Directing True Detective Was A Behind-The-Scenes 'Struggle' For Cary Fukunaga

"True Detective" season 1 is a rare accomplishment, being a television series with one writer and one director for the entirety of its first season. The singular vision of director Cary Fukunaga and writer Nic Pizzolatto created an engaging first season of television that subsequent seasons of the anthology haven't been able to follow up. However, such quality came at a cost, particularly on the part of Fukunaga. The director, known for his script contributions to "It Chapter One" and Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond in "No Time to Die," gave "True Detective" season 1 a tone and pacing that helped match the thought-provoking dialogue provided by Pizzolatto. 

Telling the story of detectives Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), "True Detective" season 1 was more about the stories of the two detectives than it was about the mystery at its center. The show lived well beyond its critically acclaimed first season, getting two more seasons, albeit with Fukunaga leaving directing duties. Pizzolatto would return to write the show's next two seasons, with a lineup of different directors helping to tell the wildly different stories each season brought. Other directors collaborating with Pizzolatto may have been for the best, as Fukunaga spoke about the difficulties maintaining his partnership with the writer.

A disheartening partnership

Fukunaga spoke in detail about the struggle of directing all eight episodes of "True Detective" season 1 to The Hollywood Reporter, and how the partnership pitched to him turned into a struggle during the production of the show:

"The show was presented to me in the way we pitched it around town — as an independent film made into television. The writer and director are a team. Over the course of the project, Nic kept positioning himself as if he was my boss and I was like, 'But you're not my boss. We're partners. We collaborate.' By the time they got to postproduction, people like [former programming president] Michael Lombardo were giving Nic more power. It was disheartening because it didn't feel like the partnership was fair."

The way Fukunaga paints the picture of Pizzolatto's overpowering influence on the show as the sole writer makes the drop in quality in future seasons make sense. The less well-received Season 2 of "True Detective" would feature several interweaving storylines and main characters, a far cry from the more self-contained story Fukunaga helped create. According to other reports, this wouldn't be the first time Pizzolatto would potentially discourage a director's involvement in "True Detective." Season 3 of the show, which featured Mahershala Ali in the lead, had some behind-the-scenes trouble of its own.

Creative disagreements

The third season of "True Detective" would see the show returning to what made season 1 so appealing, featuring a similar premise involving a lone investigator revisiting a case from decades ago. The return to form also meant two directors would split the 8-episode season, with "Green Room" director Jeremy Saulnier contracted to helm 4 of the episodes. That wouldn't come to fruition, though, as Variety would later report Saulnier's departure from the series after completing just two of his four episodes. While official statements blamed scheduling conflicts for his departure, Variety would note that differences of opinion between Saulnier and Pizzolatto on the episodes could have contributed to the exit.

Fukunaga's description of a "struggle" to direct the series's first season makes a little more sense now, as he elaborated in the same THR interview on the different approaches he and Pizzolatto took to the tone of the series:

"Nic is a really good writer, but I do think he needs to be edited down. It becomes too much about the writing and not enough about the momentum of the story. My struggle with him was to take some of these long dialogue scenes and put some air into them. We differed on tone and taste."

Starting fresh

While there have been plenty of struggles behind the scenes on the crime anthology series, the upcoming fourth season of "True Detective" looks like a fresh start. For the first time in the series, Nic Pizzolatto isn't involved creatively. Instead, Issa López is taking over both writing and directing duties for the series, with Barry Jenkins in an executive producer role. While the original team that helped to make the series so successful may be gone, maybe the change in creators is all that's needed to help make the show as fresh and entertaining as it was upon its first airing in 2014. 

No matter what happens with "True Detective" season 4, television fans can always look back on the first season of the show fondly. While Fukunaga may have gone through struggles while directing the entirety of season 1, his collaboration with Pizzolatto speaks volumes about what two creators can achieve despite their differences, as long as they aim toward the same vision for their story.