Published March 11, 2014 by Steve Donovan
I'm a tv junkie. I got addicted early in life. I couldn't stay up late as a kid, so I learned to program the VCR so I could record "Saturday Night Live". When it was a Sunday morning after a new episode, I would run downstairs to the television like I was ready to open a present on Christmas Day. Later in life, I found "Twin Peaks". That's when I found out that I still had a fever for appointment viewing and I was certain I could solve the murder of Laura Palmer with the evidence they gave me each week. My fever ran hot again when Jack Shepherd and gang crashed into the island on "Lost". The discussions that it sparked between me and my friends and co-workers were hypothetical and analytical. Television has really hit a golden age these days. "Breaking Bad" really showed me how good television can be when it wrapped up a character's fractured life so eloquently. A couple months ago, I got hooked again. Not on the blue meth but on HBO's "True Detectives".
This show follows two Louisiana state detectives as they try to solve the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange. Novelist and short story writer Nic Pizzolatto's first shot at a television series has teamed up an unlikely duo who are led down a path of self-destruction and isolation while they find what seems to be the tip of the serial killer's iceberg. The story spans 17 years and goes back and forth in time, creating an amazing story. But what makes the story even MORE potent is the direction from Cary Fukunaga. He creates stunning visuals that lend a magic that walks line between artistic and effective. But, most importantly, the sign of a great director can be found in not even noticing. You don't notice how amazing the craftwork is. You watch and get caught up in the story. The production values are so constructive and valuable to what needs to be accomplished, that we are blind to what amazing work is done.
Fugunaka's vision takes us to a place where it's a cross between bayou, voodoo and whodunit. He quietly creates a world and we don't even realize it. In the scene I placed below, Rust Cohle tries to work his way into a band of criminals that may lead him to the primary suspect in the murder. His cover goes deep and when he gets in too far, he's stuck in a collection gone bad and takes one member of the gang as a hostage. Before I knew it, I was watching a 6 minute steadicam shot that took a major amount of planning and skill and luck to pull off. It makes the tension even greater and helps us become part of the standoff that seems to go from bad to worse. It was a major undertaking on Fugunaka's part but he knows that good cinematography and craft can make a dramatic difference when telling a story. Be advised that the clip below has strong language and gun violence. If you play it at work, you should turn the audio way down.
Even if a production doesn't boast visually stunning artwork, there may be high production values that lend itself to what the director wants the viewer to experience. And that's what we all want in our work. We want the viewer to experience something. Pick that something out and let it all support that 'something'. In lighting and cinematography and visual effects. Let it play a part.