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More and more, Hollywood and independent film are becoming realms of the auteur. The name of a director can sell a film to the audience more than ever before, but these artist giants needed to start somewhere. For many directors, those beginnings are rooted in television, and many of the hottest, most sought-after directors are among them.
Edgar Wright – Spaced
Edgar Wright’s career has been a steady progression of greatness. From his breakout film, Shaun of the Dead, to Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, and The World’s End (my favorite film of 2014), Edgar Wright has become one of the hottest directors in and out of Hollywood. After his very public breakup with Marvel Studios over Ant-Man, Wright has surely fallen upward with a new film in production. Wright’s biting sense of humor and kinetic energy found its footing, not in film, but in the 90s British television show Spaced. Starring frequent collaborator Edgar Wright, Spaced is about two non-romantically-involved twenty-somethings that are forced to live together out of financial necessity. The result is a genre-bending, hysterical hit show that served as a sandbox for the budding director.
Joss Whedon – Roseanne
The King of Nerd Media, Joss Whedon has become a pop culture darling. From his beginnings with Buffy the Vampire Slayer on to his massive success with running the films of Marvel Studios and directing The Avengers, Whedon’s influence on Hollywood is the stuff of dreams. You would have to look further back than cult favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer to find Whedon’s television beginnings, though. How does Roseanne Barr’s sitcom sensation Roseanne sound as the beginning of Whedon’s television career? Odd, I know, but Whedon got his toes wet writing for the television hit in 1989 and moved on to the less successful sitcom Parenthood in 1990.
Steven Spielberg – Marcus Whelby, MD
Perhaps the most important American director of the second half of the 2oth century, Steven Spielberg directed mega blockbusters like Jaws, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List – winning a slew of awards along the way. The director with the beard first broke out with his TV movie Duel, but you have to look back to 1970 for his first paid directorial work with Marcus Welby, M.D. and Night Gallery. His work on Rod Serling‘s Twilight Zone followup, Night Gallery, serves as a better lens into the director’s directorial tendencies than Marcus Welby M.D., but Spielberg’s work on the unstylish medical drama is an ironic beginning for the stylish director.
Danny Boyle – Inspector Morse
In the UK, directing is more of a vocation than an academic practice. In the US, directors typically go through film school, direct a student film, and fund their way into a film and hope to get noticed. In the UK, directors often work in television and commercials and then work in more television until they get their chance to direct a film. Danny Boyle has had quite a career with films like Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and 28 Days Later, but his career does not stray from the example above. Boyle’s first major directorial job was directing the hit BBC detective drama Inspector Morse in the early years of its 13-year run. Inspector Morse does have its share of culture and humor that Boyle likes, but the stylish, edgy director didn’t find his true voice until his breakout film Shallow Grave in 1994.
Tom Hooper – Byker Grove
Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture and his followup film, Les Miserables, proved another Oscar darling with a handful of nominations. As with Danny Boyle, though, Hooper’s career needed to percolate in the TV world before he jumped into film. Welcome to Byker Grove. Byker Grove is a teenage soap opera not unlike Degrassi or Dawson’s Creek. A year later Hooper directed episodes of EastEnders, another soap opera, but this time with well-to-do adults. Neither are especially stylish or demanding of directorial mastery, but Hooper cutting his teeth in the soap opera world perhaps fit him with his gift for directing ensemble casts.
Alfonso Cuaron – Hora Marcada
The Academy Award winning director of Gravity has become quite the excellent filmmaker. After his breakout film Y Tu Mama Tambien, Cuaron moved to the US with excellent films like Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For Cuaron’s television roots, you have to look far back to a small scale Mexican television show that aired from 1989-90, Hora Marcada. Created as the Mexican response to The Twilight Zone, Hora Marcada became a breeding ground for excellent Mexican filmmakers. Alfonso Cuaron was only one of Hora Marcada’s spectacular artists that include Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), Alejandro Innaritu (Babel, Birdman), and Emmanuel Lubezki (award-winning cinematographer of Gravity, Birdman).