Creativity Files: Q&A with 'The Good Wife' and 'Empire' Director Rosemary Rodriguez

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

As part of our spotlight on creativity this month—what it means, how to overcome obstacles, where to find inspiration—we’re asking around STL to find out how the city’s creatives work with the word that literally defines the nature of their roles. We’re kicking it off with a guest star of sorts. 

Rosemary Rodriguez, director of “The Good Wife” and “Empire,” among other TV shows, is showing her second feature film, “Silver Skies” at the Whitaker Saint Louis International Film Festival on Nov. 8. She’s also the recipient of the festival’s Women in Film Award, honoring her work as a director in a male-dominated industry. We caught up with her via a phone call to chat with her about creativity, her craft and finding creative inspiration.

Director Rosemary Rodriguez | Courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

Director Rosemary Rodriguez | Courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

Does your approach to directing TV episodes differ from your approach to directing a film?
Not really for the movies I’ve done. I write them, so the big difference is, “Have I written the material or am I directing from someone else’s script?” I read the script to see how I feel about it: what the story is, what the thread is, what’s driving the story. Then I’ll read it, sort of breaking it down into different parts. Even on the first read, scenes will jump out and and I’ll just see them. Other scenes take some work, or the title of the script will inform what the theme is and give me some inspiration for what I want to do.

What’s your directorial style like? How much do you infuse or stay out of the production, stylistically speaking?
A lot of directing involves navigating personalities, whether it’s producers, actors, DPs [director of photography], PAs [production assistant] … navigating pitfalls and looking for ways to encourage and sort of get a performance or get what you need or certain talent—you want to get the best out of everybody. In order to do that, it’s a lot of navigating politics of working with people and collaborating with them—no matter your job, you have to do that.

With actors, I sort of let them dictate what will bring out the best in them. The most important thing about my job and what I love most is that it’s really instinctual. Doing so many episodes of TV under tight schedules and budgets has really helped me hone my instincts and intuition.

I know how to make decisions quickly and stay out of my head. I know how to make decisions based on instinct that serve the story. When I work with actors, I like to help them deal with instinct as well. Some actors want to rehearse, some don’t want to rehearse. Some want to talk; some don’t want to talk about things at all. If they don’t want to talk but I’m not getting what I need, I have to find a way to communicate that in a way that’s going to keep that open. But I love it. I live for that challenge.

How do you get in a creative zone? Do you have a specific environment, the way you arrange you workspace … ?
I don’t even have a desk—really, I don’t even have something like that. My life is very fluid because I’m traveling all the time and kind of like a gypsy. The only thing I try to do is watch movies as much as possible. Of course there’s a lot of great TV, but I watch movies a lot. When I get a script I think about what movies will inspire me toward that script.

It’s interesting that you choose movies to spark inspiration for TV—some say that we’re living in the golden age of television. What draws you to cinema instead?
The thing about movies—great movies are very—because, hmmm. I’m really a person that works in television—so I made a feature film first, and then I got into TV, and I approach TV as if it’s a movie. Every episode is a movie.

I love the intensity of having an hour and a half to two hours sitting in a dark room with a big screen and shutting the world out and kind of being enveloped in that environment and really taken in to what’s going on in the screen—the images and the sound and going into that world completely. For me that’s life-changing. A TV series is easier to be at home, get up, hit the fridge, whatever—someone decides they’re going to start talking. There’s a sacredness to movies that I treasure and that’s the difference. It could be a difference of focus, it could be that simple. It’s also a matter of time commitment.

I’ve seen movies that changed my life, literally. With “Secrets and Lives”—literally six months after [seeing] that, I was looking for my birth mother. Movies stay with me and impact me in a different way. TV shows … don’t impact me in the same way but certainly make my life better with different actors and characters and series. Series like “True Detective,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “The Good Wife”—that’s the show that’s changed my life more than anything.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have to say I’m super, super, super excited for [Marvel’s] “Jessica Jones,” which starts streaming Nov. 20 [on Netflix]. That’s the closest thing to a big movie that I’ve done and that I’ve loved doing.

I was in the St. Louis Film Festival in the New Filmmakers Forum with my first movie, “Acts of Worship,” so it’s really an honor to come back with my second feature. I’m a female director, and it’s taken a lot of time to get a feature made. This is a completely different movie, and I feel like I’m a completely different person. There’s such a warmth in St. Louis for the arts that I felt really embraced as filmmaker when I was there. I’m really looking forward to going back and feeling that again. I’m hoping audience in St. Louis love the movie—It’s been nice for people to respond to a story about older people. They have a certain invisibility in this world and I’m trying to bring them to light.

Check out what’s on our calendars at SLIFF here

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