There’s nothing Zach Braff likes more than directing. It’s where he’s happiest, he says, surrounded by creative people, encouraging them to do their best work. It is also stressful — sometimes hugely so.
“I read somewhere that first [assistant directors] don’t live very long, and that’s one of the reasons the DGA has such good insurance,” the Ted Lasso helmer shares. True or not, the morsel was digested with a mix of laughs and “makes sense” shrugs from the six others — Industry‘s Lena Dunham, Fargo‘s Noah Hawley, The Mandalorian‘s Rick Famuyiwa, Hacks‘ Lucia Aniello, The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Elisabeth Moss and Pose‘s Steven Canals — gathered for THR‘s annual Director Emmy Roundtable. During the course of an hour in mid-May, the group spoke candidly about everything from awkward sex scenes to manufacturing crowds.
When was the last time you all looked at a script and thought, “How the hell am I going to do this?”
RICK FAMUYIWA Uh, yesterday? (Laughs.) There’s always that moment where I finish a script and I know I have to direct the movie or the show and everything just shifts and it gets more real and more scary. And it always seems impossible at the beginning, no matter how many times I’ve done it.
LENA DUNHAM For me, it’s the moments when you have to pull off something complicated emotionally with four or five characters and you understand that every single person who’s in the scene is going to have a different understanding of what that scene means and feels like. And you’re like, “Oh, my job is to get four or five people with different inner lives to engage in the same emotional reality. Why did I accept this job?” (Laughs.)
NOAH HAWLEY And see, for me, it’s not about how am I going to do it, it’s more, “How am I going to trick this corporation into letting me do this?” That’s how I approach everything. And a lot of it is just reassurance and telling them it’s going to be great, even if you have your own doubts. Unfortunately, the director brain, especially in TV, is so mixed up with the showrunner brain and the writer brain, and you have to manage up and sideways. But the actual making of the thing? That’s the fun part.
LUCIA ANIELLO I was just thinking that the times that I’m usually like, “Oh God, how are we going to do this?” are when a first A.D. says, “How are we going to do this?” Somebody has to tell me this is insane because my eyes are often bigger than my shooting stomach.
How about the rest of you?
ZACH BRAFF I’d never directed outside the U.S., and I didn’t know how British crews work. They don’t really want to do overtime and they don’t really want to do more than 10 hours. And early on in a series, it’s not a well-oiled machine yet, so you don’t know how fast you can accomplish things. So, I read the [Ted Lasso] script and it felt like an eight-day shoot crammed into five with what I’d been told would be no overtime and 10-hour days, so I definitely thought, “How the hell are we going to do this?” (Laughs.)
STEVEN CANALS And the thing that made things scary for me had everything to do with COVID-19. We were filming on location, in New York City, which was ground zero. And when we [returned in] September 2020, New York was still really in a place of lockdown. I directed our finale, and I had not one but two protest scenes with 250 to 300 people, and the most I could get approved from the studio was 40, so there was a lot of VFX work. I…