When the Directors Guild of America’s annual awards gets underway March 12, there will be a number of changes from years previous. Most obviously, the ceremony will finally be held in person at the Beverly Hilton, after two straight years of virtual celebrations. But just as importantly, it will also be the DGA’s first awards gala under new president Lesli Linka Glatter, who succeeded two-term president Thomas Schlamme last September.
A multiple Emmy- and DGA Award-nominated television veteran, Glatter is best known for her work as a director of “Homeland,” “Twin Peaks,” “Mad Men” and “The West Wing,” as well as the cult coming-of-age feature “Now and Then.” She’s also a veteran of the DGA itself, having served as the guild’s vice president and been a three-time member of its negotiating team, as well as heading up a number of its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Clearly, she maintains a crowded schedule, and it was precisely that that made her initially hesitant about running for the position. Speaking from Austin, Texas, in the early morning just before heading off to the set of “Love and Death,” which she developed for HBO along with David E. Kelley, Glatter remembers, “When Tommy [Schlamme] and Betty Thomas first sat me down and asked if I would consider running for the presidency, I said ‘absolutely not. There’s no way I can do it, I can’t figure it out in my schedule. Thank you, I’m honored, but no.’”
She soon reconsidered, however. “What I love [about the DGA] is members’ desire to give back,” she explains. “It’s the people with the busiest careers, whether it’s Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan, that always find time in their schedules to give back and be part of the leadership of the guild, and that is incredibly inspiring to me. We have the most inclusive and eclectic national board, and I’m a firm believer that I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room, but I absolutely want to be in the room with the smartest people. And I feel like I’m in that room right now.”
And the DGA has certainly had no shortage of pressing business over the past year, from continuing to refine COVID safety rules and keeping film shoots up and running, to planning for the next round of negotiations with the studios. The DGA’s contract isn’t up until July 2023, but the guild has already appointed the chair (John Avnet) and co-chairs (Karen Gaviola and Todd Holland) of the negotiating committee, and are deep into research and outreach to the guild’s 19,000-strong membership over what the org’s priorities should be.
“We’re dealing with substantial technological shifts and all the vertical integration in our industry over an incredibly accelerated period of time, and this has a huge impact on our members,” Glatter says. “So we’re looking at the effects on members’ compensation, the effects on working conditions, safety, the role of the director and the director’s team, all of it. And of course, residuals. We all live and die on residuals, and with what’s happening with vertical integration, they are really threatened. Residuals are what fund our pension plan, our health plans, people’s livelihood, so this is hugely critical because they’re in jeopardy.”
Another key priority of Glatter’s is the guild’s renewed efforts toward diversity and inclusion, for which she gives her predecessor Schlamme considerable praise. Glatter’s own unusual career trajectory informs this focus: she was initially a dancer, and first set her eyes on directing while living as a teacher and a choreographer in Japan. Enrolling at AFI and directing her first short, which was later Oscar-nominated, in the mid-1980s, she encountered a very different world in Hollywood.
“When I started directing 50,000 years ago, I had come out of modern dance, which is almost all female,” she remembers. “So it had never occurred to me that being a woman was something negative. But then I looked around and saw that there were so few women, and with this prevailing feeling that there was only room for one of us, ‘and it better be me,’ which is a horrible attitude to have, because it does not promote change. I believe in grabbing the hand of the next generation and opening the door for everyone. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone, there’s room for all kinds of stories. And that has changed drastically. I feel like it’s much more collaborative, the idea that when one person succeeds, we succeed.”
She adds with a laugh: “It shouldn’t be harder for our daughters to direct than for our sons — it should be equally hard for everybody.”
On that note, she mentions that the DGA will soon release another progress report on diversity in the industry. She notes that fears of a “slipback” in progress due to COVID have happily proven unfounded, but nonetheless, “there are some areas that we really have to keep working on — a lot of them. Like Latino directors, we have a huge [Latino] population and there’s really no excuse for the lack of Latino directors, because it’s not about talent. There are always things to work on.”
Amid all the long-term struggles, the DGA Awards themselves will give guild members something to celebrate amidst the constant tumult both inside the film industry and without. Judd Apatow is set to host the non-televised ceremony for the third time, with Spike Lee already announced as the recipient of the night’s highest honor, the DGA lifetime achievement award. (In keeping with the guild’s focus on all members of the directorial teams, veteran assistant director Joseph P. Reidy and stage manager Garry W. Hood will also receive honorary awards.) As last year, four of the DGA’s five feature director nominees are also nominated for the Oscars, with awards also in play for documentary directing, first-time directors, seven TV categories, and one for helmers of commercials.
But aside from all of the Oscars-prognostication that the kudos might feed into, for Glatter, DGA Awards night is an opportunity to reflect on the privileges of being a working filmmaker — insane schedules and all.
“Even on a bad day, when everything’s going wrong and you’re eating a soggy grilled cheese sandwich at 2 in the morning, the reality is: we get to be storytellers,” she says. “That’s the bottom line: we get to tell stories, and people need stories, especially in hard times. And that’s what we get to celebrate at the DGA Awards, is a room full of storytellers.”
Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”)
Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”)
Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)
Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”)
Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”)
Rebecca Hall (“Passing”)
Tatiana Huezo (“Prayers for the Stolen”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Tick, Tick … Boom!
Michael Sarnoski (“Pig”)
Emma Seligman (“Shiva Baby”)
Barry Jenkins (“The Underground Railroad”)
Barry Levinson (“Dopesick” for “First Bottle”
Hiro Murai (“Station Eleven” for “Wheel of Fire”)
Danny Strong (“Dopesick” for “The People vs. Purdue Pharma”)
Craig Zobel (“Mare of Easttown”)