The revolution won’t just be televised, as a more flexible entertainment climate means cinema and TV have the potential to stand – and flourish – together.
If creativity is water, then Hollywood is a carp in the Sahara. Television drama, on the other hand, with the likes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Sherlock, is going for a nice long dip in the infinity pool and then a stroll along the beach. This obvious divergence in the fortunes of the two industries makes it incredibly easy to see that they are competing for viewers.
While most of us simply want to consume compelling stories, the pointless film versus TV debate rages on
The effect is compounded by the way film and TV are culturally perceived – today, film is still considered something of an art form, while television is more generally thought of as entertainment alone. These stereotypes are being challenged, however, and if artists and producers could sweep them aside altogether, the resulting productions in both film and TV would usher in a tidal wave of original storytelling that stretches far beyond the recent TV successes. While most of us simply want to consume compelling stories, the pointless film versus TV debate rages on.
Proponents of film draw on its history of artistic integrity and impressive visuals, while those that favour TV drama claim that feature films are becoming too stale, and Hollywood’s formulas are crippling creativity. It can be easy to get dragged into one camp or the other, without stopping to really consider exactly why it is that you’re taking a side at all. After all, there is little enough difference between a feature film and a television drama.
Both use images and sound to tell a story. Television typically tells longer narratives, segregated into episodes. But then long stories can (but by no means should) be told with films, too. The eight Harry Potter movies rack up a total run time of almost 20 hours, easily as much per series for most TV dramas. The Harry Potter series obviously isn’t the most critically acclaimed example of a film effort, but does show that it isn’t just TV that can get stuck into a winding story with complex characters.
Of course there is competition between these two industries. But the competition only exists because the two mediums are so similar, and critically there is no real reason to get involved in the false debate. The most important thing about any feature film or TV drama is that the story plays to each medium’s strengths. Feature films are best at handling short, plot-driven narratives (like Argo) or spectacular blockbusters (like Man of Steel). Television is capable of exploring characters in considerably more depth, and telling stories with more twists and surprises.
Artists and writers should be able to use whichever medium to make the statement they want to make
It’s the difference between Peter Parker’s hour-long transformation into Spiderman, and Walter White’s three-season corrosion into Heisenberg. It’s the difference between Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock spending two hours solving a crime, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock spending nine hours trying to solve people. It’s the difference between Avatar having three sequels, and the almost complete collapse of 3D TV.
The limitations of screen size and the less-than-glamorous need for bathroom breaks, mean that different stories are appropriate on either film or TV. Beyond that, the two mediums are literally identical, and that’s a good thing. Like the difference between a novella and a novel, it should enable writers and directors to tell whatever story they want. Have a long story to tell? Great – get stuck into TV. Short story? Awesome, go make a feature film. Artists and writers should be able to use whatever medium they need to make the statement they want to make.
The only thing preventing this from happening are those ridiculous preconceived notions we all have about film and TV. For far too long now, television has been considered a lesser medium, and a backwards step for those who have ‘broken through’ to the world of film. What complacency on the part of Hollywood, to assume that it could continuously push derivative material and remain somehow superior. Especially given that television has been inching across cultural boundaries and quietly gaining integrity from the 1990s onwards, with shows like Sex and the City and Queer as Folk exploring subjects that Hollywood, at the time, was still too afraid, or too bigoted, to pursue.
Old stereotypes are finally waning – directors, actors and writers are now working for both screen sizes
But today those old stereotypes are finally waning, and increasing numbers of directors, actors and writers are either moving to TV or working for both screen sizes. House of Cards is a great example of big Hollywood names (David Fincher, Kevin Spacey) moving to television in order to tell a story that they simply couldn’t with film. Not just for creative freedom, but because they needed the space a television series provides to tell the story.
If great storytellers and artists continue to have this flexible, neutral attitude towards the mediums they choose to create in, then we’re on the cusp of an exciting time. Not just in television, but in film, theatre, and radio too. The television renaissance could be the start of a much bigger revolution in the way we create and tell stories. Narrative first. No more restrictions.
Featured image: AMC
Inset images: Warner Bros. Pictures; Netflix