Different DirectorsDifferent directors are used for separate TV episodes primarily because the production format for television is quite different from the cinema.  This difference in production formats can be attributed to the rapid pacing of a television show.   In television, the various production stages often overlap so that one episode is in preproduction, another is shooting, and yet another is being edited.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, for one director alone to keep track of everything.  Accordingly, a single television show will typically employ a minimum of three directors.  While the showrunners (the main writers, executive producers, etc.) may be operating from episode to episode on a larger scale, a single episode requires a responsible director to make sure it is properly attended to.

Unfortunately, directors may get bored with their material.  The number of episodes for a standard television season is typically anywhere between  13 to 22 episodes.   Directors work with the same cast, crew, and producers for much of the year; the working relationship is extended for television shows lasting longer than one season.   Having new directors or guest directors is a healthy way to energize the set and keep the cast and crew from getting on each other’s nerves.

Television and film directors also differ in that a television director is much more limited in their work in both the pre- and post-production stages.  A television show requires a larger crew, with each individual working seemingly without end.  Much of this work- editing for example- is performed while other episodes are shooting, so the work is continuous.  The showrunner is responsible for the overall vision of the television program, which makes them one of the main forces responsible for running the show.

Directors are brought in once the main decisions have been made about the show.  These decisions usually concern overall ideas and directions for the program, such as style, tone, and casting.  The directors are then hired to follow and work within these specific guidelines and restrictions in order to create the show according to the showrunner’s ideas.  In contemporary programs shot on different locations or sets, there is often a need for multiple directors for shooting purposes.  Imagine the difficulty a single director would face getting this accomplished every week!

Directors are not without creative power or input.  The timing, scheduling, and development behind an individual television series is so continuous and demanding that one director alone would not have the time, nor the personal capability, to be involved in all of the tasks required for the control and progress of the series.  Having more than one director working on a television series may create some limitations, but it does not completely obstruct an individual director’s artistic input or influence.

The following are some examples that illustrate the various ways in which a director may impact an individual television episode.  These examples are taken from HBO’s renowned and popular series, Game of Thrones. It’s also worth noting that this particular show has a large cast and tends to be cinematic  in its overall visual presentation.

  1. The pilot episode “Winter is Coming”, was directed by Tim Van Patten.  The pilot of a television series is meant to clearly set up a show’s world, as well as its primary characters and themes.  It is also important in that it establishes visual style/tone and grammar, which will be used a guide for future directors.  In the field of cinematography, grammar refers to practices such as editing, sound design, and art.  Van Patten himself had prior experience working on various HBO programs, which made him a known and trustworthy name for HBO and the showrunners.
  2. An interesting choice was made for the episode titled “Blackwater”, which aired in the show’s second season.  This particular episode was supposed to be an important and crucial turning point in the series.  To direct this critical episode, the showrunners chose Neil Marshall, who had no prior experience directing television shows.  As the biggest, most eventful episode yet for this series, the showrunners wanted the episode to deliver a complex and spectacular program on a constrained time limit and budget.  This ambitious episode was to be cinematic in its scope, scenery, and action– particularly the battle scenes– and thus needed a director with cinematic experience.  Since Marshall possessed a background directing ambitious and low-budget films, the showrunners decided that his abilities were well suited to  the needs of the episode.
  3. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”, which aired during the third season, was directed by Michelle MacLaren.  This episode served primarily as a connecting point for various plots; in other words, the events of this particular episode moved each plot forward to a suitable point.  MacLaren had previously worked on the lauded Breaking Bad, a series in which direct, eventful episodes were also visually and mentally captivating from a cinematic perspective.