Looking to build buzz and acclaim for its budding slate of original content, DirecTV is once again partnering with playwright Neil LaBute. The author wrote the scripts for the satcaster’s upcoming series “Full Circle” premiering October 9, but this time he’ll create 10 short films for its Audience Network. LaBute will have a great deal more creative freedom on this project, acting as writer, director and showrunner.
It’s a strategy that Chris Long, head of Original Programming and Audience Network for DirecTV, hopes will lead to more respected artists signing on to work with them. “What I would love to see is [that] they look at this as an opportunity where there is not going to be a lot of creative handcuffs on them. And the project will be able to get done quickly, and it will be done with the greatest concern to their creative license,” he said.
With his “edgy” and “provocative” content and well-established reputation within the artist community, LaBute is a good fit for the network, Long reasoned. Another area of concern is budget. Anyone who’s seen LaBute’s plays and films knows that location does not play a huge role in his productions; character and dialogue tend to carry the weight. In “Full Circle,” for instance, the series’ 10 half-hour segments take place in the same restaurant. “That’s obviously less places to shoot and more economies of scale, and because it was Neil LaBute we could attract top talent,” said Long.
One of this project’s goals is experience the “full scope of the relationship” with LaBute, who did not have the time to work from start to finish on “Full Circle.” “A lot of it has to do with schedule,” said Long, “because he does plays, and now he’s getting back into directing television,” having recently directed two episodes of AMC’s “Hell on Wheels.” Maintaining creative license was key to wooing the playwright for a second round. The network will have final say, of course, but the collaboration will be between LaBute and DirecTV. “He’s facing us. It’s not him collaborating with a director, producer… so it’s one conversation instead of four,” Long explained.
The 10 short films will run between 8 and 15 minutes. They’re currently discussing content, but at the moment LaBute’s idea is to shoot interviews with individuals describing a break up or a traumatic situation in their lives, in black and white, to achieve a film noir look. Long says he could use the films as interstitial content. “We thought that because we don’t have any commercials… that this would be great content to bridge off premium dramas… Instead of just showing promos or constantly putting DirecTV initiatives on, we wanted to put on more content for our customers.”
Details on how the films will be aired and distributed have yet to be solidified, but the content could end up being used by DirecTV Everywhere, Long said. Another important consideration is lead in. “We have to think about, does it air with Season 2 of “Rogue?” Do we air three at a time to make it a full half hour?” The Sundance Film Festival has also approached the network, so going that route is another possibility.
The satcaster is hoping this will create a domino effect. And it just might happen if LaBute’s project is a successful one. It’s also getting into comedy. “Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz has expressed interest in working with them, said Long, as well as comedian Tom Green and the guys at College Humor. “We’re trying to find a way that we can do comedy in the same vein as some of my favorite stuff, like “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” That type of comedy where it’s not appropriate for broadcast, and it can probably only air on premium networks,” said Long. “If you make great stuff people will come find it and watch it, and that’s the goal here.”