20 feb 2023

From Scorsese to Tarantino: six shows directed by big names of the film industry

As French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has just unveiled his very first TV show entitled The Night Logan Woke Up, Numéro takes a look back at the great directors’ memorable forays into the small screen, from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher…

Julie LeBreton in The Night Logan Woke Up (2023) by Xavier Dolan

A few weeks ago, the young prodigy of Quebec cinema Xavier Dolan unveiled the first episodes of his very first series entitled The Night Logan Woke Up on Canal +. Used to the silver screen – from the very touching Mommy (2013) to the recent release of Matthias & Maxime (2019) – the 33-year-old director is now diving into shows direction, like many other directors before him. From Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher, throwback to six great film directors’ forays into the world of series.

1. Boardwalk Empire: Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece on television


A brilliant adaptation of Nelson Johnson’s book of the same name Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, the 2010 HBO series Boardwalk Empire embarks us on the crazy journey of Enoch L. Johnson, a figure of organized crime from the early 1920s who kept New Jersey on a leash. The adaptation is signed by a major crime screenwriter: Martin Scorsese. He is the executive producer of the series and has even directed the pilot episode, which takes us into Atlantic City, among prostitution, smoky gambling tables, and late-night alcohol trafficking from the very first minutes. Considered as one of the best works made for television, like The Sopranos or The Wire, Boardwalk Empire has the makings of vintage costume dramas in which every single door handle used in the set has been found in an expensive antique shop… The waterfront of Atlantic City has been faithfully reproduced over thousands square meters as it once existed after the First World War. Besides, it doesn’t look like the countless extras seen walking around in their Sunday best have been digitally duplicated. “I wouldn’t have felt the same way if it wasn’t for HBO,” Martin Scorsese said. “Many episodes in their series are clever and well-thought out […] They’re creating a new way of telling stories that has nothing to do with old-fashioned TV shows […] I have been tempted to work with HBO over the years because of the nature of the long-form: to experience the creative freedom of a long-form development.

2. Quentin Tarantino makes the CSI squad suffer in Las Vegas


A commercial success from the very first seasons, the crime series CSI: Las Vegas broadcasted on CBS in October 2000 in the US averages 20 million viewers per episode across the Atlantic. After the now legendary opening credits including the song Who Are You by The Who, the audience follow the night shift of Las Vegas forensics led by Gil Grissom, as they solve the most gruesome crimes thanks to fingerprints analyses, ballistic evidence, and microscopic details… In 2006, a big name of the film industry took over the reins of the show to the delight of the fans. Quentin Tarantino signed a 90-minute TV special entitled Grave Danger for the 24th and 25th episodes of season 5. The director and screenwriter reversed the preestablished roles – agent Nick Stockes, a fiber specialist, has been kidnapped and buried alive in a glass coffin, along with a tape recorder, some glow sticks, and a gun. His kidnapper then broadcasted his slow agony live on camera to the entire forensic squad. Gory and merciless, the episode reminds the audience of an earlier work by the director, while transforming the redundant narrative structure of the 45-minute-long form. Two years earlier, Quentin Tarantino had already buried a certain Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 2.

3. The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont’s zombie series with an everlasting success


Last week, hordes of zombies, which you may have spotted, took to the streets of Paris for the shooting of the highly anticipated spin-off of The Walking Dead entitled Daryl Dixon. But do you know the creative brain behind the successful series? It is the American director Franck Darabont. Known for dedicating his talent to cinema through acclaimed features like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), he also ventured into the small screen with the direction of a horror series that has probably become the most famous in the world now: The Walking Dead (2010). Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book of the same name, the series runs for 177 episodes and 11 seasons. It tells the story of a group of survivors facing a zombie invasion and trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Long before that, Frank Darabont had already proved his talents as a director with the critically acclaimed prison drama The Shawshank Redemption (1994) based on Stephen King’s masterpiece. Meanwhile, more than ten years after the release of its first season, The Walking Dead remains one of the most popular American science fiction series in the world – season 5 averaged more than 15 million viewers per episode in the US alone.

4. David Fincher infiltrates the US Congress with the series House of Cards


Do you know what Madonna’s futuristic 1989 music video Express Yourself, the feature The Social Network and the 2013 political show House of Cards have in common? All three of these pop culture monuments have been created by the same person, the American director and producer David Fincher. Known for his debuts in TV commercials, as well as for his successful blockbusters and landmark series, David Fincher strives to design universes at the crossroads between reality and fantasy. In the series House of Cards, the Denver native tackles the issue of political professions and depicts the career of a whip before his appointment as Prime Minister. Over the years, the series which ran until 2015 won prestigious awards. In 2015, actress Robin Wright (Claire Underwood in the series) notably won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series Drama. While David Fincher has made a name for himself in the world of TV shows as a director, he is also a talented producer. Mindhunter, the two-season Netflix show about the birth of behavioral science in the FBI, is the perfect example.

5. Lana and Lilly Wachowski (directors of the cult Matrix) take on the series world with Sense8 (2015)


Following the worldwide success of their 1999 Oscar-winning feature film Matrix, which tells the story of Neo, one of the most sought-after cyberspace hackers at the crossroads of two worlds, sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski are taking the serial genre by storm with Sense8. Fond as always of parallel universes and SF references, the two directors unfold the story of eight people across the world who suddenly become connected over the course of two seasons. Co-directed with Joseph Michael Straczynski – the man behind the fictional series Babylon 5 – the show managed to seduce fans of mentalism, telekinesis, and other psychic practices right from the start. It even won the award for Outstanding Drama Series at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2018. Behind this dystopian scenario, directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski express a desire to explore the ways in which technology simultaneously unites and divides humanity.

6. Xavier Dolan explores the small screen with The Night Logan Woke Up (2023)


In November 2022, French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan shook up the film industry with the announcement of a potential retirement in an interview with the newspaper Le Journal de Montreal: “I don’t really want to do this job anymore. I’m kind of tired of it,” he shared. Although that piece of news does not stand as a definitive farewell to the cinema industry, it has surely worried his most devoted fans. But the release of his very first series, The Night Logan Woke Up, on Canal +, on 23 January 2023 sounded as a relief for many of them. In five one-hour-long episodes, Dolan explores the themes of family love, tumultuous relationships between siblings, and grief, as he portrays characters forced to reunite after the death of their mother. The Larouche siblings – wonderfully played by Julie LeBreton, Patrick Hivon, Éric Bruneau, and Xavier Dolan himself – reveal themselves through their love-hate relationship in a series of close-ups and slow-motion scenes. A concentrate of Dolan, which marks the young French-Canadian’s remarkable entry into the world of series with a sensitive rewriting of the play of the same name by Canadian playwright Michel Marc Bouchard.