Let’s flash back to San Diego Comic Con, July 2013. The folks behind the Kickstarter project for Showrunners: A Documentary Film are throwing a party for their backers, of which I am proudly one. I’m an early bird to the venue, but I’m allowed in just as the clock strikes opening time, and I start mingling with various people in the room. Within minutes I spot the man I’d been hoping to see: Des Doyle. He’s a soft-spoken, affable gent, with a lilting Irish brogue and a quick smile on his lips. Making my way over to the bar where he’s stationed, we chat for some time about the project (at the time, they were still filming interviews and footage, and acquiring clearances) but not wanting to monopolize all his time, I excuse myself to mingle with others as the room started to fill. I manage to grab a few minutes with one of Doyle’s partners in crime, Ryan Patrick McGuffey, who is equally as amiable and also enthusiastic about the movie, the convention and the opportunity to meet up with backers that night. As the event carries on, I meet many interesting people who are invested — personally and financially – in the film, thereby reaffirming my smart decision in backing it.
Now fast forward to Anaheim WonderCon, April 2014. Offered a chance to formally interview Des prior to their panel, I jump at the chance. I’m typically not presumptuous in expecting people to remember me, especially since SDCC is an endless stream of meet-and-greets, name exchanges, promise making and overall introduction overload. Imagine my honest delight when Des immediately says he remembers me from our chat at the party that hot July night. Ryan, who is briefly at the table before the interview starts, agrees that he, too, had a fun time mixing at the event. I’m not putting this here for lack of humility; I’m putting this here because these gentlemen are consummate professionals. Not only have they given most of their time (and possible sanity) over to this film for the past few years – a piece of passion they are not paid to make, by the way — but they’ve worked with most of television’s A List creators in the process. For them to be able to peg a backer they spoke briefly with at a party over 9 months ago is nothing if not proof that no little detail gets by, and that everyone they encounter on the road to making this documentary has value to them.
Susie M: Let’s be honest, are you sick of this whole thing yet? You’ve done so many interviews (like this) and have done so much PR over the last year; did you ever think it would take this long?
Des Doyle: [sighs] No… No. I’ve met a lot of feature doc filmmakers over the years and they’ve told me that 3-4 years now is about the average. You hit speed bumps along the way in terms of funding, logistics and other problems. There were two big problems – why it took so long to finish. First, there was the editing process. We were in a really great position, but it’s also a really difficult one, in that we had an abundance of good material and 34 contributors, so trying to make that work in 90 minutes is a challenge; making sure everybody gets enough of a say and that you’re covering the bases that you want to cover. Unfortunately, some people haven’t made the final cut, but those interviews will be seen, they’ll be available on the Blu-Ray, the DVD, online or in whatever format down the line. But the other issue that was very challenging for us was getting clearances. Because if you’re dealing with 22-23 people, that’s 22-23 TV shows, 22-23 casts of TV shows, etc. so we ended up dealing with every studio, every agent, every publicity company, photography company — the entire gamut of Hollywood — over the last year, and as a low budget documentary that is a challenging thing to do. But amazingly, people were incredibly helpful and supportive with us on doing that so, yeah, I’m kind of relieved it’s done, but more importantly I’m relieved it’s good. We’ve shown it to a number of the showrunners, and the folks at TV Guide have seen it, and the feedback is fantastic. We did a little test screening in Dublin, Ireland, a little while ago and again the feedback was fantastic, so that’s the most important thing at the end of the day and hopefully it’s a good film.
SM: That’s a long labor process!
DD: Yeah, it is! And there are moments when we’ve all gotten a little tired since it’s basically only 3 or 4 of us trying to do everything, and nobody’s getting paid for it, so it’s definitely a labor of love. But you do take a certain degree of pride and relief in it. I got an email from Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) who said, “This is the film that I’ll show to people to explain to them what I do” and that’s awesome! I hope all the fans will like it.
SM: What gave you the idea to do it in the first place? It’s kind of a crazy endeavor to take on!
DD: [laughs] Yeah, if I could go back and talk to myself 4 years ago I might hesitate slightly! But, yes, it was my idea. I did it because I was waiting around for somebody else to do it. I was obsessed with American TV; I read everything I could about it, and I watched everything I could about it. I’ve always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes, what goes into the writing of a show, because those are the people with the real power and control. I think especially from 2003-2004 on, with the arrival of Lost, there was a real boom in social media, and everybody was doing podcasts, and there seemed to be such a huge upsurge in interest. The word “showrunner” was being bandied around a lot; every kind of report in relation to a TV show was using the word, and associating the person involved with it. I just found it fascinating, because as a job it’s insane. I think sometimes the people themselves doing it don’t realize what they’ve let themselves in for, when they walk into that for the first time: For a number of people we spoke to, this was their first time doing it and they really did find it overwhelming. I think people will find it very interesting, especially people who might be aspiring TV writers or looking to do this as a career, they’ll find some of the stories very interesting.
SM: No doubt. Bottom line, here: What do you want or expect to get out of this? What’s your end-game in making this documentary?
DD: We say it’s a film made by fans for fans, and it really is. I wanted to show people how hard people worked to make the shows that entertain them. Online message boards and social media can be very vicious places, sometimes; if you have a situation like Damon [Lindelof, showrunner for Lost] who was driven off Twitter. I think if people actually understood what goes into the job and the challenges those people face, they’d see that not everything is their fault. Hopefully the film will help to eliminate that a little more and people might cut them a little more slack. [laughs]
SM: If you could change anything about the process, would you? And if so, what would it be?
DD: In terms of making it? Well, when I came over, nobody really knew who I was. I’m from Dublin, Ireland; I have no track record here so just trying to get to people was incredibly difficult for the first couple months we were here. By the time we finished, that situation had changed entirely in that everyone was trying to contact us wanting to be in the film. Which is fantastic, but by that point it’s very difficult since you’ve shot so many people and the schedules are very difficult to make work. So, I guess what I would change is that I would make the approaches we made a little differently than we did at the start. But it’s almost impossible, since it’s a thing you learn; what’s the best way to approach these people? What’s the best way to make the schedules work? It’s really only something you can find out by doing it. So, that question is a hard one, actually! [laughs]
SM: That makes sense. After all, if anything had changed, then you wouldn’t have this film that you have now.
DD: Exactly. And there are some happy accidents in there, as well, that have benefited the film. But yes, if we do something else we’ll approach it in a slightly different manner.
SM: And now you have the street cred, thanks to this film!
DD: [laughs] Yeah! We’re in a nice position where people are coming up and asking what we want to do next, so that’s not a bad position to be in either.
SM: Any final comments or thoughts you want to share with our readers?
DD: At this point, I’m just very anxious for people to see it. You know we want to get it out into the word and we appreciate that people have been waiting a long time to see it. But it’s important for us that the release be as broad as it can be; we want as many people to see it in as many different places as possible and that’s taking some time to put together the way we want it to. So, if people can bear with us just a tiny bit longer, hopefully it’ll be worth it.
(NB: If what I’ve seen so far is any indication, then yes, Des, it’ll be very worth it!!)
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the documentary features interviews with JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost), Matthew Carnahan (House of Lies), Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus: War of the Damned), Chris Downey (Leverage), Jane Espenson (Once Upon A Time, Husbands), Hart Hanson (Bones), Mike Kelley (Revenge), Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife), Ali LeRoi (Everybody Hates Chris), Damon Lindelof (Lost), Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives), Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest), Jeff Pinkner (Fringe), Greg Plageman (Person of Interest), Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory), John Rogers (Leverage), Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age, Enlisted), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), Janet Tamaro (Rizzoli & Isles), Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), J.H. Wyman (Fringe, Almost Human) and many others.
“Showrunners” is a Black Sheep Productions / Romark Films / Junto Entertainment production with the participation of the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann and support from Kickstarter. Written and Directed by Des Doyle, Producers: John Wallace and Rock Shaink, Co-Producer: Ryan Patrick McGuffey, Editor: John Murphy, and Executive Producers: Jimmy Nguyen, Jason Rose, and Christof Bove. Submarine Entertainment represents the film for US distribution and worldwide sales rights.
Many thanks to Des, Ryan and the rest of the folks behind the film, and to M4PR who gave us this fabulous opportunity.