Storytellers: Lesli Linka Glatter

All you need is a story to tell, says film and television director Lesli Linka Glatter. Find that inspiration and don't wait for permission. 

Lesli Linka Glatter may not be a household name, but the movies and television shows she’s worked on certainly are. Her television accolades are too extensive to cover, but include such critically acclaimed shows as True Blood, House, Weeds, ER, and The West Wing.

Linka Glatter, who received an Oscar nomination for her very first short film Tales of Meeting and Parting (1985), is also a Directors Guild winner (Mad Men, 2010) and Emmy nominee (Mad Men, 2010). She sat down to talk about her latest nomination for the “Q&A” episode of Homeland, her career, and what a great time it is for film students.

Get In Media: Congratulations on the latest Emmy nomination.

Leslie Linka Glatter: It’s been kind of amazing. One can never possibly anticipate it. It’s humbling and exciting and fantastic. It was an amazing episode to do.

GIM: Homeland is difficult to watch at times and different from a lot of other things you’ve done. What brought you there?

LLG: The story. It’s always the story for me. Everything comes from the story. I wasn’t on Homeland for the first season. I was supposed to do it and I took a producing job and I wasn’t available. After I saw the first season, I went, “Oh, my goodness.” It’s an extraordinary series.

Most of the time we’re all so used to stories that you can kind of anticipate where it is going to go. I never for a second anticipated where this story was going, but not in a manipulative way, in a very real way. It’s so complicated, both politically and emotionally.

GIM: It’s very realistic.

LLG: It’s very realistic and that’s something we’re always striving for—to keep things in some way religiously real.

GIM: Without upsetting Homeland Security…

LLG: Yes (laughs).

GIM: You just mentioned the producing. In 2011, you produced two shows, Playboy Club and Chicago Code. Do you have any plans to produce any more shows?

LLG: It depends on the show. One of those shows, Chicago Code, was a great experience working with Shawn Ryan. The Playboy Club was less so. It was a show that was developed for Showtime and when we started out it was planned to be one kind of show and then it ended up being another.

This job is so intense being the producing director that I would want to know what I’m getting into. I would have wanted to have directed the pilot or come in on something like Homeland where you know what you are getting into.

GIM: You got your start at American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women. How did you get involved with that?

LLG: Before I was a director, I was a modern dance choreographer and I worked all over the world. I was in Europe for five years and in Asia for five years. I was in Japan, based in Tokyo, and doing concerts all over, teaching and choreographing all over the Far East. In a coffee shop, I met an older Japanese man by chance who became my Japanese grandfather/mentor. Ultimately, he told me a series of six stories that I knew I had to pass on. So, that experience living there is the only reason I ever made a film. Those stories kept haunting me and I knew I actually had to tell the story.

GIM: So, you were first interested in film rather than television.

LLG: I don’t see them terribly differently, especially now. I think we’re in an amazing age of television where some of the best writing, acting, and directing are happening in TV. Television has to look amazing. The paradox has changed. So, for me, when I approached doing Twin Peaks or West Wing or Freaks and Geeks, I never said, “I’m doing TV.” I thought I was telling an hour-long story.

GIM: You mentioned Twin Peaks. Did you expect it to have the kind of following it did?

LLG: Never. Absolutely not. I had no idea. When I started working on it, I had seen David Lynch’s amazing pilot. After I saw it, I thought, “If there is any way I could ever do this, I would love to.”

In the beginning, we were shooting in this weird stage, out in Van Nuys, and no one had heard anything about it. I wasn’t sure, because the story was so unique, that it would actually ever be on the air, so the fact that it went on the air and was a phenomenon was such a surprise.

GIM: You mentioned that television has now gotten very similar to film for a director. In what ways do you still find a difference?

LLG: You have a lot less time to work. I think you always have to know what story you are telling regardless of what the medium is, but in television you really need to know what the dollar scene is and what the twenty-five cent scene is. You don’t have all the time in the world, not that you do in film, but you really have to know [in TV] because you have to put your time where it’s really going to count in storytelling.

GIM: Have you worked with mentoring any students?

LLG: I am very involved in mentoring in general. I was very involved in AFI for a long time. I always go back to the Directing Workshop for Women every year to do a seminar, but I’m mentoring people from all different areas, not just AFI.

GIM: What would you say to a media student interested in going into directing?

LLG: I would say find a story that you really want to tell and tell that story. Be incredibly tenacious. No matter what anyone tells you about how difficult it is—and it is—but if this is what you really want to do, that’s what you have to do. I think the good news about what’s happened now with new media is if you want to be a storyteller you can do it yourself. You don’t have to wait for permission.

My assistant in LA went to AFI to the Center for Film Studies. I was in the Directing Workshop for Women, a regular two-year program. She did a film. She got some attention, but it wasn’t enough. Recently she started a web series and this has gotten so much attention she’s doing a movie as a result of it. It’s fantastic. I think that’s the world we are living in now and I think that should be very exciting to new filmmakers.

If you have the drive, you can do it.

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