In Televisual’s Summer issue, we asked five of the best directors in the industry right now about the art and craft of high-end TV and film directing.

In the fifth of the series, here’s the interview with Dearbhla Walsh (Shining Vale; Fargo; Tales from the Loop; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Punisher; Esio Trot; Penny Dreadful; Borgia; Public Enemies; The Tudors; Little Dorrit; Talk to Me; Hide & Seek; Funland; Shameless)

When I get involved with a project varies, but the earlier the better. Ideally there’s a first draft that acts as a blueprint for the scope and the ambition of the piece that I can then respond to and influence, that I can be inspired by and contribute creatively and practically to.

Story. Script. Character. I start at theme and point of view – whose story is this and how can I connect with it? As soon as I find my connection, I get excited about the casting potential and the visual ambition for the piece.

I always set out to return to those HoDs I love and have exciting creative relationships with, particularly the cinematographer, editor and 1st AD. However, life and work schedules have a cruel way of forcing me out of my comfort zone and making me start all over again and teaching me that there are always new collaborators – and so the creative love story grows despite the angst repeating itself each time!

Rehearsals are key and are not standard on a TV schedule. When I’m leading a piece I insist on a week with the actors as part of the prep period. This time always gets eaten away at for lots of different reasons, so I fight hard to hold on to it. If it’s a big episodic piece with major cast and no scheduled rehearsal, then I have a series of one-to-one page turns with each artist no matter what size the role. No one is allowed meet me on set for the first time. Even a 15-minute conversation with an artist in prep can save an hour or more on set. Rehearsals are worth their weight in gold.

I decide what to shoot on in conversation with my DoP. Early on in my career I made a short film on 35mm. It looked beautiful, but I hadn’t enough coverage to explore the story further in the edit. This was a very valuable lesson for me and now it is about what serves the story best – and not my ego!

I both plan each shot meticulously and improvise. I love to plan, and if it works then I love to improvise to make it better. The one feeling better than being satisfied is being surprised!

I don’t review each shot as I go. There are exceptions, but time is of the essence, and I don’t want a committee around the monitor. I worked with a brilliant cinematographer years ago who said: “I have worked with the greatest directors in the world and never once has how they said it would cut on the floor how it ended up in the edit suite.” I am constantly amazed how right he continues to be!

The editing process is constantly illuminating. The more I do the more I am astounded at the further layers we can find in a scene prepped and shot to what I presumed to be the max. If prep is the cheapest part of the process, then editing is the most fruitful. It’s brilliant how film gets the generous and necessary time it needs in post and it’s so crazy how little time TV gets when we’re still continuing to shape the story. Sitting in the suite with the editor is as key to me as being on set with the actor – the creative work never stops.

Important skills for a director? Passion and energy; confidence and humility; curiosity and clarity; positivity and determination. Oh, and never sleeping through the wake up alarm!

Jon Creamer

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