If you know me at all then you know that I am a true cinephile. I watch anything and everything that I can, good or bad. However, I would say that in the past couple of years I’ve started to fall slightly out of love with recent films in favour of the amount of incredible work that is being produced on television; from Breaking Bad, to The Wire, to Game of Thrones, it is undeniable that television has made a huge step forward in terms of fantastic quality programming. There is one thing that is most noticeable about this trend and that is the look of the shows. They are all so visually incredible to watch and rival the best of film cinematography and I don’t think that’s hyperbole.
Cinema has always been a higher funded medium than television. It makes sense economically when you consider that films make their profits through audiences that go to see them, on top of the advertising and dvd sales, whereas television makes its money only through the latter two. Also, when was the last time a television show earned $1 billion? Never, that’s when. However as times have changed, people’s viewing habits have also adapted. Now with larger televisions that produce a higher quality image, audiences have grown tired of the typical flat image and cheap production values that television was so famous for. With cameras increasing in quality and becoming cheaper to use it is also incredibly easy for television studios to back shows with little worry about costs.
Cameras have now migrated to digital over film for the simple reason that it is vastly cheaper to use and for the fact that it allows for a much larger amount of material recorded, giving more creative freedom to the people involved. With the introduction of the RED camera, it allowed for footage that looked almost identical to film, causing a lot of film enthusiasts to embrace the format. Now of course there are still a lot of people who say nothing with compare to the image you get from film, I’m even one of them, but I have to admit that digital is so much easier to use. Just for set up time alone I favour digital, but when factoring in costs too it’s a no-brainer to pick it over film for the sake of a slight visual compromise that isn’t even noticeable to people who don’t use the equipment.
Television was always seen as something below film and so actors strived to star in movies, with any acting on television seen as not as talented as film stars. These days however, it has become a trend for movie stars to migrate to television because of the steady job and higher exposure, while getting to act in some great material. Take for instance Dustin Hoffman, he is an A list movie star. Who thought even 5 years ago that he would have attempted to star in a television show, even if it was on HBO, but that’s exactly what he did with Luck. Even there though it goes to show you that the show is not completely safe regardless of who is involved.
Other big actors who have taken to starring in television recently are Steve Buscemi in The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, Sean Bean in Game of Thrones and Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom. But it is not only them who want in on the action; people behind the scenes want a piece of it too. From huge directors such as Martin Scorsese and Gus Van Sant, to writers like Aaron Sorkin are testing the waters themselves because of the creative freedom that it allows them. Sorkin was in fact one of the people at the forefront of this movement, creating and writing every episode of The West Wing which even starred Martin Sheen. Rian Johnson, director of Brick, directed two episodes of Breaking Bad recently, the first of which “The Fly” is held in regard as the best episode by many fans. What is interesting about it however is that it is what is known as a “bottle episode”, meaning that the entire episode takes place in one room. Now do you honestly think that a major movie studio would allow that creative freedom, because I certainly don’t.
HBO is the channel most known for its talent. Its slogan after all is “It’s not tv, it’s HBO”, implying that what they create goes beyond television and is its on entity. Show after show is held with such high regard and it’s due to the fact that they are so wonderfully made. Each episode of The Sopranos feels like a film, the same goes for Game of Thrones. The visual elements in their shows are so strong that I am perfectly happy to watch those over films because I’m getting a similar thing but on a weekly basis.
Many networks have followed in the footsteps of HBO and are allowing their show-runners more creative freedom. It is for this reason that we are seeing shows such as Lost which cost a whopping $14 million per episode allowed to run for as long as it did. People want to see these shows and this results in more advertising money which can be put back into the show but ultimately into the pockets of the studio-heads and that’s what they want. As long as we get the same level of quality television that we are getting now, I am perfectly happy with this system.
Below, in no particular order are my five cinematic scenes that I love from television shows. They contain spoilers if you have not seen the shows so watch with caution.
What are your favourite cinematic moments for television shows? Let me know in the comments below.
5) The Walking Dead
3) The Wire
2) Game of Thrones
1) Breaking Bad