INTERVIEW: Robert Lieberman on Directing for TV and ‘The Expanse’
Robert Lieberman has been working as a director for television and movies for years, with shows under his belt including The X-Files, D3: The Mighty Ducks, Lost Girl and most recently, The Expanse. Lieberman has been nominated for “Best Director in a Dramatic Series” from the Directors Guild of Canada. He talks to Defective Geeks about his own experience within the industry and the evolution of television shows.
Congratulations on your nomination for “Best Director in a Dramatic Series” from the Directors Guild of Canada! Tell us more about your experience directing episodes for THE EXPANSE television series.
Thank you. It is a great honor to be nominated by my peers and recognized in this way for my work.
The Expanse is a highly sophisticated, futuristic sci-fi show that I am honored to be a part of. Based on the series of novels by S. A. Corey, they tell a suspenseful and exciting story that takes place two hundred years from now when Mars has been colonized, the asteroid belt between here and Mars is inhabited by a group of the under-classed citizens and is policed by a private, corrupt enterprise. Mars and Earth are on the precipice of war as our unlikely heroes try to track down an entity that can survive in zero atmosphere and threatens the very existence of all organic life.
It was a privilege to work with such brilliant writers and creatives. They are a very confident group that welcomed my ideas with open arms. It was both challenging and energizing to go to set each day. I came on midway through the first season and told the executive producers, that having read the books, I had actually envisioned a much different show. To my surprise, they agreed and gave me their full support in readapting the visuals. It was a very satisfying experience and I am very proud of the work I did on such an outstanding project.
What inspired you to become a director? What were you watching when you realized you wanted to pursue a creative career?
Being a kid in Buffalo New York, I couldn’t have been further away from the bright lights of Hollywood. Yet, I went to the local North Park and Colvin theaters religiously every Saturday. That is where my dream was born. As a young high school student trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life I arrived at the concept that I should quest for the most impossible dream and shoot for my highest goal, figuring that I would never achieve that, but falling short of that lofty goal would leave me much further ahead than if I shot for a lower level of achievement. Directing a Hollywood film was that impossible dream. A dream that I actually made come true by the time I was 21. Both my sons are aspiring directors and I couldn’t be more honored. As I told my eldest son, I came out to Los Angeles knowing no one in the business with the dream of winning an Oscar. That isn’t going to happen. I carried the water from Buffalo to the West Coast, you’ll have to carry the water the rest of the way and nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to be in the audience when you win your Oscar.
When you are directing sci-fi, what is the most challenging part about it? Do you feel there is more freedom as a director when you are working within a fictional world?
Let me start with the second part. I find the greatest freedom for my filmic expression is in creating entire worlds from scratch. It truly challenges every synapse of my creativity because you are virtually starting with a blank page. I have been drawn to many projects like that. One that I particularly liked was adapting Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel Earthsea in which I had to create many worlds, cultures and ethnicities. I was methodical about their creation as I have been with The Expanse, making sure there is a level of veracity and that everything is founded in real science.
The most challenging part of directing science fiction is directing actors when they must interface with non-existent objects, effects and creatures. It’s extremely difficult task for actor and I feel is my job to coach and guide them through that process, when, in many cases, I am not completely clear on exactly what the final product will be. Sometimes it’s just some good guessing.
When I started, television was the poor cousin to motion pictures. Movie stars were movie stars and rarely did any television and only a handful of television stars went on to do movies. Nowadays with the competitive nature of cable and the endless providers of content, television has become so competitive that outlets like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and many other premium cable networks are creating shows that in some cases are far more sophisticated than motion pictures. Now, some of our biggest screen stars vie to do top notch television. The corporate culture of motion picture companies have driven them to make an endless stream of CG, comic book films and lowbrow comedies. So, providing sophisticated film storytelling has fallen mostly to television which explores the very edges of the mores and norms of our society. Of course there are a number of beautifully made independent films that are released each year, but for an endless array of intriguing content done in the most innovative ways, we must now look to television.
What has been your most favorite moments working behind the camera?
The most exciting part of working behind the camera is that you get to see that great performance, that beautiful picture, live. Everyone else only gets to see it on the screen. It is thrilling to be witness to a classic cinematic moment going down in real time.
My singular advice if you want to become a director is to make a life-long commitment to it. There are infinite avenues that will get you to your goal and each director’s story is entirely uniquely their own. You must forge your own path and follow the road signs of your instincts. No two directors have ever taken the exact same road. You must be diligent, thick skinned and always hold on to your dream and your visions. It doesn’t happen overnight, it may take decades, but if you stick with it, you most certainly will achieve it.
Moment of truth—if you could have any super powers, which one would it be and how will you use it.
I wish I had that power to alleviate suffering.
Check out Robert’s website at www.rlieberman.com.