LOS ANGELES -- Filmmaker Frank Darabont of "The Shawshank Redemption" fame has been dazzled by "The Shield" since it began in 2002. He finally took action -- or more specifically, he shouted "Action!"
Invited by series creator Shawn Ryan to direct an episode of the dark and wrenching police drama, Darabont jumped in. His work on tonight's episode, "Chasing Ghosts," cemented Darabont's admiration for TV in general and "The Shield" in particular.
"It starts with the writing," Darabont said. "I've never seen a show that takes the kind of chances this one does. It's swinging for the fences all the time, and there's not been one iota of slacking in the tension and quality of the stories they're telling."
As Darabont sees it, "some of the best stuff is being done on TV these days."
But the reality is that television and film production are vastly different.
A series can't offer an impressive budget or the leisurely, 120-day shoot Darabont enjoyed on "The Green Mile." An episode of "The Shield" usually is allowed about seven days of filming.
And instead of realizing a personal vision, as he did directing his Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Stephen King's novella for "Shawshank," he has a series template for tone and character to follow.
Darabont, making a rare foray into TV, was fine with it all during his work late last summer on the FX series. He's downright enthusiastic about the relative lack of control.
"Coming in and putting myself at the service of somebody else's creative vision is wild and liberating. . . . This is play time for me. And working with a unit this talented, this cast and this script, wow, talk about a safety net.
"I love playing in their sandbox and not trying to turn it into my sandbox," he said.