Jill Soloway, Writer/Director/Actor “Afternoon Delight”
How can I become a director?
It's one of the most frequent questions I hear these days in LA. I encourage people to write or find compelling material, and then to insist to both themselves and the people around them that they are a director. You have to take it, I tell people. No one will give it to you.
But how do you get the tools to TAKE the reins? I steer every person who's looking to the workshops of Joan Scheckel. I was originally pointed in Joan's direction when I was hoping to get my first feature made. I was one of the way-too-many people who had received a rejection from the Sundance Filmmakers' Lab and was feeling a little bereft. I had years of experience as a TV writer but no studio or network would approve a first-time director. Gina Kwon, who'd produced a couple of Miranda July's features, suggested I might like Joan.
Like many people, the price tag scared me. I had been hoping to be "selected" for the gift of a free program or workshop, so having to reach into my own pocket to get the experience I wanted felt like a bit of a step backwards. But I pushed through this feeling and signed up.
The experience of being in Joan's Directing Lab was not easy. For the first few weeks, I wondered why I was there and whether or not I would be able to pull off what she insisted we needed to direct-- a sense of being present in the moment, an understanding of playable action as a tool to channel emotion, a stamina that would allow us to withstand the physical challenges of a feature set. As a writer, I had tools about character and dialogue, but as a director, I had a lot to learn about what we're actually doing with the camera. A few weeks in, something kicked in and I actually began to transform into a director. It's odd to me that even after ten years experience on the set of TV shows, I was completely lacking in a foundational language. I learned that language at Joan's lab.
I had to abandon the feature script that I was working on that summer. I learned so much about writing in those six short weeks that I could see anew huge flaws in my project's foundation. But I was more motivated than ever to take the helm. I immediately wrote and directed a short that ended up getting into Sundance. With the director credentials now around my neck, I was on my way. From the moment I returned from that year's festival, I was living and breathing my next feature. In this period before it came together, I employed things I learned from Joan about the intangibles of energy and relationships, producers and alliances and how the shape of the emotional nugget of the movie can inform the larger shape of the process. She handed me a map with clear markings that made sense.
By that summer, I was in production on my feature and by the fall, I found out we got into Sundance's dramatic competition. I know this is about to sound like an infomercial or a weight loss product, but a few weeks ago, at Sundance 2013, I won the Directing Award. (and lost 75 pounds!) (that part's not true).
So, yes, I still tell people-- no one can give it to you. You have to want it yourself. But if you do want it, and you want someone that can walk the path next to you and guide you toward the next level, Joan Scheckel's Labs are an actual, real live, tangible way to do it.