The Craft of the Director: Lesli Linka Glatter

November 13, 2019 A Special Projects Committee Event

On November 13, DGA members gathered in the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater for the special event, The Craft of the Director: Lesli Linka Glatter, hosted by the Guild’s Special Projects Committee. The evening was the fourth in this series of conversations with master filmmakers that feature an in-depth discussion about the directing process, illustrated by clips from their work. The Craft of the Director event was inaugurated in 2015 with an evening with Christopher Nolan and continued in 2016 with an evening dedicated to David O. Russell and in 2018 with an evening with Guillermo del Toro.

President Thomas Schlamme welcomed the attendees to the evening with the talented director, Guild officer and two-time winner of the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series.

“We’re all familiar with Lesli’s body of work which reads like a list of the best shows over the last two decades,” said Schlamme. “That’s no coincidence. What they all have in common is that they’ve shared her talent – from her first, and cutting-edge work on Twin Peaks…on to other great shows like ER, The West Wing, Mad Men, Ray Donovan, and most powerfully, her DGA Award-winning series Homeland. There’s also her impressive body of pilots Gilmore Girls, Pretty Little Liars and Six. In addition to being one of the hardest working directors out there, Lesli has also made it a priority to give back to her Guild in the most meaningful ways. I’m proud to have her serving with me as First Vice-President and to have the benefit of her valuable counsel. She’s also a powerful voice on our Negotiating Committee, our Television Creative Rights Committee and our Western Directors Council. That’s not even getting into all the time she’s dedicated to advocating for and lifting the voices of undiscovered talent through the DGA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Tonight’s yet another perfect example of the generosity of Lesli’s spirit. So let’s unlock that spirit – and all of her invaluable craft insights.”

Glatter then sat down for an in-depth conversation moderated by Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan (SHOT). The evening was illustrated by clips from her work on The West Wing, Now and Then, Gilmore Girls, and her DGA Award-winning episodes of Mad Men and Homeland, followed by her insights on subjects such as Script, Camera, Performance and Editing.

“I love being a storyteller,” said Glatter. “I love doing what we do, and I think it’s an extraordinary thing that we get to do this. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, every time it feels like a brand new thing. I think if you are always putting yourself on the line that’s part of it. I feel like I was incredibly well mentored and because of that it’s really important to give back and mentor others.”

Over the course of the conversation, Glatter and Kagan touched on a myriad of subjects including how she first learned to think visually after talking with Director George Miller, early directing tips she gleaned from Steven Spielberg on her first television job on Amazing Stories, like how to plan out everything, and others ideas she absorbed from David Lynch during her first experiences with episodic series work on Twin Peaks, like how to creatively seize an unplanned opportunity.

“For me, directing television is the same as directing a movie. You have to tell the story in the best possible way and it has to be a visual experience.” Recalling an instance with Lynch where she was discussing a Twin Peaks scene she’d admired where a moose head was on a table in a bank vault that the actors never refer to. She asked, “‘Where did you get the idea to put the moose head on the table?’ And he said the set dresser was going to hang it on the wall and he walked in and saw it and said, ‘Leave the moose head.’ Something cracked open. As much as you plan everything, be open to the moose head on the table. Don’t miss the opportunity that’s right in front of you. That was a game-changer for me. Being a choreographer, I need to know that I’ve thought it all through, but you have to be open to the moment. You have to be open to your actors and you have to be open to some visual thing that you wouldn’t have thought of.”

A member of the DGA since 1985, Glatter currently serves as the Guild’s First Vice-President and is on its Western Directors Council, PAC Leadership Council and Diversity Task Force. Her directorial work includes film, network and premium cable television drama, with both pilots and episodes to her credit. In addition to the aforementioned titles, her television directorial resume includes episodes of The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, Justified, Masters of Sex, Nashville, True Blood, Weeds, House, Heroes, The Leftovers, The Good Wife, NYPD Blue and Freaks and Geeks; as well as numerous pilots. Her feature films include Now and Then, The Proposition and the Humanitas Prize-nominated movie for television State of Emergency.

Prior to her work as a director, Glatter was a modern dance choreographer who worked throughout Europe, Asia and the U.S. She began her directing career through the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women and earned an Academy Award nomination in 1985 for her short film, Tales of Meeting and Parting (shared with Sharon Oreck). In 1990, she garnered her first DGA Award nomination for “Episode 32006” of Twin Peaks. She garnered an Emmy Award nomination and took home the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Dramatic Series for her 2009 Mad Men episode, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” She won a second DGA Award in the same category for her Homeland episode, “From A to B and Back Again.” Glatter was nominated for her sixth DGA Award and her fourth Emmy nomination for her Homeland episode, “The Tradition of Hospitality.” Recently, she earned her fifth Emmy nomination for her Homeland season finale, “America First.”

Glatter also serves on the Executive Committee of the Directors Branch at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is an advisor at the Sundance Institute’s Director’s Lab. Committed to mentoring for many years, she most recently helped develop the successful NBC program, Female Forward. Other accolades include the Caucus Foundation Award, the Dorothy Arzner Directing Award from Women in Film, the Franklin Schaffner Award from the American Film Institute, and most recently, an Honorary Degree from AFI. She is currently developing projects for Netflix, Amazon, Showtime and EPIX.

About The Special Projects Committee

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America, providing its members opportunities for creative exchange to advance their craft and celebrate the achievements of directors and their teams.

Pictures & Video

event photos by Howard Wise

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