×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • Joanna Klein Jennie Urman

    Jennie Snyder Urman, Joanna Klein Launch Prodco at CBS Television Studios

    “Jane The Virgin” creator Jennie Snyder Urman and development executive Joanna Klein have partnered to launch their own production company, Sutton St. Productions, Variety has learned. The duo has multiple projects in development under their new production banner, including the comedies “You’re Killing Me” for streaming service CBS All Access and “Riches to Rags,” which is in [...]

  • 'Power' Shuts Down Production After Crew

    'Power' Shuts Down Production After Crew Member Killed

    The Starz series “Power” has shut down production after an on-set accident led to the death of a production assistant early Monday morning. Pedro Jimenez, 63, was setting up traffic cones for a shoot in Brooklyn at approximately 4:20 AM ET when he was struck by a 2006 Ford Explorer, with the driver remaining at [...]

  • Fyre Festival

    Netflix to Release Fyre Festival Documentary Next Month - Watch Teaser Video

    The Fyre Festival is a gift that keeps on giving for video streaming services, as Netflix today announced a documentary about the disastrous 2017 festival, which collapsed before it even started and landed its organizer, Billy McFarland, a six-year prison sentence. “Fyre” will be directed by Chris Smith, who helmed last year’s documentary “Jim & Andy: [...]

  • Tom DeLonge

    Tom DeLonge Paranormal Series 'Strange Times' in Development at TBS (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former Blink-182 member Tom DeLonge left the hugely successful band in 2015 in part to explore other opportunities, including his interest in aliens and the paranormal. His passion resulted in the acclaimed graphic novel, “Strange Times,” which is now being turned into a series for TBS. The series, which Variety can exclusively announce is being [...]

  • Jodie Whittaker Back as 'Doctor Who'

    Jodie Whittaker to Return as 'Doctor Who' in 2020 Amid Strong U.S. Ratings

    “Doctor Who” will be back on global screens in early 2020, with Jodie Whittaker returning in her groundbreaking role as the show’s first regular female timelord. The show was renewed by the BBC amid mixed overnight but strong consolidated numbers in the U.K., and strong ratings in the U.S. British viewers tuned in in droves to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content