6.26.16 ‘It’s not like someone is on set and calling me “sugar tits”‘

night-manager-tom-hiddleston

Who directed the last episode of your favorite show?

Unless she was a big name of some sort, stepping out of one role (actor) into the shoes of another, you probably have no idea. But directors on TV are important, particularly the ones hired for pilots — they get to set the tone, color palette and pacing of a whole series in most cases.

Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier

On TV, directors aren’t perceived important as they are in feature films, but they do have a key role. And perhaps because they pass more under the radar, more women are finding room as TV directors than they do in movies. They’re hardly earth-shaking numbers — as I noted in a recent article for Variety, according to the Directors Guild of America just 16% of episodic directors in primetime were women in the 2014-15 season. That’s higher than the 6.45% of women directing feature movies, but still far from parity.

For that article, I got to speak to three of TV’s leading female directors — ones who not only got kick off their shows, but who took the helm in what’s traditionally considered “guy” TV: On the Marvel series Jessica Jones, in the mini-spy-series The Night Manager and on the escort series The Girlfriend Experience. These three ladies had a lot to say about directing on TV, and let’s just say most of it didn’t make it to the story. Feel free to check out the published version at the link above, but here are my writer’s cuts for some other choice bits that I just didn’t have room to share before.

On taking on “male” storylines:

Susanne Bier (The Night Manager): “There’s no doubt that the entire media industry is suffering from not representing the diversity which is society; it’s suffering from lack of female directors, suffering from lack of female directors of photography, suffering from lack of strong crazy females. And it’s also possibly suffering from a slightly conventional way of thinking about projects because yes, in general, female directors get a chance to only do a certain kind of material. I actually believe female directors are just as good at doing traditional male material as male directors.”

Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience): “Any reaction you can imagine to a show like this that explores sex and young women — I’ve had all of them. It is edgy territory, but I can use my voice and what I’m fascinated by and explore what I find complicated and it’s not all cut and dry on those issues. For me, it’s telling a compelling story no matter how controversial the topic is. Personally,I don’t have a problem with exploring sexuality and for a long time we’ve seen it exploited for a lot of the wrong reasons. The way I’ve seen female sexuality portrayed, women are supposed to turn into a whole other person or a sex monster and it’s so depersonalized in cinema. What I was looking to do is explore how sexuality is part of you, you don’t become a different person when you’re having sex.”

S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones): “The Marvel universe is known for being ‘testotsterony,’ but when you have a female superhero it’s hard to say a man must direct it. At the end of the day Jessica is from an abusive relationship with a man who could mind control her and you don’t need too much imagination to know what he could have done. I wanted to make sure that we explored that, see the vulnerability in her. We are all multi-ifaceted and multi-layered and witty and you can be so many things at the turn of a dime and that’s what I wanted to work on with Kristin [Ritter]; we wanted to do all of those things justice. And that’s where a woman does help – we understood the drive and what’s going on under the surface. I like to think I made the best version of Jessica Jones that I could be and done her as much justice as we could.”

sj-clarkson

S.J. Clarkson

On having to work extra hard to get respect from crew on set:

Seimetz: “For the most part I try to ignore — not ignore my gender, but I just approach it as, ‘You’re supposed to respect me,’ there is no questino about it. I find that attitude of not vying for respect — just in my demeanor, acting like, ‘You have to respect me,’ that it doesn’t become a factor. There’s not a choice not to respect me. I think in all women there’s this constant internal dialogue you have where you have to choose your battles or conversations. Sometimes you have to say, ‘That was condescending’ and sometimes maybe you are being paranoid. That’s the issue with all women professionals, knowing when to speak up. Women who are directing in a higher bracket — of more than about $10 million — there is a doubt or condescension about whether I’m able to handle that in some capacity, which I don’t think men get as much. It’s not like someone is on set and calling me ‘sugar tits,’ it’s not blatant, it’s subtle, it comes in the form of soft gloves with me.”

Clarkson: “There have been occasions where I’ve had people resist directino from me, and maybe that is because I’m a woman — but I try to ignore it and make sure I get my own way in the end. I refuse in many ways to buy into it. I don’t want to be limited by it. It’s not just mind over matter, it is a problem, but there is an issue where somen come in and seem to not be in charge because we don’t shout or command the crew in the same way men do. It may take a while to get them to listen to what you’re saying, rather than the way you’re saying it.”

seimetz

Amy Seimetz

On whether women in positions of power have some kind of obligation to ensure the female characters they’re in charge of have agency and dimension:

Bier: “Definitely. It’s definitely my obligation to have female characters being a lot more than the extension of the male imagination. But I would also like to have more interesting, complex, weird and at times sinister female characters. I have consistently fashioned female characters to look more like human beings. Television at this point and time needs that and great TV shows have that.

Seimetz: “I’m an actor as well, and some of the scripts you read — and some of the reason I don’t do some projects — is you’re asked to come in and fill in the blanks and support this male narrative. Women need to have some kind of effect on the narrative and plot for it to be interesting. For me as a filmmaker, that’s a goal I like to express, exploring offbeat women because for so long men have had these existential crises whether they’re murderers and yet sympathetic, whereas women characters if you are having an existential crisis or have explored murder you’re villainized. These are the stories I want to tell and will push my view of women forward: Allow them to be crazy and shout to the world that we’re women but we’re also having these crazy existential crises you all are having now.”

xo,

Randee

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