Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 28, 2022

House of Cards director visits campus

By MATTHEW ULLMAN | September 26, 2013

Last Tuesday, director James Foley led a Film & Media Studies Seminar where he discussed his role in steering the Emmy nominated television show House of Cards, along with how he navigated the challenges he faced as a young director.

Junior Josh Goodstein, a Film & Media Studies major, interviewed Foley for the majority of the seminar, with a short Q&A session left for the end.

House of Cards is an American political drama series that follows Democratic Congressman Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as he tries to climb the Washington bureaucratic ladder. The show opens with a political betrayal, leaving Frank denied the position of  Secretary of State promised by newly elected President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). Season one focuses on how Frank Underwood tries to exact revenge on the Capitol Hill insiders who he deems to have wronged him.

In 2013, the first season of House of Cards, which featured scenes filmed on the Homewood Campus, was nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series.

Beyond the plot, the reason that the television program is groundbreaking is because Netflix, the on-demand Internet video company, solely distributes the show. Thus, with a provider that originated online and stands apart from the cable companies, the House of Cards production team naturally operates differently.  According to Foley, this not only leads to a “more cinematic product,” but also fosters a very different onset environment.

“Netflix came out of the woodwork and said, ‘Wait a minute. We want to make original content.’ The big selling point was that [director David Fincher] was asking for a commitment of 26 episodes without making an original pilot,” Foley said. “So that was off the bat incredibly unusual. . .Netflix decided to roll the dice, and they additionally agreed that they would have no creative input. That is wildly unusual.”

Indeed, this $100 million foray into original programming has brought Netflix to new heights, with nine Emmy nominations and one Emmy award for House of Cards, serving as very tangible evidence of where the future of media may be.

“The money-people said, ‘Do what you want. Good luck.’ And it paid off. . .It is a very good model that allows creative freedom,” Foley said.

During the Q&A session, Foley took several questions on some of the artistic decisions he made in the episodes that he directed. While most comments were complimentary, one specific scene that featured Underwood’s wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), running through a cemetery came under question.

“There was an attempt to expand her consciousness,” Foley said in response. “Frankly, it was a bit of a clumsy attempt to expand her spirituality. But the fact that you noticed it means we can improve in season two.”

Outside of television production, Foley also examined what he thought to be the most important lessons to impart on the film students assembled.

“Talk and engage somebody with a visual idea that you have, but be able to present it in a verbal way,” Foley said. “You can’t show them the finished film, because you’re asking for $25 million to make the film.”

With movies such as Reckless, At Close Range, Who’s that Girl?, Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear, and The Chamber on his directorial resume, Foley’s advice largely resonated with the film students in attendance.

From dealing with eccentric actors to the 7k frame size that will be the future of camera equipment, Foley tried to answer all questions succinctly and with an interesting anecdote.

The response to the seminar was uniformly positive among Film & Media Studies majors who attended. Even the freshmen, many of whom have not declared a major, appreciated the discussion.

Freshman Will Laird was among those still undecided.

“I thought a lot of what he said was very relevant to film majors and prospective film majors because he talked about the changing industry and how it worked; that was great to hear,” Laird said.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions