'the hollywood reporter' roundtable: tv directors


the hollywood reporter's latest roundtable features tv directors ava duvernay (when they see us, and queen sugar), patty jenkins (i am the night, wonder woman, arrested development, and monster), ben stiller (escape at dannemora), jean-marc vallée (sharp objects, and dallas buyers club), david nutter (game of thrones, and the sopranos), and adam mckay (vice, and succession):




  • patty jenkins consciously chose a comedy, arrested development, after monster feels there are more opportunities in television and films/movies.

  • ben stiller feels there's less business to consider so as a director or creator you can focus on the work.

  • ava duvernay approaches each project differently; considering what form would best suit the story, a feature or a series. she wanted when they see us to be a series immediately because she knew she would need time to properly tell the story and a feature wouldn't allow for that. also, stories of racial discrimination/bias aren't stories people typically go to the theater to see, but would watch in the comfort of their homes with their loved ones.

  • david nutter had to break the news to president obama that he killed jon snow, which was technically not a lie because he didn't read season six--even though he could have--because he didn't want to know what happened to jon snow so as not to taint his perspective while telling the story.

  • ava provided on set counselors for actors on when they see us after feedback she received from directing her first features. all of the other directors agree this is a great idea and never considered it.

  • while filming sharp objects, jean-marc vallée met with amy adams one on one at the top of each day to talk through the goals for the day and where she was emotionally.

  • ben stiller shot escape from dannemora like a film (block shooting) which was challenging for the actors to break and reinhabit their characters, and the crew.

  • everyone agrees uncertainty on set is healthy because it creates the possibility of discovery while telling the story.

  • ava admires actors because they have to deliver in the moment and then leave it and trust her to do their work and the story justice. everyone agrees they're too controlling to be actors (except ben, obviously). they need the time to pore over the work and question and experiement and edit. if they want another take she gives them two. she wants to be fully supportive of whatever they are trying to accomplish.

  • david gave the actors on game of thrones extra attention and space and time to make sure they were comfortable. he feels the actors are the center and without them the show is nothing.

  • jean-marc has grown more confident in his process as he's worked more. he used to overprepare and be creative before the day then deliver and now he doesn't shot list or storyboard anymore and instead he shows up present and ready to collaborate with the actors and be creative in the moments.

  • patty still goes through the process (i.e.: having a shot list and storyboards) to have a backup but still leaves room for change. worries about dying mid-project because she's the only one that understands the ripple effects of the changes she makes on the fly and anyone taking over wouldn't know or understand just looking at her prepared materials.

  • all agree that actors bring a different perspective that makes the collaborative and creative process better. ben has forced directors to accept his choices as an actor, which he recognizes when the actors he's directing are doing it and it drives him crazy now as a director.

  • adam mckay is big on improv onset and actors have outright told him onset that they're not doing improv when directed during a shot then once they do it they fall in love with it.

  • ben made choices he felt were true to the story based on the information he gathered during his research which the real life inspiration strongly disagreed with.

  • ava included the central park five during the entirety of the process, from research, to script prep to script approval, to being onset during filming and meeting with the actors portraying them. she worked on the project since 2015 and the entire purpose of her doing this project was to give the central park five a voice because the biggest injustice done to them was taking away their voice. selma was about capturing a sense of time and didn't need to be 100% accurate and couldn't be 100%, but when they see us had to be as accurate and true to the experiences of the men as possible.

  • ben credits ava for learning how pervasively bad and oppressive the prison experience is from ava's 13th.

  • jean-marc shoots from 9-6, which shocks all of the other directors that he was able to get that approved.

  • game of thrones were 10 hour days straight through without lunch except for actors in elaborate makeup which meant even longer days.

  • patty loves collabroating with the same actors (i.e.: chris pine and connie nielsen); developing a short hand and seeing what the actors are capable of in different types of stories.

  • ava loves working with the same actors also (e.g.: storm reid). says she has that relationship with david oyelowo, and jharrel jerome as well. she agrees with patty about the short hand, which allows her to spend more time focusing on other parts of the project (e.g.: when they see us has 117 significant speaking parts).

  • patty chooses projects she connects to, but she's had times she knew the impact of the potential failure of a project would be huge because she's a woman.

  • ava also chooses projects she connects to. it's too hard to choose projects based on her public image. she trusts herself to choose the right projects that won't disappoint her so she thinks they won't disappoint the people that admire her. in that process she's accepted that she gravitates to projects about social justice.

  • jean-marc agrees that choosing projects you connect to and are passionate about is essential because that's what gets you out of bed in the morning at 5 to see a project through for years. ava jokes she'll be starting at 9 now, but can't because she'd be labelled a diva.

  • they check in with social media periodically.

  • david takes the coffe cup (and water bottles) in stride. patty and ben like interacting with fans through social media as a gauge of how the work is being experienced by the audience.

  • what projects they feel any aspiring director should see.

  • ava says hamilton, it broke every rule about history, gender and race and encouraged her to reevaluate how she perceived her work and process. ben chooses dog day afternoon, jean-marc and david choose the sopranos, patty chooses the best years of our lives, adam chooses election.

  • they all wish they were more present, didn't overprepare, and were less precious about the process when they first started directing. wish they appreciated how much fun the work is and what they really do: bring stories to life and share them with the world.


ontd, are you watching any of these directors's shows, if not what are you watching now?