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TV Directing Initiatives Raise Profile of Women and Minorities

The diversification of genders, ages and races behind the camera has been a major battle cry of Hollywood over the past few years. But as networks and studios lament how hard it is to find directors with varying backgrounds to work on their shows, it’s interesting to see which ones are putting their money where their mouths are.

“I do think the world is changing and it’s changing rapidly,” NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke says. “It’s critical that we bring women storytellers in our world in much bigger numbers.”
This is why Salke partnered with Emmy-nominated directing powerhouse Lesli Linka Glatter on Female Forward. Their initiative, which begins with the 2018-19 season, not only gives women directors the opportunity to shadow productions of NBC shows, but also includes an in-season commitment to direct at least one episode of those series.

The initiative was so welcome that Linka Glatter’s email box was immediately inundated with industry professionals — male and female — who wanted to nominate an applicant for one of the program’s 10 available spots when Female Forward was announced at this summer’s Television Critics Assn. press tour. NBCU will also soon open nominations for its Emerging Directors Program, which Salke says will concentrate on a diverse group of male helmers because “we don’t want to disadvantage diverse men from being a part of one of these programs.”

In starting these projects, Salke joins a growing list of Hollywood heavies using their influence to increase representation. Last year, Ryan Murphy launched the Half initiative, a program run through his 20th Century Fox TV shingle that ensures at least 50% of all directing slots on his shows will be filled by women and/or minorities. Similar to the NBCU programs, his initiative also has a mentorship component.

Maggie Kiley, an actress-turned-director and an alum of Half, says simply having the support of someone as powerful as Murphy is crucial. After all, she says, his quantity of shows means “he is in a position to hand someone an episode or really look at a candidate.”

Through Half, Kiley secured an episode of Murphy’s Fox series “Scream Queens” last year. Her credits now also include an episode of his FX anthology “American Horror Story” as well as others not in his jurisdiction such as the CW series “Riverdale” and Netflix’s upcoming “Insatiable.”
While diversity fellowships certainly help the cause, they are not immediate fixes. Alexis Ostrander has participated in six initiatives — including Half, which got her an episode of “AHS,” representation at CAA and entry into Warner Bros. Television Directors’ Workshop. But she says the bottleneck to break into the business isn’t your first episode: it’s your second or third.

That’s why mentorships are so important, whether they’re in an official capacity or not. Producers including John Wells and the late Garry Marshall famously mentored up-and-comers with potential, and Wells’ shows still aim to have at least 50% of their directors be women and/or minorities. Programs aimed at increasing women and minority presence in the DGA are set up at such places as AFI and major networks.

On a smaller scale, there’s Dan Attias, who just last year got mentee Steph Green to helm an episode of FX’s spy drama “The Americans,” promising those producers he would stay with her on set as a counsel. This season, he orchestrated a similar deal to get another mentee, Logan Kibens, to work on an episode of FX’s “Snowfall.”

Linka Glatter also often allows those trying to break through opportunities to shadow her on series including Showtime’s “Homeland,” where she is an exec producer.

“Anything that moves the dial forward is fantastic,” says Linka Glatter, herself a product of Wells’ mentoring workshop. “Until we don’t have to talk about this subject anymore, which is a time I hope we will come to, we have to be the changes that make that happen so that we don’t have to talk about this anymore.

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