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My Directing Crush on Suzanne Bier

 Wednesday, 1st March, 2017

Emerging Creative Jacqueline Pepall spills the beans on her directing crush.

I loved BBC’s The Night Manager. Hugh Laurie’s posh, arms trading villain; pregnant, kick ass Olivia Coleman; tanned, dashing Tom Hiddleston. Watching the weekly installments was a shot of adrenaline. Like any good series, I wanted more episodes (or a second season!).

The Night Manager didn’t shy away from ugliness or violence. It was, by all accounts, a masculine show. So when I noticed that a woman, the formidable Suzanne Bier, directed it, I was surprised.

It is rare to see a woman’s name in the director’s credit for a multimillion-pound flagship series like The Night Manager. I suppose it’s rare to see a woman’s name in the director’s credit line at all. Yet, perhaps it’s less surprising when the content is sensitive, character-driven, or in some way ‘feminine.’

So, that The Night Manager – with all its weapons, explosions, violent deaths, and general aggression – was directed by a woman, was to me, revolutionary. And yet it shouldn’t be. And I was annoyed that it was. But amid this annoyance I also developed a directing crush on the woman that put all this together.

Suzanne Bier is the only director (male or female) to have won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy. I recently went to a conversation between her and Hugh Laurie, where she was passionate, articulate, humble, funny, and knowledgeable – everything you want in a directing crush.

Directors don’t get to work with other directors. Nora Ephron (another amazing female director) once said that directing “is like having sex, you’re always wondering if this is how other people do it.” I may never get to work with Suzanne Bier, but I was able to get a glimpse into her process.

In that conversation with Hugh Laurie, Bier revealed to the audience that she doesn’t storyboard, not wanting to be limited by something she’s set out before the actors are on set. She also rehearses extensively with the actors before calling the crew to set, a rare approach. And – rarest of all – she has a ‘best idea wins’ mentality where she is happy to receive ideas from anyone in the crew. This speaks of tremendous confidence. I loved hearing all this – in a way it justified the way I like to work.  (No storyboards, lots of rehearsal, all ideas welcome).

We must stop seeing film and TV projects as either masculine or feminine. Violent spy series or Jane Austen drama, the best idea – and the best director – should win. Thank you Suzanne Bier for teaching me something I didn’t realize I needed to learn.

Now, can you direct the next Bond film?

Jacqueline Pepall is an award-winning director for film and television. Her work focuses on life-affirming stories that feature women as heroes. Jacqueline’s recent credits include the short film 'Visiting Mr Keats' (Best Short, NYC Indie Film Awards 2016, Best Comedy, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards 2016), the television series, 'Then Dance' (Sky Arts /Arts Council England 2014-2016, British National Lottery Award nominee, Best Use of Public Funds).  Jacqueline is the Hospital Club’s Emerging Creative for Film and Television.

Jacqueline’s work will be screened as part of The Hospital Club’s On the Verge Festival – an exciting new film festival celebrating emerging female filmmakers. Featuring inspiring short films, expert panelists, and stand-up comedy, ‘On the Verge’ runs from March 2-4th at the Hospital Club. Book tickets here.