Men, Women, Auteurs, and Collaboration: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Be a “Woman Director”

My favorite designers usually end up setting up a challenge for me. On Bad Hamlet, Meg Cunningham gave me three doors. On A Number, Isabella Scannone kept me from using props. These are the best things that could have happened to me. The rules were liberating, exciting. It made us think about why we wanted the props in the first place. That limitation came from Isa, not me, but it helped everyone focus their work. Does it matter who writes the rules as long as we as a team get to play the game?

There’s a lot of talk at CMU about the director’s “vision,” about making it clear and compelling, about having the most and the most impressive ideas. For a long time I wondered why I wasn’t comfortable with that, and then I realized that, in many ways, that idea of singular auteurism can be counter to collaboration. When you’re too busy trying to have the good idea, you end up ignoring the best ones.

It is said that the worst thing someone can say about a director is that “he doesn’t know what he wants.” I use “he” here because in some ways this refers to a very “male” style of directing. (I know that’s a problematic construction. We’ll address that. I promise.) CMU brings in a lot of producers and usually one of the directors asks them what they want from a director. They always say “leadership,” “vision.” But what does “vision” actually mean?

Does vision mean that every idea has to come from the director? Or that the director always has to be the inspiration for the idea? Because I think it’s pretty hard to make that happen every time. Can one really claim a vision as solely theirs when a lot of directing involves saying “Oooooh. Do that again”?

If we had gone with my original vision for A Number, the set would have been naturalistic, filled with books, and candles, and technology, borrowing a bit too heavily from Blade Runner. Instead it was this:

Credit: Josh Smith (Scenic Design Isabella Scannone, Lighting Design Josh Smith)

Better, I think. Because in a world with very little objects, the objects in it become important. A photograph left on a disc’s surface, highlighted by light.

 

Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

Because there are so few, the objects can transform. A jacket becomes a dead body thrown at a father’s feet.

 

Denver Milord as Bernard 1 in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

A tie becomes a noose and a chair with a coat on it becomes a monument.

 

Alex Rice as Salter in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

Some of those images were my idea, but Josh lit them and Alex and Denver filled them. Isabella decided what the chairs looked like and found cool places for them to sit. Cass Malloy decided what the coat looked like. Chris Rummel created an aural environment that made this abstract world visceral. Tegan McDuffie and Nicole Luna made sure it made sense. And Heather Kresge captured it in gorgeous still images. It wasn’t my vision. It was our vision.

Maybe it makes some directors feel better to imagine it’s all them. To think that they’re the kernel of every idea, but odds are they’re not, even if they’re visionaries or auteurs. We can’t trace these kernels back to people or sentences, or fever dreams in the middle of the night. We pick up things where we can, and at some point, the profession is going to have to learn to acknowledge that though it’s easier to credit the auteur, they’re nightmares to work with. Maybe I should have had a “stronger hand” with my designers, or been more authoritative or demanding of my actors, less “female.” Personally I’d rather follow the crumbs (or blueprints) they leave for me. It’s a lot easier to move a caravan when you don’t have to drag people, or make them forget they have collars on. You never know where we might pick up and go together.

 

Alex Rice as Salter in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

 

Maybe I Won’t Be Moving to the UK: The Times of London’s “Trouble With Women”

Via Jezabel, I found out that the Times of London has been running a feature series called “The Trouble With Women.” Titles in this series include “They Live in a Fantasy World,” “They Need to Stop Asking Pointless Questions,” “They Grow Up and Get Boring,” which includes chauvinist gems like this:

Women just don’t seem to retain that sense of childhood fun. Without the giddying effect of alcohol, or the energy generated by the first bloom of a new romance, they lack the spontaneity and freedom to enjoy unconditionally life’s simple pleasures. There are two reasons why this is so. One is that women’s brains are — obviously — wired differently from men’s. Primeval women existed to reproduce and protect the next generation. This maternal drive still remains, and the seriousness of this genetic responsibility manifests itself in sombre maturity. Women get stuck with being serious. On the other hand, primeval men were, as the cliché goes, the hunters, not the gatherers. They required a positive and outgoing approach; so they weren’t good parents, but they possessed an all-important sense of adventure. The evolutionary outcome is that men innately know how to have childlike fun. This type of behaviour is often not a good look, though, and that is something that matters to women. Perhaps it should also matter to men, but at least it doesn’t stop us appreciating fun.

And that’s just the beginning. “Stu,” who is only a year older than me, tries to comfort me about not wearing makeup by saying that men are more obsessed with the cheerleader from Heroes than with Lady Gaga: “Blokes actually like seeing their girlfriends unmade-up. It’s a privilege to be the only one who gets to see that side; it’s like exclusive access.” . . . Oh, okay. Like in a harem in some xenophobic Douglas Fairbanks movie?

Of course, my love, you're the only one who has access to me.

So I've got exclusive access, right? ....Right?

This series is filled with men bemoaning how women haven’t been understanding them, how they hate small talk and lots of makeup, and see the big picture while we’re lost in the little details, how we should just leave them alone so they can watch 24. (My question is, can I watch 24 with you?) Also, some plonker said the wage gap and glass ceiling was caused by women whining and moaning about how they should get a raise or a better job. Seriously. Continue reading

Planes, Trains, and Darkened Streets: Things I’m Afraid of Because I’m a Woman

My dear Lemoners-

It is time for me to do penance for ignoring you. It’s been a week and I’m sorry. I’m casting my thesis show at Carnegie Mellon, A Number. The Vineyard never stops being challenging, and I need to find time in the day to show this clip to everyone I know:

That Time Lord can do anything! (More to come when the special comes out on DVD!)

Anyway, as penance, I’m going to take a cue from my friend Jessica and give you more posts for you money. So today I’m going to talk a bit about the flight to Pittsburgh, pretty much forgetting how to get around the city I’ve called home for three years, seeing a dog maul a gay couple with a baby (after the jump. Seriously.), and about the subway ride to the airport, where I realized some very interesting conclusions.

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