October 4, 2010

THE WIRE'S DAVID SIMON: "YOU WANT GOOD TV? THEN ALL POWER BELONGS TO THE AUTHOR"

Now, I am perfectly aware that this sentence alone will cause hearts to stop all around Los Angeles, because "whu? The author? Are you fucking kidding me? The author should be getting me lunch!" is the attitude around there, but let us look at the complete quote by Simon in the interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, shall we?
"It's easy. You have to give all power to the author. Then you bring a director to the author, a producer and somebody who knows exactly how to stay within budget. But the final says has to stay with the author. I'm not stating this because I am an author myself. Directors fall in love with technique, how to frame a scene and style. None of that is the raison d'├ętre to tell a story. It is necessary to deal with these things, but directors are not the caretakers of the story, neither are the actors or the crew. [...] If you want to tell a good story, it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. All of which can only be accomplished by an author, not by a director, not by a producer, not by an actor or the guy who signs the checks. It's the author."
I'm not quite of the same opinion as David Simon.

It is commendable for him to stand up and say how it is, that the author is and always will be the heart of the story, but in order to tell that story, you need a brilliant director who can read and understand what it is, you need those techniques and how to frame a scene, how to block a shot and how a scene transitions to the next, because that is part of the filmic vocabulary, it is an integral part of what the audience will see at the end, and whether they will understand what they see.

And you need those actors, David. You can write whatever you like, and it may be the most brilliant stuff on the planet, but if you don't have actors who embellish it, find the nuance, find the pause, you are so totally dead in the water, it is not even funny.

But the question is one of control. And yes, in that, the author must have the final say, because only the author knows how little strands woven into the beginning will play out at the end.

I do think, however, one of the major faults of the American system is that notion that (a) in movies, the author is worth shit and jack, with that delusion that the director is the "auteur", whereas in television the director is just as worthless, with the author (sometimes the networks) essentially exchanging the directors in a journeyman fashion, the way they do it in movies with the author.

Both ways are stupid as fuck.

One of the things that – if there ever were a The Cage television show – I want to change is how this works. In my conceptual parameters, each arc, each story will be roughly between 5 and 7 episodes long.

Each of those arcs should and will be written by an author or a team as if these arcs were very fucking long movies. And for each arc there should be just one director. Said director will be there from beginning to the end of the arc, from the first drafts to the notes to everything that comes after, so that the story arc has one consistent tone that is not the lowest common denominator.

Now, while the overall show has to have a common tone, a common style, such a way of working allows to not only get the bland shit that is vomited out of the TV factories at this point in time, it gives the opportunity to have singular experiences for the audience with each new story arc.

The reason behind it? And this may be difficult to swallow for pretty much everybody in the industry... is that the people writing on it (other than me) need to know, need to feel that this is just as much their baby as it is mine. In order to keep control, you must be willing to give it to those who work with you. And if you find the right people, doing so is going to be easy.

I have had this experience a couple of times before, especially with my launch team at Future Publishing, where – if you give that team freedom – they will never disappoint you.

It's the same thing with directors. In movies, they get their cocks sucked far too much, to the point where they are rightfully and self-righteously deluded that it is all them.

Bullshit.

In television, some of the showrunners are just as deluded (yes, I am looking at you, Matt Weiner, and also to a degree at you, Aaron Sorkin) that is is all them. What is the point of having a team, of picking the right people, if all I am going to do is steal the credit from them, and put my name on each script, stating that "this is all mine, and you wouldn't even have a job, if it weren't for me"?

Bullshit, all of it.

What you need is to spread responsibility, to give everybody working on your creation the sense that it is theirs as well, that they can bring something to the table. And yes, the creator has to be the one with the final say, mainly because it is the creator's ass that is on the line, but the point of leading people, of leading creative people into battle (and don't make the mistake of thinking that it isn't a battle, it is) is to make them want to follow you.

You don't order them around.

A boss orders you around, because he has power over you.

A leader makes you want to follow, not you as a person, I don't believe in personality cults, but because you agree with what is supposed to come out at the end.

You give them something to aspire to, and be in turn inspired by them.

And that is where David Simon is wrong. In order to create something as big and as vast as a television show, you need to have a unit, you need to have a team, a special ops team, where everybody has unique skills that flow into the story. And I am just as much pissed off by the fact that movies so conviently forget the author as I am by the fact that in television, the director gets one of those "directed by" credits far, far down the line.

That thinking has to change.

And if I were to make something happen, that thinking will change.