Apple Studios recently launched a new, inclusive initiative called the Apple Studios Directors Program, which is aimed at mid-career directors working in television, and the announcement left me with some questions.
From the press release, the six-month program is “focused on expanding opportunities for mid-career directors across the U.S. Our goal is to identify innovative and diverse visionaries and give them a front-row seat to Apple Studios productions and opportunities to network. Successful participants will be positioned to direct content for Apple TV+.”
Additionally, the program will offer “masterclasses focused on building and sustaining a career as a working episodic director. The program also will feature discussions with seasoned industry professionals on the craft and business of directing, opportunities to participate as shadowing directors on Apple Studios series, and a ‘one-of-a-kind experience’ in Apple Park tailored to inspire innovation and creativity.”
Finally, the program “aims to uplift and champion mid-career directors in an environment in which every voice is heard and valued. Directors from under-represented communities and women are strongly encouraged to apply.”
Now, in theory, this is a great idea. Given the rise of streaming and the ever-changing, increasingly blurred worlds of film and television, the entertainment landscape has been irrevocably altered. Suddenly, directors who previously worked primarily in film — studio directors and indie filmmakers alike — are crossing over and working in episodic TV, taking jobs previously occupied by career helmers who hopped around from one show to the next.
These journeymen could create a rather fine career for themselves directing episodic television, working for years or decades in the system, moving from show to show. Some luck out and get in on a show early, become a producing director, or just a regular on the show, directing multiple episodes per season. Maybe they get in with a specific producer or shingle, or even a studio, and find themselves with plenty of regular work.
Those jobs still exist, certainly, especially with the ongoing reality of Peak TV, in which there are literally hundreds of shows between broadcast, cable, and streaming, though there’s another factor in play as well. More and more shows are using only one or two directors for the entirety of a season, using a somewhat new creative philosophy. Fewer directors mean a crisper and cleaner vision for the show, while also allowing a writer and/or showrunner to minimize the number of voices affecting the final product.
At the same time, of course, this means fewer opportunities for directors of any stripe, especially the aforementioned journeymen — and women — who might have previously worked on such entries. Miniseries used to be a primary example of this kind of thing, but with the rise in popularity of the limited series, and the increased participation of auteurs overseeing said operations, that’s no longer the case.
Additionally, it used to be de rigueur for a television series to be 13 episodes on the low end, and 22 on the high end. That is now exceedingly rare, even on the lower end, as anything that is not a network show is going to top out at around 10 episodes. Occasionally 12. But usually eight, or even six.
The point is, while there are a lot more shows than there used to be, there aren’t necessarily more chances for these artisans to ply their trade. Even with the increased number of shows, directors who have spent years or decades in the trenches of network television are not going to be high on the list of creators looking for someone to help them bring their vision to the small screen. Those creators want bigger names or, lacking that, edgier or younger ones. Someone who has plied their trade doing the same old thing, week to week, with the same shots and sequences we’ve seen again and again? Yeah, they ain’t getting those gigs.
So the notion of a company offering opportunities on its own shows for such professionals is a good one, but … again, I’m curious about a few things.
For starters, the idea of giving guidance on how to build and sustain a career to middle-aged directors who are already in the midst of that career — and indeed, have found a way to work for some time in this business — seems rather redundant somehow. If the focus is more on reclaiming one’s career and getting a fresh start than sustaining something already in place, well, that certainly makes more sense to me, but then why not just say that?
Additionally, what does this six-month program entail? One would have to assume that the three people accepted into it — yes, just three, and we’ll come back to that shortly — can afford to not work for that period, unless, of course, they’re able to take jobs during that time, though that somehow seems counterintuitive. But that still doesn’t answer the question. Masterclasses? Discussions with seasoned industry pros? Shadowing working directors? You know what that all sounds like to me? An internship.
That’s what this feels like, a way for these “old” dogs to try and learn some new tricks, while also getting the inside track on working for Apple, and Apple gets some cheap but experienced labor in the process.
Also, Apple limiting this program to just three people is kind of odd. Why just three? It seems like something along these lines could be really helpful to a lot more people looking for that kind of aid, so to keep the group that small feels like a missed chance to make a real difference here across the industry at large, though I suppose if it’s successful in this first go-round, it could always expand. After all, Apple probably doesn’t want 20 directors expecting a job upon completion of this program, which, naturally, offers no guarantee of future employment.
One of the other key bits of information I took from Apple’s announcement was the studio’s plea for underrepresented communities and women to apply. The placement of this feels a bit like burying the lede. Is it specifically for BIPOC and female directors? If so, again, why not just say that? If not, why make such a point of asking for them to apply? It sort of sounds like Apple is trying to have its cake and eat it too here, and that almost never really works out the way you want it to.
I reached out to a rep at Apple for a bit more insight into this initiative, but none was forthcoming, so I’m left with more questions than answers at the moment. And I swear, this isn’t one of those, “I’m just asking questions” situations in which I’m quite obviously trying to create a problem. In this case, I am genuinely looking for some information to help me understand exactly what this program is and precisely who it is for.
I’m all for offering opportunities to those who need them. I’m also all for studios looking for new ways to both find and nurture talent and bolster their own content in the process. It’s nice to see a company think outside the box in this regard. What worries me is that this program feels like it’s being advertised as one thing, but in fact, might be something else.
A little clarity would go a long way here. Laying out exactly what all this is, the lessons to be taught, the help to be offered, and to whom that help is really targeting would be a good start.
The application period for the Apple Studios Directors Program opens tomorrow, Feb. 23, and runs through March 1. Feel free to drop us a line if you’re accepted…
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.