Why Tár Director Todd Field Didn't Make A Movie For 16 Years

In 2001, director Todd Field made his directorial debut with "In the Bedroom," an intense drama based on the 1979 short story "Killings" by Andre Dubus. "In the Bedroom" is about the tenuous nature of family, class, the impossibility of emotional healing, and the horrors of justice. It boasted excellent performances from Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei, and was nominated for five Academy Awards. It's handily one of the best films of the year. It would be five years before Field would return to directing with "Little Children," based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. That film also gazed into the suburbs and found helicopter parents, unhappy marriages, not-very-cathartic infidelity, and, most notably, a released sex criminal trying to reintegrate into a world that loathes him. That film was nominated for three Academy Awards, although it was quite a bit more mawkish and melodramatic than Field's previous effort. 

That was in 2006. Field wouldn't return to directing until 2022 with his film "Tár," starring Cate Blanchett as a rich and famous orchestra conductor who becomes embroiled in a sex scandal. In a recent interview with the Telegraph, Field revealed that he had begun writing "Tár" in 2020, during COVID-19 lockdowns, just as an idle project to keep himself occupied during an idle time. He mailed his script to Focus Features and, surprisingly, they returned it without any notes. Field, it seemed, was back. 

But where was the filmmaker in the intervening 16 years? As it turns out, he was working. It's just that none of his projects came to light.

Working with Joan Didion

Todd Field, he revealed, had been spending the 16 years in question deeply embroiled in several notable film projects that were, sadly, never produced. The Telegraph article makes mention of a political thriller Field was co-writing with Joan Didion ("The Panic in Needle Park," "A Star is Born"), a screenplay that took the better part of 10 years to assemble. That film was to be called "As It Happens," and it was reported on back in 2012 by Vulture. 

This was only one of many ambitious projects that Field had been writing. Perhaps most famously, Field was attempting to adapt Cormac McCarthy's bleak war novel "Blood Meridian" to the big screen, a project he was working on in 2010. In 2014, Entertainment Weekly reported that Field was hard at work on the drama "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," a very personal drama about the Portland Mavericks, a scrappy local team that disbanded in 1978. Field once worked for as a batboy for the Mavericks when he was 13, and has many pleasant — if rough-edged — memories of the team. Field recalled not just retrieving bats for the players, but many, many cases of beer. It was a different time, but hey, he was partially responsible for the invention of Big League Chew because of the experience.

It seems that these projects fell apart for the usual reasons that Hollywood films do; difficulty in finishing a studio-friendly script. No one seemed interested in Field's intense, literary interests. Also in 2014, CNN announced that Field was working on a drama called "America's Last Prisoner of War," based on a 2012 Rolling Stone article, and a biography of real-life POW Bowe Bergdahl. In 2015, Variety reported that Field was working on a film version of Jess Walter's novel "Beautiful Ruins" with Imogen Poots set to star.

So many unmade movies!

The most recent unmade movies

Most recently, Collider reported on a Todd Field film called "The Creed of Violence" which was said to star Daniel Craig, who was to complete shooting "No Time to Die" immediately prior to production. That project seems to have parlayed into a more ambitious one: a 20-hour miniseries version of John Franzen's novel "Purity." That project was also to star Craig. 

In the Telegraph interview, Field had a single theory as to why none of his films since 2006 were made, and it wasn't based on anything bitter or conspiratorial. The studios, Field found, simply do not share his taste. In his words: 

"It's as simple as this: the material I was interested in was not material other people were interested in backing. They would use adjectives like dense, or tough, which to them were apparently not good things." 

Unfortunately, in a very general sense, adjectives like "dense" and "tough" are often considered to be the opposite of "entertaining" when it comes to mainstream feature films. American film studios, Field seems to think, aren't keen on acknowledging that being challenged and confronted by a feature film is very much an exhilarating form of entertainment. Those who are fans of new literature and difficult novels from notable authors were likely emitting gasps of disappointment at the above litany of unrealized titles. 

Luckily for the world, "Tár" did make it to the big screen, and "awards buzz" seems to be floating around it. More importantly, "Tár" is one of the best films of 2022. It took a long time and a lot of scripts, but Field was allowed to direct again. Audiences can only hope they won't have to wait another 16 years for the next one.