies can often sag and bloat, the idea of bite-size installments of Wright’s taut comic storytelling, all in service of his grandest story yet, is so tantalizing I almost wish I hadn’t thought of it. My life will feel just a little emptier until it happens.
Sarah Welch-Larson (@dodgyboffin), Bright Wall/Dark Room, Think Christian, Freelance
I’d love to see Alex Garland take on a TV project, either an anthology miniseries or a limited story. As thrilled as I am by the developments surrounding Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” project, I think Garland would offer an interesting take on the story; he’s one of the rare male science fiction writers who seems to get his female characters right, and I’d love to see him tell the Dune story from the perspective of the Fremen, or the Bene Gesserit, spanning at least “Dune” and “Dune Messiah.”
Clint Worthington (@clintworthing), Consequence of Sound, The Spool
The funny thing about this question is that for as many examples as I can think of, a lot of big directors have already done television. Hell, even Tarantino’s directed episodes of “E.R.”. Taika’s brought his “What We Do in the Shadows” to FX, Dee Rees has done episodes of “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams”, and Ben Wheatley directed Peter Capaldi’s first couple of episodes of “Doctor Who”. My answer, then, might just be Panos Cosmatos, just because he’s only really done a couple of things (“Beyond the Black Rainbow”, “Mandy”), but boy would his neon-and-blood-soaked approach be fun for some kid of prestige horror-drama show on FX, HBO or some other premium cable service. Just throw him some bar lights, a few buckets of Caro syrup, and Nicolas Cage, and let him go to work on eight episodes of spine-chilling weirdness. I’ll be there day one.