Following last week’s news that Netflix has given the green light to “The OA,” a series co-created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij — who share their roots in the independent film world, having collaborated on “The East” and “The Sound of My Voice” — Indiewire decided to compile a list of filmmakers we would like to see team up with one of the new major players in the television space.
Although Andrew Bujalski is best known for his association with the “mumblecore” movement, his two most recent films — “Computer Chess” and this year’s “Results” — reflect a more distinctive style. In Indiewire’s “Results” review out of Sundance, Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn described the film as the “closest thing to a commercial work in his [Bujalski’s] career to date.” So are Bujalski’s films for everyone? No, but there are people that like it, and with so many different platforms getting into the original series game, why not invest in talent like Bujalski, whose steadily growing body of work is not only indicative of an audience, but also, to a greater extent, a demonstration of his willingness to evolve past his roots, toward a greater potential.
Some indie filmmakers are thought to be suitable for television because of the slice-of-life, humanistic nature of their work. But as David Fincher has demonstrated with “House of Cards” and Steven Soderbergh with “The Knick,” the scale of a story doesn’t have to be limited by screen size. Equally ambitious with his storytelling is “A Most Violent Year” director J.C. Chandor. Cumulatively, Chandor has made three films, all of which have received wide-spread acclaim and were made for very little money (although the incredible scale of each film seems to suggest otherwise). With episodic storytelling transforming into a safe haven for directors in search of creative opportunities where they are provided with relative autonomy, a bold visionary like Chandor could take TV in some fascinating, perhaps even groundbreaking, new directions.
“Taking its time to let the world take shape,” wrote Kohn in his review of Destin Daniel Cretton’s 2013 SXSW breakout drama, “‘Short Term 12’ builds to an involving series of mini-climaxes without tidying up every loose end.” Indeed, while this observation certainly speaks to Cretton’s strengths as a writer-director for film, it also indicates his potential to crossover into television. The “mini-climaxes” praised by Kohn demonstrate Cretton’s keen awareness for the inherent limits of film as a storytelling medium, as well as his ability to react to said limits by adjusting the scope of the narrative. More importantly, however, the “mini-climaxes” suggest an aptitude for the incremental storytelling that takes place in the realm of television. While “Short Term 12” is an incredibly beautiful, nuanced achievement in storytelling, it would behoove Cretton to branch out into television so that audiences might get the chance to further explore the worlds he builds onscreen.
Thanks to the widespread critical acclaim of “Selma,” former publicist-turned-director Ava DeVernay has turned into one of the most coveted voices in Hollywood. Not only does she already have her next big screen project lined up (a Hurricane Katrina-set love story starring frequent collaborator David Oyelowo) but she also has fully embraced the television medium by creating a new show for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network and landing a pilot directing gig for a new CBS legal drama. Considering DuVernay is clearly interested in what the small screen has to offer, now is absolutely the time for an online provider to set up and strike a deal with the 42-year-old filmmaker, whose devotion to telling stories that have been sidelined and neglected is what makes her such a hot commodity. Whether she’s shooting a $50,000 indie about a grieving woman (2010 feature debut “I Will Follow”), working with ESPN on a documentary about tennis icon Venus Williams (2013’s “Venus Vs.”) or directing a $20 million historical drama about one of our nation’s most inspiring figures (“Selma”), DuVernay’s focus on intimate character relationships has never wavered.
If the rapturous acclaim for “45 Years” out of the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival is any indication (stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay won the top acting prizes), then director Andrew Haigh’s profile is sure to rise this year as the film continues to navigate the festival circuit and maybe even next year’s awards season. With his remarkable 2011 debut “Weekend” and his current HBO comedy-drama “Looking,” Haigh has been cultivating his reputation as a director capable of astute and sensitive depictions of onscreen relationships. Both projects are so honest and humane in their exploration of the homosexual identity that they end up transcending the bounds of sexual orientation altogether. Haigh is concerned with authentic people and pathos, not gender labels and societal advocacy. He possesses a deeply-felt understanding for the characters he chooses to spotlight, no matter how off-putting they may seem at first (here’s looking at you, Agustín). Online television providers have quickly become one of the biggest proponents of diversity on the small screen, and with “Looking” constantly on the bubble of cancellation due to low ratings, now would be an opportune time for one of them to swoop in and nab Haigh.
With her rigorously specific dialogue and open-ended dramatic narratives, Nicole Holofcener is as clear a fit for television as any. The “Please Give” director has an unparalleled knack for drawing out unique and distinct ensembles of characters through which she then examines different facets of adulthood, from gender- and socioeconomic-specific themes presented in a fashion both bitingly funny and completely authentic. Like Jill Soloway or the Duplass Brothers, Holofcener is an adventurous and polished director as well as a writer of great depth and purpose. Her effortless blend of satirical humor and poignant drama renders her a perfect choice to helm a half-hour series, and she already has ample experience, having directed episodes of “Sex and the City,” “Enlightened,” “Togetherness” and Tina Fey’s new Netflix series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” And if all that isn’t convincing enough, great actors love to work with her: Holofcener’s most recent film, “Enough Said,” starred television legends Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, while Frances McDormand won an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in Polley’s film “Friends with Money.”
With “Take this Waltz” and “Stories We Tell,” Sarah Polley demonstrated an uncanny ability to make small, intimate stories universal. Imagine how far she could go if given free reign to explore characters without a 90-minute time constraint? If Polley were to create a television series, “Six Feet Under” might finally meet its match. Factor in her background as a television actress — she starred in the Canadian series “Road to Avonlea” during the early ’90s and even made an appearance in the 2008 HBO “John Adams” miniseries — there couldn’t be a better candidate out there for the digital platforms looking to develop original series.
Cable television is the place to be if you’re a female creator. (Women directed 14 percent of TV episodes from 2012-13, as opposed to six percent of studio films during the same period.) Gillian Robespierre, director of “Obvious Child,” would fit in perfectly amongst the other boundary-pushing female creators that continue to make the realm of TV more interesting. If Robespierre picked up where she left off with her hilarious, raunchy debut, she could offer up a comedy that lands somewhere between “Broad City” and “Girls,” but provides the emotional honesty that neither can seem to consistently get right.
We’ve seen an improvement with LGBT representation in episodic storytelling lately — from Amazon’s “Transparent” to HBO’s “Looking” — but more voices and perspectives remain essential. Ira Sachs has been making independent films for more than two decades now, the most recent of which is the Alfred Molina-John Lithgow romantic drama, “Love is Strange.” Sachs has focused his entire career on telling stories that dig into LGBT culture and issues. Celebrated for his artistry — especially the novelistic richness of his stories — Sachs is a master of human emotion, with knowledge of how to mine deep feelings on both ends of the spectrum: from lovingly tender in “Love Is Strange” to sexually volatile in “Keep the Lights On.” He is a storyteller with the talent to make the jump, a resume to back it up and an invaluable worldview to convey.
Editor turned actor-writer-director Lynn Shelton is a mainstay in the independent film community. Her work is regularly featured at Sundance and SXSW; she’s won multiple Independent Spirit Awards; and her frequent collaborators include Mark Duplass, Ellen Page and Rosemarie DeWitt. Her most recent directorial effort, the romantic comedy “Laggies,” starred Sam Rockwell, Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace-Moretz and was distributed theatrically by A24 last year. A true jack-of-all-trades — one might even liken her to a chameleon given her incredible ability to adapt to a wide variety of professional situations and roles — Shelton keeps busy in-between films by directing for television. Her credits include of “Mad Men,” “The Mindy Project,” and “New Girl,” so she is anything but a stranger to the television workflow. In fact, she probably already has a few series in her back pocket.
After winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, “Dear White People” writer-director Justin Simien told a room full of press backstage at the event that he is actually interested in developing a television series spin-off of his wildly successful feature debut. Given the public’s overwhelmingly positive response to the film (beginning with the crowdfunding campaign and on through the release) and Simien’s background in publicity (a skill set he happens to share with “Selma” director Ava DuVernay) forging a partnership with the budding filmmaker would make for a worthy (and potentially lucrative) creative investment opportunity for the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and perhaps even Vimeo.
Emily Buder, David Canfield, Shipra Gupta, Elizabeth Logan and Zack Sharf contributed to this post.