Published on: 08 March 2019 in Campaigns

27 directors share their advice for #IWD2019

Reading time: 12 minutes and 43 seconds

This International Women’s Day we invited female members to share their insights and advice on being a director, drawing upon the experience gained from their time in the industry. 

We heard from the unique voices and talented creators of drama, documentary, film, animation and more. 

Read on for the tips our members have shared, and share them yourselves this #IWD2019


1. “Have selective hearing. If you’re told, like I was, that directing’s too competitive; don’t listen. Instead turn your ears to the opportunities out there, to the mentors that support you, to the changing industry. There really are “many of us” and we’re changing the tune together.” — Claire Tailyour (Wild Bill, Hollyoaks). @clairetailyour

2. “If the doors are all locked, find a window. Don’t give up.” — Christiana Ebohon-Green (Call the Midwife, Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle). @cebohon1

3. “Don’t try to be a man. Your ideas and instincts are equally valid, believe in them, be true to them... and tell stories the way you see them.” — Alice Jones (One Strange Rock: Home).

4. “Tell a story that only you can tell. Believe in your own abilities to do this. Spend copious amounts of time building the right support network of artists to help you to achieve this. It’s as important as the fundamental blueprint that is the screenplay.” — Rita Osei (Bliss). @ritaosei @blissthemovie

5. “We are currently in the middle of change in our industry regarding the respect, valuing and trust in woman directors...I think strength, patience and persistence is needed...Knowing when to educate others gently and when to  give hope and courage to ourselves and other women directors...Let’s never be defeated because those who aren’t defeated will win in the end.” — Maeve Murphy, award-winning writer and director. @maevemurphyfilm

6. “Don’t let other people tell you what stories you are allowed to tell. When I made my feature documentary Still Loved I was told repeatedly there was no audience for a film about stillbirth. But we had great success and it paved the way for other films on this subject. Be audacious!” — Debbie Howard (Still Loved). @BigBuddhaFilms

7. “Find your tribe in the industry, who will support, push and cheerlead for you and when you’ve got that - keep going! Take risks, the best things happen just outside your comfort zone.” — Abigail Dankwa (Wonderball, coming to BBC Scotland 11 March, 24 Hours in A&E). @Abigail_Dankwa

8. “Believe in your own voice. Don’t be afraid if what you want to say is different from what has gone before - that will make for interesting work - and the chances are that if you are being truthful to yourself it will chime with a lot of other people. If you face rejection remember that a lot of the time it is because the system needs changing — it is easy to take it personally but any look at the statistics shows a massive need for systemic change, which if we stand together we can bring about. Directing is all about multi-tasking which women down the ages have been brilliant at.  Being a good leader isn’t about having the loudest voice or the biggest physique — it’s about having clear ideas and conveying them effectively.” — Susanna White, Directors UK Vice-Chair and Film Committee Chair (Woman Walks Ahead, Generation Kill). @_susannawhite

 9. “Directing is about making decisions and communicating them with confidence. My advice is always to make a choice -  don’t dither. You can always change your mind later. And don’t assume directing and a family life are mutually incompatible. More and more of us are showing that they’re not.” — Lisa Fairbank (Giles Coren: My Failed Novel, I Hate Jane Austen). @factoryfilmsuk

10. “My advice to women in this industry is: 

  1. Don’t be afraid of the camera. If you want to shoot, grab every opportunity you can to pick it up and use it. It likely won’t break.
  2. Don’t sell yourself short. If you’re competent at something, say you’re brilliant at it. Men do. 
  3. Up your rate and be confident that you deserve it, you do. 
  4. Work smart, not hard. Don’t overthink, overshoot, and overwork yourself to the bone. It’s only television.
  5. Take time off on occasion to refresh yourself and remember there is more to life than the job. It’ll inspire you to continue when times get tough.
  6. Persist. Persist. Persist.”

— Cara Bowen (The Undateables, Homestead Rescue).

11. “Surround yourself with the best possible team (irrespective of gender). Never pretend you know something if you don’t but you don’t need to know everyone’s technical skills either. Remember that everyone’s there to support you in making the best possible film.” — A D Cooper (The Penny Dropped, 2017 ALEXA Challenge award-winner Home to the Hangers). @hurcheonfilms

12. “Don’t be afraid to defend your vision if you really believe in it. Focus on what you want, speak up and be direct. The squeaky wheel gets the grease! Equally, be prepared to embrace change when you need to.” —  Emily Greenwood (Cold Warrior). @greenwood_films

13.“The only way to survive in this business is to absolutely believe in yourself and keep on going against all odds. Always be developing your own work and ideas, even at those worst times of no paid work and total rejection.” — Emma Calder (Boudica, The Queen’s Monastery). @pearlyoysters

14. “Keep to your chosen plan, your way, without trying to please or impress the wolves that bay the loudest. If you’re wrong you will know!” — Rhian Mair, thirty years’ experience directing drama.

15. “The advice I would give women starting out in TV is to help each other. You will get back what you give, and we all need a network of women to call for advice, and support, who understand the specific and subtle ways in which things can be more complex for us as we navigate our careers. If you support, cheerlead for, and celebrate other women in their careers you will get that back, and women need to make more noise about their presence and their successes!” — Jasleen Kaur Sethi (Safe At Last: Inside A Womens Refuge, Miss Transgender: Britain’s New Beauty Queens). @jasleenks

16.“My biggest advice is be confident in what you are capable of. I found in my career I needed to take the control away from the male executives, so I just went out with my own vision and passion, to prove what I’m capable of only to myself. And now I feel unstoppable” — Lisa Downs (Just Ate, Life After Flash). @lisandowns @lifeafterflash

17. “A notes to self and some advice given to me during an interview several years back: "don’t under sell yourself!”  My interviewer explained women Directors have a tendency to downplay their experience. And don’t accept any inappropriate or derogatory behaviour from threatened and insecure male crew members — report and redress. We deserve our place on set.”  — Vicky Matthews (Dark Waters with Jeremy Wade, Operation Royal Wedding). @vickymatthews

18. “I was 29 and directing my first film, a drama doc in Tucson, Arizona: The Gunfight at the Corral. There are various different takes on this story, and every day the sound man would undermine the one I had chosen before the crew. Eventually I summoned up the courage to say: “Who is telling this story — you or me?” When we wrapped he congratulated me, amazed that despite being a woman I had remembered every shot that the gunslingers had taken in their final brawl. So don’t let any male crew undermine you, make sure that your voice is heard, and ask for more pay — as you can be sure there is a cocky guy out there who is getting more than you!” — Anna Thomson, Directors UK Vice-Chair. @annathomson2

19. “Recognise bias and choose your collaborators. Find crew members, a DoP and editors who are collaborative and supportive. Sometimes you may be the only woman on set but a great team won’t make you feel like you are. Be open to ideas but be prepared to defend your vision.” — Tracy O’Halloran, first British filmmaker to win the Grand Prix at Cannes Corporate Film & TV Awards in 2018.

20. “Find yourself some fellow cheerleaders! Whether that is a mentor, meet up group or perhaps being part of a members organisation which champions you and your colleagues. Career cheerleaders really help you to keep focus throughout the good & the bad as a freelancer.” — Emma Edwards (Own It, Altruistic, #CarersMatter). @em_bambam

21. “To any directors starting off, know what you know — and more importantly know what you don’t know. Embrace what you don’t know, you’ll be a better director for it.” — Delyth Thomas, BAFTA-nominated director and former Directors UK Board Member. @delyththomas

22. “Stick in there and passionately follow your dreams. Surround yourself with the best, supportive team you can find. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t be fazed by all the rejections. If you are dedicated and strategic, you will realise them. It’s only a matter of time.” — Deva Palmier (Finding Clive, The Grab). @devafilms

23. “Directing can be a lonely profession at times. I’ve always found it very useful to seek out other supportive directors to compare notes and build a network. This means not being competitive with each other and working together for a greater good. Just like Directors UK does…!” — Beryl Richards, former Directors UK Chair and winner of the Women in Film and TV Achievement of the Year 2016. @berylrdirector

24. “Don’t be afraid to say NO to other people’s suggestions. Of course consider them, but you are the creative decision-maker. Women are traditionally very good collaborators, but on set you need to be confident in your own voice and decisions.” — Nicole Volavka (The Dumping Ground, The Tunnel).

25.  “Be bold. Build up a team around you who want a woman in charge. Find a producer you trust, who will protect you and your ideas – and get the film made! Be the Director you want to be – and hold your shape.” —  Jean Stewart (Cracker, Butterfly Collectors).

26. “If I could go back and give my younger self some advice I would say; “trust your instincts and your experiences”. There were times during meetings when I wanted to say something but I didn’t. I was worried that I’d sound naive, different or make a mistake. I regretted it afterwards. So trust yourselves more.” —  Avgousta Zourelidi (MoominvalleyMonster High Electrified).

27. “Be yourself, trust your instincts. Keep making films from your unique perspective. Enjoy every moment, it’s the best job in the world!” — Emma Lindley (Holby City, My Parents Are Aliens). @emlin32


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