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Mad Men Director Comes to COM Tomorrow

Jennifer Getzinger (COM’90) to speak at Cinematheque

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Fans of AMC’s critically acclaimed series Mad Men may well recall an episode from 2010 titled “The Suitcase.” In the episode, Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) ditches her birthday dinner with her family and boyfriend to help her boss, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), put together a last-minute ad campaign for a suitcase company. After pulling an all-nighter, the two find they have a newfound respect for each other. Hamm and Moss both submitted “The Suitcase” to the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for consideration for a 2011 Emmy Award, and both were nominated for the episode. Time magazine called the episode a “knockout,” and CNN said it had some of “the most powerful scenes” of the entire series.

“The Suitcase” also earned director Jennifer Getzinger her second Directors Guild of America nomination.

“It was funny how it came along, because oftentimes you don’t plan for something like that, and you don’t know what type of attention it’s going to get,” says Getzinger (COM’90). “When I read the script, I knew it was getting to the heart of things that were going on for a couple of seasons. But everyone on the show was shocked by the amount of attention it got and the response to it, because it is a small, intimate, really emotional episode. I felt lucky to be part of an amazing script, and it was definitely a joy to do.”

After studying broadcasting and film at BU, Getzinger began her career as a script supervisor on films, among them Requiem for a Dream and The Devil Wears Prada, and television series, including Strangers with Candy, Sex & the City, and The Sopranos. She first started working at Mad Men as a script supervisor, but has gone on to direct seven episodes. In addition to being nominated for “The Suitcase,” the DGA nominated her for direction of a 2009 episode titled “The Gypsy and the Hobo.” She has also directed episodes of AMC’s The Killing, TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, starring Ray Romano, Showtime’s The Big C, starring Laura Linney, HBO’s Hung, and ABC’s long-running series Desperate Housewives. Getzinger was selected to participate in the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, an experience she says helped her earn a chance at directing Mad Men.

Getzinger is this week’s guest at the BU Cinematheque series, a College of Communication program that brings accomplished filmmakers to campus to screen and discuss their work.

BU Today spoke to Getzinger recently about her career, who inspires her, and her advice for those looking to break into film.

BU Today: What does a script supervisor do?

Getzinger: A script supervisor is a continuity person. Back in the old days, the position was called a script girl, because for some reason it’s often women who do this job. It’s basically the person who sits right by the director and is in charge of tracking the script. That person makes sure that the actors say all of their lines correctly, keeps track of what scenes are being shot, writes notes for the directors and the editors. You’re also making sure that the actors are matching their continuity: that is, if they pick up a glass with their left hand, they do that same thing in all of the following shots, to help with editing.

How did you transition from supervising scripts to directing?

As an aspiring director, what I found really helpful about being a script supervisor was learning about what all of the shots are, how you put these scenes together. You discuss the shot list with the director and how you get all of the pieces you need. That was always very helpful to me and really interesting, because, of course, it is not a science and every director has a different approach to how to shoot a scene. It’s a good way to learn different styles of directing.

Some people shadow a director, following them around through the entire process to learn how they do things. Being a script supervisor, I got to shadow directors my entire career. I got to really learn how they approach scenes. Even though it’s not officially a part of your job, you end up discussing an actor’s performance.

Who are some of your favorite female directors?

Kathryn Bigelow, who directed The Hurt Locker, is a really amazing director. She does tough, gritty films, which I really admire, and Mimi Leder [Emmy award winning director of ER and the films Deep Impact and The Peacemaker], but I also admire directors who will do things a little more simply. I always admired Nancy Savoca [television movie If These Walls Could Talk], who did much smaller, independent films, Nicole Holofcener [Sex & the City, Six Feet Under, Parks & Recreation], and Jane Campion [Academy Award winner for best screenplay for The Piano]. Filmmakers like that are incredibly thoughtful, and in a way, uniquely female, directors. They make films that men couldn’t have made.

How did you get involved with Mad Men?

I script supervised the pilot, and it was really a perfect storm of things happening, because it was right after I had done the directing workshop for women at AFI. I literally had in my bag DVDs of the short film I had made, so I could talk about how I had just done this amazing directing program, and I gave my DVDs to people on the show and the AMC executives.

When you first get a script to direct a show, how do you get ready? What’s your process?

The process can be a little different on every show, just because there are different requirements. You often get the script in different stages. Part of the reality of doing this is that it is a very intense process and everyone’s working very hard, but it doesn’t always come out as smoothly as you want it to. Sometimes you have a very rough draft, sometimes a draft that’s very far along. A lot of it is really familiarizing yourself with the show in general: the tone, the style—the camera style and acting style. When I first get a script, I read it to get a general sense of the plot, decide where I think things are working, where they might have trouble, because if there are parts you’re worried about, you want to mention them right away. Then it’s a process of going through and slowly breaking the script down to see what the different dramatic beats are, the different character arcs. Oftentimes I’ll read it through a couple of times from all of the different characters’ points of view to see what happens to them in that episode.

Then you have the stages where you are visualizing it, when you go to the sets to walk around and look at the reality of the physical space. That’s when you start putting it up on its feet. One of the trickier things about TV is that you don’t get a rehearsal. A lot of the prep you’re doing is kind of guessing what the actors might do or thinking of notes and ideas and the blocking you can give them to make sense of the scene and plan your shots around that. You’re not able to figure it out in a really concrete way with the actors. You have to be ready to think on your feet if something isn’t working.

How did BU prepare you for your career?

Before I went to BU, I was interested in writing. In college it became clearer that I was leaning towards directing. I realized that through watching films, and being exposed to films I had never seen before, films by John Cassavetes, for instance. I was in complete awe of these films that I had known nothing about. It made me realize that there is so much that can be done by a director in storytelling, like how you reveal certain things or how you develop a character. I still write a bit, but that was when I felt I wanted my focus to be on directing. Being able to do the hands-on stuff, like super-8 classes and a 16-millimeter class—having that hands-on experience was good and made how you make a film and put it together more of a reality.

What’s it like to direct so subtle and understated a show as Mad Men?

A lot of the subtlety is in the performances. Obviously it’s there in the writing as well. The way things are done on Mad Men would be different on other shows. Even in the camera work, we just never hit anything too hard. We want to let things play out in a little more natural way, in a little more subtle way. It’s hard to describe, but there’s that line of making sure something lands and plays and that it’s not too over the top. That’s the style on Mad Men, and it’s the style I’ve always been drawn to. It’s a great place for me to start as a director because it helps inform a lot of things, even other shows that I do. It’s always better to be able to read the subtleties, even if it’s a comedy, or something that’s going to go a bit bigger. It still has to be grounded in reality. Working with the actors and material on Mad Men has really trained me to pay attention to that.

Can you give any teasers about the season premiere, airing March 25?

I am definitely sworn to secrecy about the season premiere. Just last week they announced that it’s a two-hour premiere, which I directed, and even that was something I couldn’t tell anyone until it was officially announced. It’s great, amazing, exciting—I think hopefully it’s going to be all everyone has been waiting for and more. I think that having a two-hour season premiere is a great way to come back after being away for so long.

Do you have any advice for people hoping to break into film?

I guess the most important advice is just to work really, really hard. Keep your eye on where you’re going and what you want to do. Don’t get frustrated when you’re not an overnight success or when your first short doesn’t go to Sundance or you don’t get these amazing breaks that you read about other people getting. The other 99 percent of the people in this industry worked really hard to get to where they are. When you work hard, you can really enjoy it along the way. You get to meet a lot of different people and try a lot of different things, and it makes you more ready when you do get to the end goal. I think that some of the people who leap ahead and are overnight successes aren’t prepared. Working your way up is a good thing and gives you endless experience when you reach your goal.

The Mad Men episode “The Suitcase” will be screened tomorrow night, Friday, February 3, at 7 p.m., followed by a talk by Jennifer Getzinger, in COM 101, 640 Commonwealth Ave. The event, part of the BU Cinematheque series, is free and open to the public.

 

Season five of Mad Men will premiere on Sunday, March 25 on AMC.

1 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

One Comment on Mad Men Director Comes to COM Tomorrow

  • Anonymous on 02.02.2012 at 11:21 pm

    This has been a painful hiatus. March 25th can’t come soon enough.

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