Why Indie Filmmaker Sam Esmail Turned Mr Robot Feature Screenplay Into a TV Show
Sam Esmail is the creator and showrunner of one of my favorite Show from 2015: Mr. Robot. But before getting the green light and a budget from USA Network to explore his dystopian-ish world, Esmail was branded an indie filmmaker; he had one feature film on his resume, Comet, that played in Festivals, got some accolades but that didn’t, to quote Esmail, “hit the bull in the eye”.
In other words, it lost some money and most people who’ve seen that film, watched it on VOD, not in theatres, and probably after discovering Mr. Robot.
That tells a bit about where Esmail comes from. Esmail is a true indie that grew up when I grew up, during the 90s, when indie filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson emerged and blew our brains out.
Coming from this golden period of filmmaking for different storytelling, trying to be an indie filmmaker today can become heart breaking. And that’s pretty much how Esmail felt when he started writing his second feature film: Mr. Robot (which is greatly influenced by the 90s).
In his talk at Film Independent, he explains how in a very organic manner and without any premeditation, he ended up changing medium and go for what we still call “TV” -even though the majority of us probably didn’t watch Mr. Robot on a TV set:
“I started writing Mr. Robot as a feature and I got really long-winded with the script, which I tend to do, and then I was repped by Anonymous at the time and they just had come out with True Detective.
And I loved True Detective and I thought it was really cinematic and all the things that I wanted to do with Mr. Robot, and I didn’t really want to do the work of cutting off Mr. Robot into this 2h movie so I was like ‘Well let me turn it into a TV Show’ and then the worry of raising financing, and going independent, and having to cast some A-List all these, just went away.
It actually kind of made me think about those 90s directors who probably didn’t have to think about those things back in the day too, or at least it was a lot easier to get financing if you didn’t have an A-Lister and you were doing kind of a more quirky character drama or an off-beat story. So it kind of organically fell into place like that.”
Just to be clear, Esmail could do that because he had representation from an sufficiently high-profiled agency that after changing course, he could be heard and read.
You should definitely listen to the full video, there’s more to it, and I’ll probably get back to it soon: