So… this is going to sound totally crazy to you but there is a different Director for each episode of your fave TV show. I know what you’re going to say: But the episodes stream so seamlessly, never changing in the tone or look! I know. Crazy, right? How and why do they do it? Well, it may not make much sense to you but here it is.
As you can probably imagine, it takes a certain skill to be an episodic Director. It is your job to come in for one week and mimic the work of the pilot Director and all those since him/her while also adding your own personal touch. You’re right; the weekly episodes feel seamless. That’s the skill. Not all Directors can emote all over a TV screen without you being the wiser. Most Directors are such huge creatives that they can’t help but leave their mark all over the place like a peeing dog. So, episodic directing is not for everyone. Is it for you?
Now, the pilot Director on the other hand is the person who gets to work with the creatives at the Network and the Executive Producers in the writer’s room to create the tone and look of the show. They decide what transitions will look like. Will they wipe away like the Indiana Jones series? Will they click like the investigative cameras in Scandal? They decide if they’ll shoot on film for that beautiful “lack of realism” look or digital for a modern look. They choose the colors that live and breathe in the show. Pilot Directors, using our running metaphor, get to pee all over the screen. Lol. In other words, pilot Directors get to do the creative work that is very similar to working on a film: Take the words from the script and turn it into glory on the screen. Blank canvas. Lots of paint.
The hard job really goes to the Network. The Network has to choose a pilot Director that best fits the show. And in the beginning, everyone is still trying to figure out what the show is. Creative Executives will watch tape on Directors that they know have directed pilots in their genre before. Sometimes it’s a no brainer. Choose the Director who does this particular thing all the time and well. However, sometimes the executives choose someone who does something well in comedy because they want their drama to be light in tone. Either way, the executives come up with a list of pilot Directors who in come to pitch their ideas after reading the pilot script.
Episodic Directors are chosen a bit similarly. Who does this well? What’s “this?” Come in and not pee all over the place. Again, they may look specifically for Directors who direct a particular genre well. They may look into Directors who have directed for them in the past. The great news is, directing an episode of TV is a great way to find new, up-and-coming Directors. Hence, the news that actors often get a chance to direct episodes.
So, there you have it. If you like to mark your territory everywhere you go, then episodic directing is probably not for you. But, if you know how to pee on the padded mat provided, then this may be an area you want to try.
Shannan E. Johnson, a writer who doesn't write.