Sam Esmail is most notably known for his success from creating, directing, writing and producing the critically acclaimed show Mr. Robot from 2015-2019. Esmail is someone who should be on the top of everyone’s list of names to keep an eye on. I have noticed the opposite.
News sites treat him has a fairly large name when announcements of his projects are revealed. He has multiple awards nominations (and wins) for his work, and people who watch this work love what he does, yet outside of these spheres, it is quiet.
Esmail is doing incredible work in film and TV, and this is very clear in both Mr. Robot and his new show starring Julia Roberts, Homecoming. His style is present and recognizable in both, yet he is able to mold this style to perfectly fit the specific tone, characters and stories of each show. He uses every possible aspect of film-making to his advantage when building up the tone of a show or movie, and it works.
The Art of his Shots
Although his style is evident in his 2014 film Comet, it is not until Mr. Robot started gaining traction that more attention to his style was given. He deviates from the common rule of thirds, uses blank spaces in frames, and often does not center the subject in shots, among many other techniques. It is incredibly captivating to the eye. Even on re-watching the show countless times, I find myself not being able to look away from the screen. Each and every shot serves a purpose, and you can tell the amount of thought that goes into them.
Mr. Robot not only draws the viewer in as a character by having the main character, Elliot Alderson, speak to the camera directly, but also by engaging the audience with a series of Easter eggs (both in the show and around the internet), an ARG game, and a book. The Reddit fan base for Mr. Robot features some of the most engaging and intelligent discussions of a show I have ever seen, including people working alongside one another to solve the various (incredibly complex) puzzles that are woven into the show. Not only is it the perfect way to bring your audience closer to a story, but it’s also a genius PR move.
“I talk to you, an invisible friend. I’d ask if you’re normal, but you never talk back.”
– Elliot Alderson in Mr. Robot, season 2 episode 8.
In Homecoming, Esmail uses aspect ratio to his advantage by changing it depending on the time period it’s showing (present or future). It suits the show perfectly by throwing you off-balance, putting you in the perfect position to start questioning everything you are seeing. He continues to use his framing techniques from Mr. Robot, but is more subtle with it, instead focusing more on color to reflect tones and moods.
So Why the Lack of Hype?
Although I personally enjoyed Esmail’s film Comet, it flew a bit under the radar and was met with mixed reviews, so I would not expect people to recognize his name from this title. That being said though, his next credit was Mr. Robot, which was met with wide praise from critics, viewers, and awards shows. Since its premiere in 2015, It has received six Golden Globe nominations with two wins, two wins, nine Emmy nominations with two wins, and a slew of nominations and wins from other major awards shows. It has a huge following online (as I mentioned, the Reddit community for the show is vast, but is also prevalent on Twitter), but it’s not often I meet someone in person who has seen the show. I assume it is that people are turned off by the show being about hacking, but it is much more than that (truly). It has so much depth to the story and characters that you often forget it all started with a hack.
After even more success with Homecoming, which included a star-studded cast with Roberts, Bobby Cannavale and Sissy Spacek, I still am yet to see the praise for Esmail that he deserves. It also received its share of awards praise this year with three Golden Globe nominations and was even the most-watched title on Prime Video the month it was released (November 2018). People are clearly watching, but why does the discussion of his shows seem so quiet?
The Ingenuity of Esmail’s Writing
I could go on for days about Sam Esmail’s directorial style and how incredible it is, but I wanted to draw more attention to his writing. He goes against the grain and is constantly writing inventive episodes that keep his shows exciting and addictive. In the second season of Mr. Robot, there is an episode that has the entire first half in the style of an 80’s sitcom, featuring Alf and everything. How he managed to make this work seamlessly in a dark, dystopian drama is beyond me, but he did it, and he did it well. It was both hilarious, yet dark, and was a perfect mid-season pick me up and palette cleanser to prepare you for what was to come.
Esmail also took the existing brilliant Homecoming podcast and turned it into something incredible on the screen. He took a story that was created for audio and made it into something visually stunning while weaving in multiple time periods into the main story-line.
From dealing with everything from mental illness to capitalism to Islamophobia on Mr. Robot, writing a compelling romantic comedy that takes place over parallel universes in Comet, and creating a paranoid filled, character-driven thriller in Homecoming, Sam Esmail really can do it all.
If you’ve been hearing about Mr. Robot or Homecoming (or both!) and you have yet to watch them, take this as a sign to finally take the plunge!
Sam Esmail is currently in production of the fourth and final season of Mr. Robot. His upcoming projects include executive producing the second season of Homecoming, executive producing the USA anthology drama series Briarpatch, creating, writing and directing a TV mini-series remake of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, and is slated to write and direct an upcoming Universal untitled Bermuda Triangle movie.