Why TV Is Not the New Film

Just yesterday we ran across this fascinating article. It contains a number of interesting and provocative and perceptive observations, and although it seems to be based on a basic assumption we don’t share (that film is inherently more artful than TV) it gave us a lot to think about that we’d like to share.


another madmen picby Mike S. Ryan

As much as I love Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men and Twin Peaks, as great and as groundbreaking as those shows were, they still are not cinema.

The recent explosion of quality long-form cable series has taken the TV form to a new level of artistry and craftsmanship. A show like Mad Men is not only thrilling because of its commentary on its era, but because of the zeitgeist energy created by everyone watching the show, talking about it and sharing opinions on social media. Today, perhaps more than ever, a new season of a quality show becomes a cultural event. Combine that with journalism‘s “recap culture,” in which newspapers, magazines and websites devote pages to summaries of the prior night‘s shows — all the while shrinking or even eliminating film reviews — and it’s pretty easy to understand why cinema feels somewhat inadequate in comparison.

Consequently, in all of the excitement over this grand new Golden Age of episodic television, we seem to have forgotten what is unique and singular to the medium of film. Some of us have lost faith in the medium completely and moved on to the search for alternate forms of storytelling, like transmedia. Others have fully embraced the idea that most young people are only comfortable in the short attention span space of Vimeo video clips.

Furthermore, while there used to be a time when unpopular or taboo subjects, settings or perspectives could only be found at the movies, these days there is no subject matter off limits to TV. A positive comedy about an atheist, multiracial, LGBTA, off-the-grid, anarchist free-love family would be no problem these days for any TV network. Back before cable TV, when the advertisers needed to approve the content, it was only in film that taboo subjects and characters could be explored; today, Last Tango in Paris could be pitched as a cable series.

With television co-opting cultural conversation and provocative content, the feature film format is indeed under assault. But, like the novel — which was in free fall in the early ’50s due to the emergence of TV — the form will continue and, in time, a new appreciation of its unique qualities will emerge. If your intent as a creator is primarily to tell stories and engage a mass audience, then I think it has become clear that there are more, possibly better mediums for you than cinema. But if you call yourself a filmmaker or a film lover, then you should be someone invested in the specific qualities of the cinematic medium. In this current time of transition, as new mediums and new lifestyle habits are being formed, we as filmmakers and film lovers need to assert cinema’s position in the crowded visual entertainment landscape.

Quite simply, we need to assert the unique qualities of the feature film format, qualities that make it distinctive from all other mediums. Like an old married couple looking to renew their vows, it may be time for us film lovers to restate the reason why we fell in love with the form to begin with. And if there is no distinction between film and television when it comes to subject matter and characters, then that means the distinction must be found in form, not content. Hopefully, listing these aspects that differentiate film from television will give you a reason to make a film — or to simply go out to your local theater, buy a ticket and enjoy the uninterrupted darkness.

Read it all at Film Maker Magazine