Brand Name Directors

24 Oct







In Caldwell’s “Excessive Style” article, along with television and cinema focusing more on stylist and aesthetic factors of the medium, it started to matter which names were attached with these styles.  In a sense, besides network names, directors now held the power of giving a television show or a movie its “brand name” quality. Like Caldwell said “Television was no longer simply anonymous as many theorists had suggested. Names of producers and directors assumed an ever more important role in popular discourses about television” (14). I believe this to be very true within the past decades as famous directors have loyal followers who will see anything they make.

The best example that comes to mind is the famous James Cameron, who is best known for directing the tragically beautiful Titanic in 1997. Twelve years later, he wrote and directed the long anticipated Avatar. I believe that the excitement for this movie was not based on its having an amazing narrative or innovative plot, but mainly because it carried the names James Cameron, who had not made anything very major since Titanic. I remember the hype around this movie, but at the same time, not knowing what it was about at all. What I did remember was how everyone was excited about the amazing visuals of the fictional universe of Pandora, the striking special effects, and the technology to make it a spectacular 3-D viewer’s pleasure. In fact, the greatest detractor of the movie was its cliché plot similar to Pocahontas, yet the movie was still such a success. What was so special about Avatar are its stylish excesses attributed to James Cameron’s name. The success of his name is evident in its nomination for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction. It also became the top-selling Blu-ray of all time, which also reflects on the evolution of technology and the audience’s emphasis on style in the 21st century. Consumers today are satisfied with nothing less than high definition or better, and now if we can get our hands on blu-ray, we must have it.

This is also links me to another great director of our time, Christopher Nolan. He is famous for Memento, which was mentioned in Mittell’s “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” article. This movie illustrates complex narrative form in a “puzzle film” that requires the audience to learn particular rules of a film to comprehend its narrative (38). The name Christopher Nolan, thus, carries a brand of creative complex narrative strategies that the audience is willing to participate in, as well as stylish cinematography that he has demonstrated in recently popular movies:Inception, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. Speaking for myself and many of my peers, if I know that Nolan is directing a movie, I automatically expect a certain standard of film- narrative with plot twists and beautiful visuals. Names like Nolan are “signature banner-carriers” that carry “aesthetic badges and trophies of distinction”, whom to the networks, any financial risk that comes with them (Caldwell mentioned Lucas, Speilberg and Stone), is apparently, worth it (16).  The two examples are of films, but the same principle applies to television as well, especially when film directors do television as well (such as J.J. Abrams).

2 Responses to “Brand Name Directors”

  1. rohulray October 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    As we briefly touched on in class, auteur theory has always been and continues to be a problematic critical notion, since it holds that a film or TV show reflects (or should reflect) the personal creative vision of a single director or writer, which kind of obscures and dismisses the multi-faceted collaborative process of film/TV production. Conferring this “auteur” status to a filmmaker has a branding effect which informs viewer expectations, almost like genre.

    However, this auteur phenomenon definitely isn’t unique to film. While I was reading the Caldwell article, two recent TV shows came to mind (you can see screenshots / promo photos of them in the background image of this blog): FX’s Louie and HBO’s Girls. In television, the “created by” credit is often misleading, since the content of episodes, while ultimately pitched and written by one or two people, is often derived from the creative input of a writing staff. It’s always a team effort, no matter what the byline says. Louie and Girls, however, are essentially the personal visions of Louis CK and Lena Dunham, respectively, who are frequently referred to as “auteurs” in the press. As auteurs, not only did they create their respective shows, but they also produce, write, direct, and star. Louis CK, champion of the DIY ethic, doesn’t even have a writing staff, as he apparently finds the Congress-like dynamics and perfectionist ambitions of a writers’ room frustrating and stifling, and even EDITS most episodes of Louie using Final Cut on his laptop. As a result of this authorial power and direct involvement in so many different areas of production, both shows feel like intimately semi-autobiographical renderings of CK and Dunham’s experiences and anxieties.

    One could also make the case that Mad Men creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner exerts similar creative influence as an auteur, as nearly every episode of Mad Men has his name listed as a writer (in the form of “Written by Matthew Weiner” or “Written by Some Person AND Matthew Weiner”) — the use of “and,” as opposed to an ampersand, is significant in the notation of film/TV credits because it signifies that Some Person and Weiner didn’t write the episode together as writing partners, but that Some Person probably wrote a draft and then Weiner intervened later with re-writes. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this observation, but I feel like that’s rare and possibly telling of Weiner’s obsessive-compulsive authorial hand.

  2. hcloftus October 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    The “Brand Name Director” generally gives a particular prestige-boost among viewers in television series– at least, initially. I do not agree that the name behind the series can guarantee longevity in the spectrum of quality television shows. An obvious example would be that of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s short-lived 2002 space western series. Firefly had the distinct advantage of succeeding Whedon’s magnum opus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite later accolades and achievement of cult-status, Firefly was cancelled after fourteen episodes. What went wrong? Why was Firefly, a series with both quality content and an extremely distinctive “Brand Name Director” unable to achieve the necessary ratings needed to survive? The AV Club cites (,11623/) mistakes on the part of Fox, such as failure to air episodes in the correct order, leading to difficulties among viewers to follow the plot.

    Joss Whedon is undeniably a certain television “brand:” at a very basic level Whedon is a pioneer in science fiction represented in television, noting particular success in highly complex serial narratives such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and spin-off, Angel. While his name and past success convinced Fox to initially pick-up Firefly, it was unable to guarantee the viewership necessary to ensure success in the Nielsen Ratings. This is particularly disheartening in consideration of the fact that Whedon certainly lives up to the quality his name suggests in the first place.

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