×

Female Directors Talk Breaking in, Mentoring and Becoming ‘Christopher Nolan With a Vagina’

“We can’t be your first.” That’s the maddening response that many female directors hear when they are trying to break in to the world of directing episodic TV.

FX Networks assembled a panel of seven female directors on Wednesday to discuss their experiences working in TV and with Ryan Murphy’s Half, the uber-producer’s initiative to dramatically increase the number of women and persons of color who are hired as directors on his many series. The women emphasized that the support of Murphy and his team was “life-changing” in terms of allowing them to build careers in TV.

“I could not get an episode of television,” said Maggie Kiley, who has directed episodes of Murphy’s “Scream Queens” and the upcoming “American Horror Story: Cult.” Despite having delivered indie features and shorts, Kiley said she was continually told by prospective TV employers: “We can’t be your first. Come back after you have one under your belt.”

Rachel Goldberg echoed Kiley’s experience, right down to the “we can’t be your first” line. She recalled being told: “You’re brilliant, we love your work, keep smiling.” But when she met with Murphy after the launch of Half, she heard something very different.

“He said ’50-year-old white men make change. I promise you I’m going to give you an episode,’ ” Goldberg recalled.

Alexis Ostrander recalled the conundrum of being told that she needed to direct a feature before she could get a TV episode. But film producers would tell her, “Go do an episode of TV and we’ll give you a feature,” she said. With support from Half and noted TV director Thomas Schlamme, an exec producer of FX’s “Snowfall,” she landed an episode of “American Horror Story” and is now off and running.

Ostrander and other panelists said they pursued their passion to become directors without thinking about limitations on the type of projects they want to tackle, from horror to thrillers to “badass” action pics. Nor did they face many obstacles to taking on various genres once they were able to get that first episode under their belt.

“There isn’t the feeling of ‘I can’t do this, I don’t have the tools,” said Steph Green. “Maybe you’re asked twice, ‘And you do action?'”

Goldberg noted the change from low-budget indie films to a high-end TV series like Murphy’s “American Horror Story.” “Now I can blow s— up,” she said with glee.

The AFI Directing Workshop for Women was also a big stepping stone for Ostrander, Goldberg and other panelists. “I want to be the Patty Jenkins of my generation, or Christopher Nolan with a vagina,” Ostrander said.

An important component of the Half initiative is the commitment that participants will mentor women that come into the program.

Gwyneth Horder-Payton, an FX veteran who made the move from assistant director to helmer on “The Shield,” said that she has had Half-affiliated directors shadow her on every episode she has done in recent years for FX. “Everybody has been truly wonderful,” she said.

Green has seen her career skyrocket in the past two years once she finally cleared the institutional hurdles by turning in notable episodes of FX’s “The Americans” and “You’re the Worst,” Showtime’s “Billions” and ABC’s “Scandal.”

“It’s been so exciting to have my problem be that I can’t say yes (to new assignments) because I’m booked on something else,” Green said.

(Pictured: Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Liza Johnson, Alexis Ostrander, Meera Menon, Steph Green, Rachel Goldberg and Maggie Kiley)

More TV

  • MADAM CJ WALKER

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Unveils 'Self Made' Trailer Starring Octavia Spencer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix released the trailer for “Self Made: Inspired By the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” and HBO announced a premiere date for “Betty.”  FIRST LOOKS Netflix released the official trailer “Self Made: Inspired By the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” Executive produced by and starring Octavia Spencer, the four-part limited [...]

  • Amanda Warren

    Amanda Warren Joins Patrick Dempsey in CBS Political Pilot 'Ways and Means'

    Amanda Warren has been cast alongside Patrick Dempsey in the CBS drama pilot “Ways and Means.” In the pilot, a powerful Congressional leader (Dempsey) who has lost faith in politics finds himself working secretly with an idealistic young Congresswoman (not yet cast) from the opposing party to subvert the hopelessly gridlocked system he helped create. [...]

  • Baby Yoda featured image

    Questions Remain for Disney Plus, Hulu Amid Iger-Chapek CEO Transition

    In a surprise announcement, Bob Iger said he was stepping down as Disney’s chief exec citing “the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses” as one reason for the timing as he hands off to new CEO Bob Chapek. True, Disney earlier this month reported tremendous growth for Disney Plus, racking up 28.6 million users just [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Trial and Verdict

    European Industry Buoyed by Weinstein Verdict: 'Things Have Irrevocably Changed'

    Global film and TV executives, including “Elizabeth” producer Alison Owen and “Shakespeare in Love” producer David Parfitt, have spoken out about Harvey Weinstein’s guilty verdict, calling it a “seismic” victory that will bring about immutable change. Monday’s long-awaited outcome to the U.S. trial, which saw Weinstein convicted of sexual assault and third-degree rape, has been [...]

  • Liza Lapira

    Queen Latifah's 'Equalizer' Reboot Pilot at CBS Casts Liza Lapira

    Liza Lapira has signed on to the “Equalizer” reboot pilot currently in the works at CBS, Variety has learned. She joins previously announced series lead Queen Latifah. In the new version of the series, Queen Latifah portrays Robyn McCall, an enigmatic figure who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. Lapira [...]

  • Michael Rooker

    Michael Rooker Joins Showtime Pilot 'The President Is Missing'

    Michael Rooker has been cast as a series regular in the Showtime drama pilot “The President Is Missing.” Rooker joins previously announced lead David Oyelowo and cast members Janet McTeer, Medina Senghore, Paul Adelstein, and Gina Gallego in the pilot, which is based on the novel of the same name by James Patterson and Bill [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content