Back to Frank Black speaks to Allen Coulter

Allen Coulter is the director of a number of very successful television shows including “Sex and The City”, “The Sopranos”, and “Law and Order” and for his work he has thus far received six Primetime Emmy nominations amongst a slew of other accolades. In his career to date, he has directed one feature film entitled Hollywoodland, a film regarding the questionable death of George Reeves starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Ben Affleck. It was released September 2006. Allen’s name will no doubt be familiar to fans of Millennium as he joined the cast and crew of season two to direct three episodes that year, “Beware of The Dog”, “Siren” and “The Pest House”. When I spoke to Allen he was in the midst of completing post-production work for a movie as well as lining up further projects but he kindly agreed to take time from his busy schedule to talk to us at BackToFrankBlack.com and I am sure you will all join with me in thanking him for that time.

BACK TO FRANK BLACK: You began your career as a writer, I believe, writing for ‘Tales from the Darkside’ and ‘Monsters.’ Could you tell us a little about your journey to the role of directing and your appraisal of that role after twenty one years in the business? Do you ever itch to return to the written word again?

ALLEN COULTER: I’ve always considered myself more of a director than a writer. I really enjoy working with writers and I consider that a strength of mine in creating a film or a show. I have written some feature scripts in collaboration with other writers. I may return to that, but really what I find the most fulfilling is forging a script into a film or TV show.

BTFB: You’ve directed three episodes of Millennium, ‘Beware of the Dog’, ‘Siren’ and ‘The Pest House’. If we take your first Millennium outing, ‘Beware of the Dog’, could you offer us a brief synopsis of a director’s activities from first receiving the script to actually directing the episode?

AC: Like all episodes of television, it requires a great deal of preparation. I have to understand the series, know the look and feel of the show, read the script many times over and start to develop a plan for how I want to shoot it.

A lot of my process happens during the prep period, so when we begin shooting I can focus on the performance and working with the DP to achieve the look I envisioned. I believe that episodic directors are a large part of the success or failure of a television show. It is our job to give life to and enrich the words on the page.

BTFB: All three of the episodes you directed were written by Millennium’s then show-runners, James Morgan and Glen Wong. Does this present any difficulties as a director or are you literally given free reign to bring their written vision to life without too much pressure from above?

AC: Like all series, Millennium required collaboration with the writer-producers. I presented them with my ideas for the show and we worked together to create the show as it exists today.

BTFB: I wanted to ask about ‘Siren’ in particular. In an episode as ambiguous and open to interpretation as that one is it necessary for the director to form an opinion as to what are the truths and the intentions of the narrative in order that it works for the viewer or
are you able to apply your skills to an episode even if you are undecided what the story is saying on all its levels?

AC: No matter how confusing and mysterious the show may be, I always have some idea of what literally happens in the episode. I need it to guide my direction. But I also believe that the audience must interpret it for themselves. Too often in television, writers and producers want to tell the audience exactly what is happening all the time, for fear of losing their interest.

I believe that what makes television shows great, is their willingness to trust the audience with conflicting, ambiguous and challenging situations. To me this kind of approach resonates with audiences because this is how life is- full of conflict, ambiguity and challenge – and this is what makes something like SOPRANOS a truly amazing and popular show.

BTFB: We know Lance in particular was very passionate about his character, often challenging certain story aspects and plot developments if he felt they betrayed the integrity of the show and Frank Black. How do you recall the experience of directing Lance as Frank Black and of working with the cast and crew of the franchise in general?

AC: I had a great time working with the actors on Millenium. They were very devoted to their craft and Lance clearly created an indelible character for his audience.

BTFB: I wanted to ask, in terms of personal satisfaction, how those episodes compare with one another and how does the experience of working on Millennium compare to other shows you have worked on e.g. ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Sex in the City?’

AC: Every show has its own challenges and rewards. It’s hard to compare Millennium to something like Sex & the City because the cast and crew are so different, the style is very different, and I was at a different place in my career. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot working on Millennium and that would serve me well later on in my career.

BTFB: We exist as an entity primarily geared to raising awareness of the groundswell of support that exists, and grows, with regards to a movie adaptation of Millennium. From a behind the scenes perspective, do you agree that this particular franchise is ripe for such an adaptation and agree with the fans assertion that Millennium has a quintessential something that has oft been imitated but never bettered?

AC: I think it’s great that Millennium fans are so devoted to a show that has so much meaning for them. I think it’s important that we treat good television the way we treat other forms of art – as representations of life that we can reflect on and learn from.

BTFB: Millennium fans are very excited about the prospect of ‘Rubicon’ which we believe you are involved in, talk of global conspiracies and secrets and lies activates our genre radars if you will. Are you ableto tell us anything about this project and about what lies in the future with regards to the continuing career of Allen Coulter?

AC: I too look forward to the launch of Rubicon and I hope it pleases. I also shot a movie this summer in New York called REMEMBER ME starring Robert Pattinson, Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper among others. I don’t know what lies in my future, but I’m always on the look out for good material, be it in television or feature film.

BTFB: Many thanks for taking the time to talk to us Allen.

AC: Best of luck to you and the Millennium community.

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