Top 10 Movie Makers Who Make Great TV
Time was, successful movie directors wouldn’t deign to make a TV show. But all that has changed as Oscar-caliber (and often Oscar-winning) talent has signed on both in front of the camera and behind it. TV has become as expansive and rewarding a medium as film, and it’s no accident that, for the first time ever, this year’s Sundance Film Festival screened a TV series in its entirety: TOP OF THE LAKE won praise for its vision and scope from critics whose schedules were jam-packed with great films. But then, when great filmmakers are making great TV, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Don’t miss the highly acclaimed TOP OF THE LAKE, premiering on Sundance Channel Monday, March 18 at 9P.
10. Jon Favreau
We first got to know Favreau, of course, not behind the camera but as an actor in movies like SWINGERS and RUDY. But around the same time, he was also starting to appear on the small screen, with roles on The Larry Sanders Show and Friends, among others. As he has gained success as a director (ELF, the IRON MAN series), he has naturally returned to TV as well, directing episodes of Judd Apatow’s cult favorite Undeclared as well as one of the final episodes of the NBC comedy stalwart The Office, which is ending its nine-season run this year.
9. Amy Heckerling
She has somehow authentically tapped in to multiple generations of teenage swagger (and dialogue) in movies like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and CLUELESS (as well as baby dialogue in LOOK WHO’S TALKING). Now Heckerling is working the CW crowd, first directing a couple of Gossip Girl episodes and now taking on Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw in her ’80s teenage incarnation for The Carrie Diaries.
8. Kevin Smith
You can’t get much more indie than Smith’s filmmaking origin story: He shot his film CLERKS after hours at the convenience store where he was an employee, then managed to get it into the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Filmmakers Trophy. Since then he’s gone on to make movies you wouldn’t mistake for anyone else’s: JAY AND SILENT BOB, CHASING AMY and DOGMA among them. In 2007, he directed the delightful pilot for Reaper, one of those series that really should have been great: It had an original premise, sparkling wit and genius casting, including Ray Wise as the Devil. Alas, it didn’t last. But you can currently catch Smith both starring in and executive-producing the unscripted series Comic Book Men on AMC.
7. Neil Jordan
The writer-director of THE CRYING GAME -- for which he won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and was nominated in the Best Director category -- has a way with historical settings and intricate drama. MICHAEL COLLINS, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, THE END OF THE AFFAIR and BREAKFAST ON PLUTO span the decades and centuries, and Jordan’s latest effort, Showtime’s The Borgias, is no exception. In 2011 he was nominated for a Best Director Emmy for the scintillating historical-religious-crime drama series, which he also writes and executive-produces.
6. Judd Apatow
Though Apatow comes from a TV background originally, both of his early series, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, were canceled way too soon -- and, tellingly, both have since become cult favorites. Apatow of course has had great success as a voice of a generation with movies like KNOCKED UP, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and ANCHORMAN. (The eagerly anticipated next installment of the Ron Burgundy comedy is due later this year.) He has now become the kind of champion he himself could have used back in the day to up-and-comers like Lena Dunham, whose wildly successful HBO series Girls he executive-produces.
5. Gus Van Sant
A unique voice in filmmaking, Van Sant’s oeuvre ranges from the hustler coming-of-age movie MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO to the indie-to-mainstream success story GOOD WILL HUNTING to the ’70s-drug-culture classic DRUGSTORE COWBOY to the gunned-down gay-icon story MILK. He is currently executive-producing one of the best series not enough people are watching, Starz’ Boss, starring Kelsey Grammer. (Van Sant also directed the pilot.)
4. David Fincher
As a director and an executive producer of one of the most innovative new shows out there, the Netflix hit House of Cards, Fincher has helped change the landscape of what a TV series can be. (All 13 episodes of House of Cards’ first season were released on the same day, reflecting a marked change in watching habits.) Nominated twice for directing Oscars, for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Fincher also directed the cult favorite FIGHT CLUB and the American version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.
3. Martin Scorsese
One of the greatest film auteurs of all time, Scorsese has been nominated for 10 Oscars -- winning only once thus far, for THE DEPARTED -- and creating influential and celebrated movies from RAGING BULL to TAXI DRIVER to HUGO. But with the exception of a few TV movies and documentaries, he never ventured into small-screen work until HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the epic Prohibition-era ode to booze, bootleggers, politicians and power. Scorsese, who executive-produces the series, also directed the pilot episode -- with a whopping, film-like budget of $18 million.
2. David Lynch
Few filmmakers are quite as distinctive in tone and visual style as David Lynch, whose BLUE VELVET, MULHOLLAND DR. and THE ELEPHANT MAN all earned him Oscar nominations. But one of his most unparsable, most acclaimed and, frankly, most bizarre works is the series Twin Peaks, which had discerning audiences asking, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” (Note that Ray Wise somehow comes up twice in this list... see Number 8.)
1. Jane Campion
The Oscar-winning director of THE PIANO returned to her homeland of New Zealand for the Sundance Original Series TOP OF THE LAKE. “A project like this, of this size, which I was dreaming about doing, has something with the dimension of a novel,” Campion said at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “I’m a filmmaker, so that’s all I know how to do. My approach is I want to tell stories visually... I don’t know how to do it any other way.”