By Zack Sharf | Indiewire August 22, 2014 at 6:30PM
[Editor's Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today's pick is "Are You Here," which you can catch On Demand.]
Television wunderkind Matthew Weiner takes a bold step this weekend to a place he's never gone before: the movies. "Are You Here," Weiner's feature film debut that premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, stars Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis as two best friends on a rocky road trip back home after one inherits a large sum of money following the death of his estranged father. The comedy may seem like a stretch from the heavy dramatic work Weiner has mastered over his 21 years in television, but the premise sounds ripe with the character centric studies he does so well. Weiner, who rose to prominence under David Chase as a producer and writer on the fifth and sixth seasons of "The Sopranos," has cemented his own name in the television history books as the creator of AMC's multiple Emmy Award-winning drama, "Mad Men." Just how successful his filmmaking career becomes remains to be seen (though it could very well take off with "Mad Men" ending in Spring 2015), but as "Are You Here" opens in select theaters and on video on demand platforms we can't help but think of other television creators who should follow suit. Although many cinematic voices are migrating to the small screen these days, here are 9 television creators who should swing the other way and bring their television talents to the movies.
Side Note: Since "Are You Here" represents Weiner's first foray into feature filmmaking, only television creators that have yet to be involved with the making of a feature length movie have been considered, which unfortunately means no Louis C.K. ("Pootie Tang"), no David Benioff ("Troy"), no Shonda Rhimes ("Crossroads"), etc.
Loren Bouchard ("Bob's Burgers")
After four seasons full of hilarious bickering, family dysfunction and growing popularity, FOX's "Bob's Burgers" finally won Outstanding Animated Program at this year's Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Loren Bouchard's oddball animated sitcom is rarely as laugh-out-loud funny as its channel mate, "Family Guy," but its more subversive comedy style grows funnier, wittier and more vulgar with every episode spent watching the clashing, idiosyncratic family members of the Belcher clan. Be it the extrovert Linda, the precocious troublemaker Louise or the puberty-plagued Tina, each Belcher has a sidesplitting personality to instigate a whole seasons worth of shenanigans on his or her own. And yet, it's the convoluted way Bouchard bumps these personas into one another that gives the show its addictive comedic voice and, at certain times, its unexpected heart. Equally as effective is his comic pacing, which mirrors its characters by balancing deadpan with manic zaniness. While Bouchard could certainly take a page out of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's playbook by taking his lovable animated family to the big screen, his affinity for eccentric characters and the way in which he combines both workplace and family comedy structures could work just as well in a live action movie format.
Steven S. DeKnight ("Spartacus: Blood and Sand," "Daredevil")
When Steven S. DeKnight premiered "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" on Starz in 2010, many were quick to judge the highly stylized drama as nothing but a "300" small screen knockoff. But throughout the bloody good first season of the sword-and-sandal epic, DeKnight proved his efficiency for turning gratuitous sex and over-the-top graphic violence into imperative world-building tools. The four "Spartacus" entries transcend their guilty pleasure roots thanks to the fiery, unpredictable societal structure that DeKnight has his gladiators revolt against. The show is the definitive underdog story, and its arresting style, sharp editing and ingenious use of slow motion give it a testosterone fueled energy that revs up the characters' desires for revenge. "Spartacus" proves the cult favorite showrunner can ground the fantastical in real human drama, so no wonder Disney and Marvel have recruited him to replace Drew Goddard as the man in charge of one of their first ventures into television, Netflix's upcoming "Daredevil." His ability to bring soul to what should more-or-less be cartoonish pulp bodes well for the superhero show, as does his astute world-building skills that should fit nicely into the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A handful of independent directors have been sinking their teeth into blockbusters as of late (Marc Webb, Gareth Edwards, etc.), and if the trend ever crosses over to television creators, there's no reason DeKnight shouldn't lead the charge.
Bryan Fuller ("Pushing Daisies," "Hannibal")
Bryan Fuller currently heads NBC's critically adored horror series, "Hannibal," and the creator has been quite vocal about a multi-year story arc that extends way beyond the upcoming third season. Whether or not his plans for the show come true (you never know given the adaptation's low ratings on Friday nights), whenever Fuller's schedule does open up he should absolutely seize the opportunity to bring his breathtaking vision to the movies. Could you imagine the visual high that would result from watching the eye-popping storybook world of "Pushing Daisies" in IMAX? Or the hypnotic chill "Hannibal" would send up your spine in a dark theater? Echoing the masterpieces of Stanley Kubrick, Fuller's illustrious set designs manipulate the eye through the use of symmetry and linear perspective. Like Wes Anderson, he employs sensory color palettes that draw out the thematic tones and characterizations of his warped stories. And like Tim Burton, the fantasy aficionado combines the beautiful and the macabre to bring unusual, striking worlds to visual life. In the tradition of these visionary filmmakers, the larger screen Fuller is able to project his works on the better, making him perhaps the biggest no-brainer when it comes to television creators who need to make a jump to feature filmmaking.
Jenji Kohan ("Weeds," "Orange is the New Black")
Jenji Kohan sure has come a long way over her 20 years in the television industry. After writing episodes for award winning shows such as "Mad About You," "Tracy Takes On…" and "Gilmore Girls," the brash and big-spirited Kohan emerged as one to watch after the debut of her 2005 Showtime hit, "Weeds." While the majority came to criticize the suburban pot comedy for sticking around way past its due, the 45-year-old showrunner silenced many of her naysayers with her groundbreaking Netflix prison dramedy, "Orange is the New Black." Nominated for 12 Primetime Emmy Awards this year, including Outstanding Comedy Series, the show has justifiably drawn praise for its wide-ranging subject matter (sexuality, race, poverty, etc.), but it's the vibrant character work that makes it such a delight. "Black" is one of the only shows in which nearly every character radiates empathy. All of the prisoners have memorable personalities that make them humorous, but their relatable issues and human struggles keep their stories involving and fill even the clichéd moments with emotional resonance. Watching "Black" is like watching a livewire David O. Russell film. On one hand, you can't help but root for all of the twisted characters to succeed, and on the other, you have a group of talented actors who bounce off and steal scenes from one another so quickly it's like an infectious 100-meter dash. Although Kohan already fits nicely into a Hollywood that needs more female voices and whose go-to demographic is quickly becoming women, it's ultimately her ensemble wonders that make her a prime candidate for the big screen.
Nic Pizzolatto ("True Detective")
Has anyone burst the media zeitgeist over the past year as powerfully as crime novelist turned television creator Nic Pizzolatto? Over the eight episodes that make up the first season of "True Detective," the 38-year-old showrunner created an HBO drama with so much critical acclaim and such enormous buzz that it crashed the Emmy Drama categories as dramatically as it crashed HBO Go in the hours leading up to its May season finale. Nowadays, even the tiniest bit of news regarding Season 2 causes a stir among fans as rabid as any new superhero movie rumor. While novels such as "Galveston" and the self-contained seasonal structure of "True Detective" suggest that Pizzolatto prefers the more detailed freedom of literary and television formats to movies, it's his mastery of tone that makes a potential feature film debut an exciting prospect. Interesting characters and absorbing stories are the backbone of any mystery-thriller, but a genre entry lives or dies by its tone. "True Detective" certainly has an engaging crime (The Yellow King inspired countless conspiracies among fans) and a now-iconic character in the form of the prophetic Rust Cohle, but what strongly binds the eight episodes together is the unnerving tone full of cyclical suffering. The unsettling atmospheric maze that Pizzolatto forces his characters to navigate echoes the foreboding weight of a great David Fincher or Denis Villeneuve movie. He may be a fresh face when it comes to live action entertainment, but here's hoping feature filmmaking is somewhere on Pizzolatto's bucket list.
David Simon ("The Wire," "Treme")
Long before creating what is often considered the pinnacle of television drama with HBO's "The Wire," David Simon spent 12 years working the city desk at The Baltimore Sun. Simon's work experience not only led him directly to television, as he got his start writing for and producing NBC's police procedural "Homicide: Life on the Streets," based off his 1991 non-fiction novel of the same name, but it also allowed him to construct television dramas with an unflinching journalistic eye. "The Wire" and "Treme" are tremendously gripping because the source of Simon's plot development and character building is the social, economic and political landscapes of their settings (crime-riddled Baltimore and post-Katrina New Orleans). These two dramas showcase fictional characters existing in the hardships of the American present, and the results are ambitious exposés on the impassioned struggles and triumphs of our everyday citizens. America and her sprawling cities are always the complex center of Simon's dramatic worlds, and the docudrama realism he employs to tell his stories guarantees that characters on both sides of the law and economic divide are given equal scrutiny. Crooks have souls, cops have demons and vice versa. How the individual survives in his or her institutionalized setting is what unites the dramas of David Simon, and it's this grand thematic overtone that could help the showrunner master the cinematic medium with a potent American drama.
Veena Sud ("The Killing")
All of the television creators mentioned have been included for the valuable skills on display in their respective shows, but it's Veena Sud's creative errors that make a cinematic move an enticing prospect for her. Sud's "The Killing" began its first season as one of the breakout dramas of 2011. Following the Seattle police force as they try to solve the murder of a teenage girl, each of the drama's 13 episodes represented a full day in the two-week investigation. This narrative hook allowed Sud to drastically slow down the pace of the age-old television procedural in order to depict the devastating moral weight that comes from such a sacrificing job. In many ways, "The Killing" was a precursor of "True Detective," featuring two moody cops with clashing personalities who learn to trust themselves and each other while searching for a vicious killer. But when Sud infamously did not solve the murder in the first season finale, her staggering fall from grace sent "The Killing" into a double-cancelation spiral. While Sud didn't necessarily deserve so much hatred for prolonging the mystery into another season, the problem with her decision was that it dragged out an already slow-as-molasses plot to its breaking point. Showing each full day of the investigation was an intriguing emotional entryway into the series, but Sud's storytelling just couldn't sustain that many hours of detective work to keep the drama remotely interesting through a second season and beyond. As the show continued to throw pointless red herrings at the audience and turn its main detective into a frustratingly gullible cop, it was clear that a majority of the show's runtime existed solely to keep it functioning until its central mystery was solved at the end of each season. While disastrous plotting has tainted her name, it's hard to deny the power of Sud's gloomy tone and the character depth she was able to wrestle out of her two leads, particularly Joel Kinnaman as Stephen Holden. If she can take these strengths to the movies, where a constrained runtime will force her to keep her storytelling in check, Sud might just be able to get herself back into the good graces of critics and fans.
Kurt Sutter ("Sons of Anarchy")
As Kurt Sutter's grisly FX drama "Sons of Anarchy" enters its seventh and final season this September, it would do the outspoken showrunner good to step away from the motorcycle gang for a movie break before heading back to the cable network for the rumored 1960s prequel series. Hollywood has long struggled to provide mature audiences with dark, gruesome dramas (Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" tried and failed last awards season), but Sutter's unrelenting storytelling abilities and visceral thrills that hit with brute force could make for an especially tormenting R-rated drama film. His grim work on "Sons of Anarchy" already proves he can execute the oppressive, bleak tones that have come to define the post 9/11 cinematic age, and his knack for layered storytelling could really be tightened in a feature film setting. Part of what keeps the pulse of "Sons of Anarchy" beating with tense rage is how Sutter keeps his dueling stories teetering on the edge of one another so that every choice made within the gang has a direct consequence on the family dynamics. Sutter is the king of the dramatic ripple, but the longer the show has continued the more repetitive this shifting story structure has felt. But that could change for the better under the constraints of a two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Many of his longer episodes have powerful self-contained arcs that would make any feature film boil with aggression (we're guessing the same will be true for Season 7's 90-minute premiere), and the way he has his characters face off against each other in a world where everyone is some kind of villain would make for a complex movie experience for adults.
Joe Weisberg ("The Americans")
The best political movies and television shows are first and foremost human stories, and former CIA-officer Joe Weisberg sure has one hell of an emotional hook at the core of his Cold War espionage drama, "The Americans." Centered on two Soviet KGB spies living as a married couple in the suburbs of Virginia, the period thriller cleverly ties in historical events and weaves its own intricate web of secrets, but its true power as a television drama comes directly from how it puts its constantly evolving central relationship through the wartime wringer. The human component of "The Americans" is what has quickly established it as television's best political thriller. While Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa couldn't help but turn the human relationship of "Homeland" into a messy soap opera, Weisberg has yet to lose sight of what makes his show so engrossing: it combines the marital suspense of its lead characters with its Cold War setting to become a modern allegory on how family and loyalty struggle to survive war. If Weisberg ever makes the jump to the movies, we imagine a politically charged drama with the evocative sting of Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, filmmakers who similarly draw the humanity out of political situations to create works that embody the war torn psyche.
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