Sundance TV hosted an event for the press to give us and their audience a showcase of the new direction Sundance is taking in programming with “Auteur TV”. We all gathered at SoHo House at the edge of Beverly Hills, at the end of the Sunset Strip, to hear about the driving creative forces behind three of Sundance’s “Creator Driven” “Long Play” TV programs.
The interviews were moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stacey Wilson. The panel hosted by Sarah Barnett, President of Sundance TV, who introduced us all to the creatives of these programs that included: Rectify’s director Ray McKinnon and Star Aden Young, The Honorable Woman’s director Hugo Blick and Star Maggie Gyllenhaal and The Red Road’s director Aaron Guzikowski and Star Tom Sizemore. Sarah elaborated on the concept of Auteur TV programming; while the panel of the above creatives and celebrities explored their knowledge and experiences for us in the making of “Creator Driven” content. This panel offered insights in these conversations on creator driven content juxtaposed against the backdrop of the last decade’s content-blurring topography as it experienced a metamorphosis away from the traditional television and/or movie formats.
This new take on story telling has been transformed by cable Television’s ability to sustain a long, circuitous narratives. Additionally, the birth of web-based media has aided the process of targeted storytelling, which has led to “Long Play” formats. These formats can be viewed either as sequels for leisurely consuming episodic content, or the “Netflix” model of binge viewing of this content. This long play format allows storytelling to explore greater character development in new and exceptional ways. It gives the writer the option of peeling away at the “Onion” in non-linear storytelling, a manner not found with Broadcast Television or the traditional Movie format. This opportunity is being filled by this Creator Driven content for the making of “Distinctive Television” that Sundance TV is spearheading.
Once the formality of the introductions had been made the panel discussion was ushered in with Sarah briefly revealing key concepts of Sundance’s Auteur TV and the goal of making distinctive programing a reality. Sarah put it this way, “The Sundance approach in Television, and that is a subject of a “Auteur” driven Television: which is a kind of, a particular style, known, mostly in independent film making. We stand by the notion that distinctive television comes from those creators that bring a personal and singular vision into the work. (They) often have a hand in every part of the process. We are really fortunate to be working with such creators, who you’ll meet today and with their on-screen creative partners; in Maggie, Tom and Aden, who really bring that same kind of integrity to the work.”
Then Sarah broke to introduce us to the reels of Sundance’s new creator driven content. The video started with content from Rectify. The Red Road then followed and An Honorable Woman completed the series of Sundance’s new programming for our group. After seeing these buzzy clips we were treated to the panel of these artist discussing the premises, themes and ideas that inhabit these special programs hosted by Sundance TV.
The Red Road, directed by Aaron Guzikowski and Star Tom Sizemore is a daring and vibrant depiction of the clash of cultures circling around an obscure New York indian tribe that isn’t Federally recognized. The Red Road inhabits the difficult territory of the clash between Native cultures and modern cultures. The conflict focuses on a Father and son rivalry within the context of social and familial issues, where these conflicts writhe between them with unexpected results. Their struggle boils into smart story telling of their various nefarious and intractable criminal activities.
Stacy Wilson of The Hollywood Reporter kicked off the panel discussion by asking Aaron Guzikowski, director of The Red Road, why he wanted to work with Sundance TV. Aaron responded by saying, ” I love Sundance TV because they are new, they are not necessarily looking for a particular kind of show. They don’t have a full, kind of, boiler plate of things that they’re looking for that I really liked. It was more like a (Film) festival and about independent films. It was more about that! They bought the show I created and they didn’t try to change it and that’s great! It much more like writing a novel: like, a pictorial novel. To have an opportunity to do that is huge! It’s very different from movies. Which are more of a design, it’s digested in 2 hours, in this experience. In television it kind of goes over in time where people are making a change and people are watching a change. You know, it’s very organic and personal. That’s why I enjoy it.”
Stacy Wilson proceeded with another question, ” I’m curious! The Red Road, is fantastic, if you haven’t seen it. It’s probably not the easiest sale. It’s a tough story, tough themes, tough ground, actually. What was your first pitch meeting like?” Aaron responded, “It worked out well. We saw eye to eye on it. They were, we like this for what it is and that was a huge thing for me.” Then Stacy stated, “You’ve amassed a great cast. One of whom is here today. Tom, I’m curious, you’re coming from a very busy film career, what attracted you to this script?” Tom Sizemore offered this, “I really enjoyed the first episode I read. It was a very unusual, an eccentric script. I read it straight through. In the first episode I only have one scene, but it was the relationship I had between myself and Momoa was captured right in that scene. You know, the violence that existed in their relationship. The Father is not loving him. It seemed like something that is unique and had the possibility of being something you haven’t seen before. Sundance is known for doing classy work. And Rectify was one of my favorite shows. That was what attracted me.”
The attention moved from The Red Road to An Honorable Woman directed by Hugh Blick. It’s a genre piece, that has a chassis of a spy thriller, that is psychologically grounded. The story promises clever twist and turns with numerous circuitous caveats, host of smoke and mirrors tricks that peel away before the final resolution of the story is exposed. The heroine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, the daughter of a arms dealer, wants to restore parity to the negative dynamic initiated by her Father, a weapons dealer. The story is cruxed around a strong female persona housed in flesh and blood realities for this long play drama.
Hugo responds in a very engaged way to Stacy‘s statement regarding An Honorable Woman when she asked, “This is one of the most layered and complex conceits I’ve ever seen in a long time. How did you dream up this story? It is really difficult, but, also, really intriguing. Hugo, ” First off, it started with meeting with Sarah, Nineh and Christina at Sundance. I guess they enjoyed the fact that I had a particular viewpoint and I knew exactly the destination of this mini-series. I start with an idea. Once, I develop it in my own mind, I pretty much know what the final lines of each significant character will be. Then I work those 8 hours of story till they eventually get to those lines. It means, I have a very particular attitude towards the story. It has the chassis of a spy thriller. So the story is unfolded for you, but it’s not going to unfolded in the way you might expect. It asks you in some way to trust it. It presents a lot of information, particularly in the first episode, under the chassis of a thriller: things are happening. It’s not waiting for things to happen, it’s happening! But it’s doing a lot of different things. In a way its saying, “let go of the rope and let us take you on the journey”. I think that’s what’s interesting about long form drama, perhaps, to movies. In movies, we can get to a certain point in the story and the protagonist and the antagonist are going to meet. There going to do this and have this thing out. Then I has to come to some kind of resolution and we all know it! We may be out to supper and say that was rather interesting but we really knew that those things were going to happen. In long form dramas like this that doesn’t happen!” In long form dramas that doesn’t happen. It’s happening in a different way. It’s asking the audience to engage in that way. That is what’s so exciting about it.
In turn Maggie Gyllenhaal was asked by Stacy Wilson, “What do you look for in a roll? Has this changed over the years and how does this part reflect that transition for you?” Maggie responded, “Yeah, what I look for in a roll changes all the time. Depending on who I am at that moment. I guess I feel like rolls call themselves to me. There always going to be the people who saw the last thing I did and I’m going to be offered similar to that for a while. What I’m really see something new me. Something I need to think about or consider in myself that the roll offers me the opportunity to do. That was definitely the case here. There is this structure of a thriller in place of out project, but it’s almost like a trick. It’s truly, about these people inside that thriller. Nessa is more like a real woman, even though the world she’s living in is kind of Greek. She’s more like a real full true woman, like you or I. Who’s strong and weak, confused and powerful and sexy and not sexy and all those things that we all are all the time. All those thinks are held inside that person. Maybe, it’s because it’s 8 hours or maybe it’s because is such a brilliant writer and he allowed the possibility of that. Yes, what I look for changes. This without knowing it was exactly what i was looking for or that this was going to blow my mind, but it did.
From An Honorable Woman the conversation settled on Rectify’s creatives. Rectify’s story revolves around, Daniel, a death row inmate who’s set free from his imprisonment due to new DNA evidence, yet is not exonerated from the crime. The drama revolves around his reintegration into his family and community after 19 years on death row.
Stacy Wilson then directed her inquiry to director Ray McKinnon of Rectify, “What is your inspiration for this story. Is it founded in any real life events, perhaps some of the characters stem from people you knew back home; where did this come from?” Ray than shared his thoughts, “I’m not as analytical about writing as other people. I don’t have the bigger picture. I think in writing the pilot I wrote to see what would happen. I really didn’t know what would happen. Yes, I was inspired by a number of DNA cases that exonerated quite a few people, you know, in the late 90’s and the 2000’s. You’d see them being interviewed after 10, 15 or even 20 years of being on Death Row. They are shellshocked. What intrigued me was what they did on the second day not the first day and what they’s do on the third day, the forth day… That was the genesis of me imagining this story. I kept this story in my head for about 5 years. I was inspired by the Sopranos and Six Feet Under and the beginnings of this type of story telling. I’m watching flutters, like story telling flutters. It’s like another way to tell a story! Then Mad Men came along and I thought that maybe this version of is now called slow TV, so maybe, this is time for this. That was the genesis (of Rectify). Yeah, I did a lot of research of my hometown of Adel Georgia that’s starting to payoff. I think a lot of the characters come from that place of unconsciousness that I write from.
Stacey Wilson then asked, “Aden we spoke of this last year about playing Daniel. Does his innocences or lack of innocences inform your actually playing this character? Because it’s relevant if he did it, but the journey he’s going through, as a viewer, we’re more engaged in that. Is his innocence something you’re thinking about everyday when you’re working? Aden Young responded, ” It is. There is a “Who done it” there as part of the chassis, it is underneath. For me, it’s a constant because there is a question in Daniel’s mind, as well. Did he do it? Is he capable of these crimes? Is he capable of that sort of demonic horror: of the destruction of another human life. Or is it a language he learned in the neighborhood of death row and that demonic landscape. Is that landscape has ejected a character into the world, almost, from hell to re-inhabit this town and is being twisted by that night’s events. It’s a question that’s always there as I’m reaching for the beer in the fridge, I’m thinking, did I do it. So it’s always there! There’s certainly a weight to that question, but more than anything is about the relationship that need to be re forged with, not only his family, but also with the community. The community then needs to reforge the relationship with the family and, also, the legal reality of Daniel’s release, but not his exoneration.
I’ve used these snippets and quotes from the panel discussion to give, you, the reader an idea of the foundations from which Sundance’s new long-form dramas pivot about this new “Auteur TV” format. It’s a format that dances in the mind, drives the imagination and teases the emotions to mind blowing effect. These are new places where audiences can nest: in the grand topography of these dramatic vistas, with engaging and intriguing story telling that only long play TV can engage a new generation of viewers. Hugo Blick drew analogies and inspiration for this style of programming from Victorian episodic writings in the “London Illustrator”, by the likes of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, which has a very similar feel to what Sundance is doing with Auteur TV. The idea is that these themes linger with a novelistic style of story telling pulling the viewer back again and again. These themes hang in such a way that the audience anticipates and desires to eagerly pick them up the following week. These dense lingering ways of writing, reaching into the souls of the characters, can doubly involve the viewer in rich textures, layers and circumstances, that change in interesting and surprising ways as the story unfolds. The effect of Sundance’s Auteur TV will redefine the audience’s viewing experience and the viewer’s experiencing of these tales as they evolve. This is an exciting venture that Sundance is incorporated into its programming. It’s the blending of indie movie sensibilities and television, synthesizing intricate story telling with expansive story lines, built to engage a new generation of television viewers in a new exciting manner.