The obvious takeaway from the new documentary “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show,” is that writers rooms are stocked with donuts and cupcakes – and that being a showrunner is very hard.
“It’s like painting a painting while writing a novel while doing your taxes,” says “House of Lies” creator and showrunner Matthew Carnahan in the film. “Utterly consuming,” adds Joss Whedon. “It’s too good to quit, and too hard to do,” says Bill Prady.
The three showrunners and many more opened up to filmmaker Des Doyle and his team, and at the film’s Tuesday night premiere at the Television Academy, the showrunners and filmmakers talked about being a part of the ambitious undertaking.
“I’ve always been fascinated with what goes on behind the scenes, and that got me into filmmaking,” said Doyle. Doyle grew up in Ireland a fan of American television and said it was easy to use his first film to showcase his passions – “American television and the creative process.”
“Showrunners” is a film four years in the making that required hounding showrunners, network execs and actors, traveling to the states and running out of money. Over the course of filming it became necessary to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production, though co-producer Ryan Patrick McGuffey says that making it a collaborative project with fans has been “wonderful.”
The film begins four years ago, at the start of the first season of “House of Lies,” the hopeful but heartbreaking end of Mike Royce’s “Men of a Certain Age,” and a day in the life of “Bones” showrunner Hart Hanson.
“I was going to say no to the interview,” admitted Hanson. “But then Des came in and started talking to me in an Irish accent with that face saying ‘It’ll only take a minute,’ and I couldn’t say no.”
“It’s immensely flattering to think that your job is going to be interesting to anybody else,” said Damon Lindelof, though his initial reaction was to ask “Who would want to watch that?”
Being a showrunner is “such an invisible part of television,” added Ali LeRoi. “To be able to show it and talk about it and have people understand it is a cool thing.”
Throughout the film the showrunners spoke of the intricacies of being a showrunner, touching on everything from coordinating actors to negotiating with networks and their notes, and the pressure of now being a public figure like Shonda Rhimes, Matthew Weiner and Jenji Kohan.
“As a kid coming up I knew Norman Lear’s name,” said LeRoi,” but he’s like the only one!”
No stranger to scrutiny by fans and critics alike, Lindelof added that while daunting, he believes in the importance of showrunners having a voice – something that was not so commonplace when he began his run with “Lost” in 2004. “I’ve always felt sort of duty-bound to anyone who’s interested in what we do,” he said. “We live in a culture where people become interested in television shows and they want to have more direct contact with the people who are making them, and the showrunner is obviously the person who has to say ‘Yes, I have to take responsibility for that thing that you loved and that thing that you hated.’”
“That’s why documentaries like this are important, so [fans] can get a little more insight,” said Jane Espenson, noting that showrunners “should be praised to the skies because it’s an incredibly difficult job.”
“Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show” opens in select theaters via Submarine Deluxe & Gravitas Ventures and will be available on iTunes Oct. 31.
(Pictured: Producers Ryan Patrick McGuffey and Jason Rose, Damon Lindelof and director Des Doyle)