They used to be called head writers. But in an era of ambitious television series with cinematic sweep, that one-dimensional title wouldn't begin to convey the all-encompassing nature of the job. Today's show runners oversee every aspect of writing and production, and they're second only to stars as the highest-profile figures in TV. More than two dozen of them talk about the nuts and bolts of their work, as well as its joys and tsoris, in an engaging new documentary.
The first directing effort of Des Doyle, a longtime assistant cameraman, "Showrunners" is a lively snapshot of the not-always-easy intersection of art and commerce. Seen in their natural habitat of writers room whiteboards and doughnuts, and in sharply edited interviews, the men and women who share their experiences here are an endlessly witty, hyper-articulate bunch.
Some are familiar names (J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof), others are known mainly within fan circles. With credits that include "The Big Bang Theory," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Good Wife" and "Boardwalk Empire," they're hitmakers. And they know that theirs is a dream job where burnout is guaranteed. They use such phrases as "controlled plane crash" to explain the weekly process.
The film's ideal audience would have to be aspiring TV writers; its talking heads collectively provide an instructional manual by way of anecdote. But the details can be eye-opening even to Hollywood insiders. For wannabe, seasoned pro and curious observer alike, these tales from the creative front lines are, like good TV, as insightful as they are entertaining.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.