An Interview with Des Doyle, Director of “Showrunners” Documentary
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is set to be released on October 31st and I got the opportunity to ask its director, Des Doyle, a few questions about his film. Showrunners is a feature-length documentary, exploring behind the scenes of TV shows and giving an inside look at the work the creative minds behind the projects do to keep the shows rolling.
Showrunners, or the creative minds, main authority, and management behind episodic television shows, are the focus of this project. Doyle, a Dublin-based filmmaker, set out to ask some of the most influential Showrunners in the business about their craft.
When I started out making the film, I drew up a wish list of people that I would love to get to interview. They were Showrunners whose work I was a huge fan of myself and they were also people that I thought were extremely interesting, who had enjoyed very successful careers in the TV Industry, and who made shows that I found to be brilliantly written and produced. That original list had ten names on it including people like Joss Whedon, Ronald D. Moore, Damon Lindelof, Jane Espenson, [and] Bill Prady. [We] managed to get 8 of the 10 people from that original list into the film and the book, which I still can’t believe we managed even today!
With a companion book to the documentary having been released earlier this month, I wanted to know what additional material the film will offer. According to Doyle, “The film allows us to tell the stories of some of the Showrunners in greater detail and also includes some Showrunners who aren’t in the book.” He also says that the book includes Showrunners who aren’t in the film, so there isn’t a lot of repeat information between the two. The film promises to take viewers behind the scenes to writers’ rooms, working sets, and editing rooms as well as feature some insight on Showrunners from actors such as Ray Romano and Kristen Bell.
With the growth of the internet, the interest in Showrunners has multiplied, due to the easy access of information through sites such as IMDB, and social media. “I think there has never been a greater level of interest in the people who create and write TV series than exists right now,” says Doyle, “This is partly as a result of social media where fans have direct access to the Showrunners themselves to ask questions about their favorite shows and partly because of huge online fan groups and forums where both the shows they love and the people who make them are discussed at length.”
Even before the internet, there was an intense interest in Showrunners from fans of television. “Fans have always been interested in the storytellers – because they are the only people who really have all the answers to the questions they’re asking, so I don’t think that’s anything new,” Doyle says, adding a bit of his memory from a conversation with Showrunner Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander), “I remember Ron Moore talking to me about when he was a kid he was a huge fan of ‘Star Trek’ so he wrote letters into the show, but not to the actors. He was writing to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the show, and Gene L. Coon who was a writer/producer of the show because he wanted to talk to them. Gene Roddenberry along with Rod Serling, who created ‘The Twilight Zone’, would have been perhaps the first two real Showrunners as we understand that to be today.”
With the internet setting the stage for a project like Showrunners to take off, Doyle says that even though the Showrunners have been brought to the foreground in modern television, there is still some confusion as to what their job entails and what their lives are like. Doyle says, “the film was born of a desire to illuminate that for TV fans.”
The road to getting this film and book released were a bit unconventional. A good portion of the project was funded through Kickstarter, an online campaign site that allows the public to donate money towards a goal budget. I asked Des Doyle if the Showrunners he wished to interview were receptive to the idea.
“I’m a filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland so when I first arrived in L.A. no one really knew who I was. So in the beginning it took some time to convince people about what we were trying to do. When Damon Lindelof agreed to take part and let us interview him, that really opened doors for us and I think people took us, and the project, much more seriously from that point on.” With Doyle and his crew’s enthusiasm and genuine interest in the behind-the-scenes work of television, other Showrunners were soon on board with the idea. “By the time we were nearing the end of production we had people contacting us asking if they could take part which was hugely flattering!”
I myself am aspiring towards a career in television, so I particularly appreciated the book and am looking forward to the movie, but Doyle says they tried to gear the film towards all different television interest levels.
“We’ve designed both the book and the film to be open and accessible to any level of a TV fan, but there is also more in there for any aspiring TV writers or potential Showrunners of the future, too,” says Doyle, “So whether you simply love watching great TV shows or someday aspire to write and create shows yourself I think the book and film offer both audiences a really interesting and enjoyable experience.”
With the closing promise that “you will never watch TV the same again,” Doyle leaves us waiting for October to watch his film.
Read my review of the film’s companion book here.