Directing the Screen with Rosemary Rodriguez
Rosemary Rodriguez is a Film and Television Director originally from New Hampshire. Her first feature film Acts of Worship premiered at the Sundance film festival and was nominated for two Independant Spirit Awards. You’ve probably seen her television directing during your last binge watch session. With Jessica Jones, Empire, The Good Wife, Rescue Me, and so much more under her belt- she is absolutely #WorkWeAdmire. Rosemary also serves as the 4th VP of the Director’s Guild of America.
This interview is an excerpt of an email exchange between our founder, Kim Hoyos, and Rosemary.
How did your interest in directing begin?
Watching old Hollywood movies and auteur movies from the 1970s.
Why do you enjoy film?
Film has the power to change lives, to show us who we are. Film enables me to feel things I may not feel otherwise. For a couple hours, a great movie will stay with me for the rest of my life. It will impact me forever. That is power.
Can you tell us about your features?
My first film was Acts of Worship. It changed my relationship to myself, to others. I felt like I had my feet on the ground for the first time in my life. Going to Sundance Film Festival with it, then Indie Spirit Awards, then getting to direct Television…well following my dream and risking everything to make Acts of Worship…that changed my life! Took me 8 years, worth every minute. My new film “Silver Skies” also took years to make. The first movie was about drug addicts. This one is about seniors. I love giving people a voice that otherwise don’t have on in our society. I think it’s really important for all of us to look at life from another person’s perspective.
How is directing film and television different?
I wrote and directed the two films I made, and in TV I’m given a script to direct. That means that I’m creating the world in film, but in TV I’m showing a different dimension to a world already established.
What are some misconceptions about both?
A misconception about TV is that it’s a writer’s medium. And a misconception about film is that it’s a director’s medium. BOTH are collaborative mediums, and neither would be great without a great script and a great director.
How much influence does a TV director hold over an episode?
As a TV director I choose the shots, casting, and a great deal of the details that go into telling a story, so that lends itself to a director putting their mark on that episode. A TV director’s job is to elevate the script, to tell the story in the most personal and best way that serves the script of that episode.
What happens with disagreements between DPs and the director on set?
The director is ultimately responsible for the episode or movie, so the director has to tell the story with the camera the best way possible. The DP is there to collaborate on that storytelling. As artists, it’s important to always be open to hearing other’s ideas, especially a DP. The director has her eyes on the bigger picture, on the story, so every shot has to serve that story.
How do you stay creative while working to direct someone else’s story?
A great script inspires me with ideas. And often watching movies helps me find my way with a TV script.
How can you speak to representation and diversity in systematic entertainment structures?
The DGA has many ways that they encourage diversity. There’s diversity directors initiatives that open the door for directors to learn, to be mentored, and to ready themselves for employment. In addition, the DGA keeps the Diversity conversation front and center, always a priority. We are not a hiring hall, so we keep pushing forward and do it very well.
Have you seen changes in diversity in your years in filmmaking?
I’ve seen people talking about diversity in a different way, but the numbers and reality don’t really change that much. Out of 41 pilots this season, only 1 was directed by a female director. And only 6% of studio features are directed by women.
TO ASPIRING FILMMAKERS
Did you go to film school?
I got a Certificate in Filmmaking at NYU School of Continuing Education.
What did you notice as a female filmmaker versus male directors around you?
I made two short films. I just wanted to learn how to operate a camera, edit a film, learn the equipment. And that’s what I did. I didn’t want to learn theory, I wanted to make films. Besides that, I found that my voice was quieter than a lot of the male voices around me. And I needed to speak up for what I wanted because as a woman, no one was going to hand me a TV or film career.
Do you feel that younger generations have access to more creative avenues?
I feel that technology has brought the ability to create films to a much more economically feasible level. But at the same time, people need to learn the craft of filmmaking. And that means knowing film history and watching films. Then using your own heart and inspiration to tell stories that need to be told to help other people. Self indulgent storytelling drives me nuts.
How do you feel about the cycle of school/internships/freelance work/unpaid work that millennials often face?
I also worked for free and interned. For me, it was like school. Instead of paying money to go to film school, I worked for free. So I don’t have a problem with it. It’s practical experience that is very valuable. This is a very tough business and I believe it’s important to work one’s way up the ladder in order to understand how hard it is to create a show or movie. It takes a lot of people. And doing a lot of those jobs on the way up, only gives you grounding on how to treat people around you.
What are some tips you can give for no budget or low budget indie filmmaking?
If there’s ANYTHING else you can imagine yourself doing, then do that! This is too hard and unless you have absolutely NO desire to do anything else, then go for it.
Secondly, do not ever give up. Don’t take “no” for an answer.
What are some challenges/accomplishments you’ve faced?
Politics are always tricky. As a female director, I want access to the great, epic stories that will lead to bigger audiences and in turn, more creative opportunities. Those opportunities are sadly extremely rare for female directors today. I want equal access to financing as well.
How do you feel about representation in film both in front of and behind of the camera?
Representation is there for support, but as a director, I have to hustle hard for myself. That never ends.
What do you wish you saw more of in media?
I wish I saw more stories about working people’s lives. Those are the stories I relate to the most and too often movies and TV become almost exclusively about escaping. I’m all for escape, I just like to see more variety and diversity of storytelling.
Why is diversity important?
Diversity is important in film and tv because we are all the same human beings with the same needs: to be safe, to take care of our families, to have love and be loved. That’s all any of us really want at the end of the day. Showing different people all wanting the same things connects us. And today more than ever, we need to see our similarities, not our differences. Film and TV diversity shows us how we are really one people. It brings us compassion that can replace hatred and divisiveness.
What do you enjoy watching in your free time?
I love movie. Movies. Movies. Documentaries and feature films. I just saw Logan, with my sister-in-law Elizabeth Rodriguez and it was awesome! And I love watching great TV: The Walking Dead, Taboo, Westworld, Sneaky Pete, Jessica Jones.
I have a podcast The Directors Chair on iTunes. It’s about collaboration and the artistic process with some cool guests like Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter. AND my new movie is called “Silver Skies.” It will be on iTunes and Amazon April 4. I just finished a year of festivals, where we won Audience Award at Fort Lauderdale, Best Comedy at Tiburon and other awards…I’m excited about having people see my new work!
If you’d like to keep up with Rosemary you can check out her website. All images and video on this page, including header image are provided by her.