Directing Great Television: Inside TV’s New Golden Age – by Dan Attias – Review by Paul Laight
The opening quotes of praise from a myriad of industry colleagues will make my little review pale into insignificance, as there is no doubt that Dan Attias is a director of some repute, expertise, and experience. Here is an Emmy-nominated director who has worked on an incredible list of amazing television shows such as: Miami Vice, Beauty and the Beast, Wolf, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Sopranos, The Wire, House, Homeland, Witness (Peter Weir), Northern Exposure, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, The Americans, The Killing, The Boys, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Friday Night Lights, etc.
With such a breath of experience Dan Attias therefore offers much to those seeking insight into the world of directing high quality TV. Moreover, it will also give priceless advice to those seeking a career in directing for all forms of creative media. It is structured and presented eloquently in a language that doesn’t blind the reader with techno-speak either.
The author began as an actor before moving into directing. In fact he states that the best training he had for directing was being an actor. Dan Attias moved from in front of the camera to behind it as assistant director for Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola before directing the feature film Silver Bullet (1985). After which he moved into directing episodic television.
Throughout the book, the author shares his wealth of experiences, highs, lows, and scars got from directing many great TV shows of recent years. Dan Attias does not glamorise the industry but illustrates that the craft of television production is all about the hard work and harder knocks. He advises honing one’s craft through being prepared, with collaboration also being vital. It’s a fast-paced endeavour where choices can often go wrong. But learning from those mistakes builds one’s directorial nous. Preparation is invaluable. Even if episodic television does not always allow it. The director will often arrive late to the party as it were with the showrunners, writers, actors, and pre-production crew having worked months developing a project.
I was seriously inspired by many of Dan Attias’ informative anecdotes. Having worked in both drama and comedy it is clear he is not just a point-and-shoot director. One senses a burning desire on his part to tell stories an imaginative, creative, and emotionally interesting style. Moreover, the book provides key insight into the rehearsal process, positioning actors, use of lenses, shifting points-of-view within scenes, framing, background mise-en-scene and of course lighting. For Attias, above all else, engaging with the environment is imperative as, “Each scene is staging a journey.”
As well as the technical knowledge delivered, the author continually promotes the idea that coordinating positively with showrunners and writers is integral when creating the best work. That does not mean there won’t be disagreements or having to overcome material which appears dramatically unpromising. It is the director’s job to be creative and collaborative while breathing new life into well-known characters within long running shows.
The final chapters share excellent scene breakdowns from the author’s experience of working on three different TV shows, Snowfall, Manhattan, and Good Girls Revolt. Here he delivers a fine perspective of a director’s vision, using the camera and stylistic choices to tell the story, both following and breaking the rules. If you’re breaking the rules you may face conflict from certain crew members, but it is all about staying confident in one’s vision for the storytelling. Overall, Attias’ honesty in overcoming difficult creative moments is to be admired.
Some may think that television was always the lesser cousin, locked in the artistic attic when compared to the noble art of cinema. No more though as programmes such as Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and many more have proved. Such classic television finds the writing, cinematography, acting and increased production values, elevating their status to the cinematic. The old-school image of a 1970’s TV director shouting at a bank of monitors giving orders to the beleaguered floor manager and cast in a studio is now gone. Dan Attias and his book are testament to that.
Buy the book from here:
Publication from https://mwp.com/product/directing-great-television-inside-tvs-new-golden-age/
Michael Wiese Productions (MWP) was launched in San Francisco in 1976 primarily to produce films. Today, the company is known worldwide having published some 200 books. Some of the bestsellers have been translated into 18 languages, are used in over 700 film courses, in the Hollywood studios and by emerging filmmakers.
Paul Laight is a screenwriter, filmmaker, and blogger. In 2005, he formed Fix Films and has written and produced many shorts and other promos. Many of his films have been screened all over the world at various film festivals.
Paul is currently working on feature and short film scripts for future productions. His work can be found here: