12 Great Movie Directors Who’ve Also Worked in TV

7. Olivier Assayas


It’s hard to say whether Carlos, Olivier Assayas’ 2010 take on Venezuelan revolutionary Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka, Carlos the Jackal, still worked after it was cut down to 166 minutes from its epic, 5 ½ hour runtime. It’s also hard to say whether the three-part story works as a feature film, which it was screened as at Cannes.

But one thing’s for sure: in the steady hands of Assayas, Carlos is a thrilling miniseries, which should be required viewing for any TV-head who’s also interested in foreign cinema. Assayas had worked in TV documentaries before, but if you want an entry point into the career of one the most exciting voices in French cinema today, Carlos is the way to go.


8. Todd Haynes

Mildred Pierce

Currently experiencing a wave of acclaim for his Cannes best actress-winner Carol, the always brilliant Haynes took a break from film to direct the 2011 Mildred Pierce (hey, Joan Crawford again!) miniseries for HBO (a bit of a mainstay on this list.)

Perhaps the foremost Hollywood expert in classic melodrama, the director mined the same well he went to for Carol and the Douglas Sirk-inspired Far from Heaven (2002) for this sumptuous remake, starring a powerhouse Kate Winslet in the title role, and featuring excellent supporting performances from Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood.

Given the heavy emotion at the core of these films, it can be easy to forget that Haynes is also a master craftsman, and as is the case in Heaven and Carol, Pierce also puts his gorgeous camera to good use.


9. Jane Campion

Top of the Lake

Known for intense dramas like The Piano (1993) and Bright Star (2009), this New Zealand powerhouse made her first miniseries with An Angel at My Table in 1990, which was later re-cut and released theatrically (not unlike Carlos.) 23 years later, she boarded perhaps her most ambitious project yet with Top of the Lake. A detective story starring Mad Men’s formidable Elizabeth Moss.

This brooding and sometimes disturbing portrait of a town descended into chaos after the disappearance of a young girl (Twin Peaks, anyone?) was so good, the Sundance Film Festival screened all seven episodes in 2013 before premiering them on TV later that year. For good measure, Top of the Lake also made an appearance at the Berlin International Film Festival. Lucky for fans, the show is set to return in late 2016.


10. Cary Fukunaga


Cary Joji Fukunaga only made two feature films (2009’s Sin Nombre and 2011’s Jane Eyre) before diving into television headfirst with HBO’s True Detective. But since True Detective has pretty much been called the most cinematic TV show ever, he’s also impossible to leave off this list.

Already a distinct force in indie film, with Detective, Fukunaga blurred the lines between movies and TV more than anyone who came before him, and pushed the limits of how much a director’s vision specifically could have over a television show.

Lest his importance to that first season of True Detective be underwritten, let’s not forget the lukewarm reactions to season two. With his latest release, the child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation now streaming on Netflix, Fukunaga has remained at the cutting edge of popular art, and how we consume it.


11. Steven Soderbergh

The Knick

Oh Steven, we hardly knew thee. Well, okay, with a career spanning over twenty years and a filmography as acclaimed as it is long, maybe that’s not exactly true. Nevertheless, it was still a blow when Soderbergh talked about leaving the world of film for good a few years ago.

Luckily, he’s found a solid home in TV, thanks to HBO’s Liberace movie, Behind the Candelabra, which premiered at Cannes in 2013, and The Knick, Cinemax’s turn of the century medical drama starring Clive Owen, which is as bloody as it is methodical. Soderbergh had actually directed in television before, as far back as 1993, but with The Knick, he’s in uncharted territory. Consider: can you even imagine an Oscar-winning director leaving film to helm an entire TV show ten years ago?

Soderbergh is also producing an adaptation of his movie, The Girlfriend Experience for Starz, leading us to ask the question, is it possible this great auteur has really abandoned movies for TV for good?


12. Lee Daniels


After earning buckets of praise for his Sundance-winner Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire in 2009 (and buckets of scorn for his Cannes loser The Paperboy in 2012,) last year saw the release of the most successful project of Lee Daniels’ career yet, when he co-created and directed the first few episodes of FOX’s Empire. One of the highest-rated new shows on network TV in years, Empire is a testament to the changing landscape of entertainment.

That a former indie darling and Oscar-nominee like Daniels took his considerable talents in film and went on to create one of the biggest shows on television is no small achievement, and indicative of the future of both mediums.

Author Bio: Chris Osterndorf is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on The Daily Dot, Mic, Salon, xoJane, The Week, and more. He currently lives in Los Angeles.