6 Filmmaking Tips from ‘Wonder Woman’ Director Patty Jenkins

Advice for filmmakers of all genders and interests.

Advice for filmmakers of all genders and interests.

Patty Jenkins has made only two feature films, 14 years apart. But the first, Monster, is one of the best of 2003, and it netted Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress. The second, Wonder Woman, is one of the biggest and most anticipated releases of this year. In her time between movies, she’s been an award-winning TV director, juggling serious drama (The Killing) and various types of comedy (Arrested DevelopmentEntourage). She’s well-trained, diversely experienced, and can do anything tossed her way — or that she seeks out and rightfully earns.

Whether you’re interested in directing superhero movies or television or prestige indies, and no matter if you’re a man or a woman, Jenkins has some great advice for you. Below are six tips collected from interviews, Q&As, and social media for aspiring and established filmmakers alike.

1. Make a Film

A lot of directors’ filmmaking tips start off with the most obvious suggestion: just do it, make a movie. Jenkins might also give that advice more generally, but the below quote from panel called “In-D-TV: Storytelling Inside of the Box” at the 2011 Film Independent Filmmaking Forum (via Reuters) is specifically about getting into television.

TV is really hard to break into. This may be the worst piece of advice, but make an independent film. TV oftentimes takes people who are established. The great benefit of not breaking in yet is purity of voice.

So make the greatest film right now and get it out there anyway you can, and hopefully someone like [panel moderator and Six Feet Under producer Alan Boul] sees it and likes it, and gives you a break.

During the same panel, she did address the downside of directing television compared to movies and stated it’s not for everyone, at least not for too long:

I like to work, and I worked for years as a camera person before I directed. So sometimes I go into it thinking, like on Arrested Development, I love it, but (the material) would never come from me.  So it’s more of an exercise rather than it being my vision, which can be exhausting in a way.  It’s incredibly important to have that attitude. However, I can see where doing too much of it could break your spirit.

Patty Jenkins on the set of ‘Wonder Woman’ (© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. And RatPac Entertainment, LLC)

2. Humble Perseverance

Just making a film, or multiple films, won’t automatically grant you a career in television or anywhere, but if you have the goods and you really want to do this, just keep trying. Jenkins graciously Tweeted this to a follower last fall:

Patty Jenkins directs an Oscar-winning performance out of Charlize Theron on the set of ‘Monster’ (© 2003 Newmarket Films)

3. It’s a Tough Job

Nobody should ever go into filmmaking because they think it’s an easy job. Fun, sure, but not easy. In an interview conducted by Joshua Horowitz for the 2006 book “The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker: Twenty Conversations with the New Generation of Filmmakers,” Jenkins offers the following advice to aspiring filmmakers:

To embrace how truly hard it is and always will be, to be really honest with yourself about whether that’s really what you want to do with your life, and then to put one foot in front of the other relentlessly. Also to try to keep your eye on the ball about what you want out of it, and not get distracted by things you don’t care about.

From the same interview, stressing that money and success should not be why you’re in this business:

At the end of the day, making Monster was unbelievably hard, as making any movie is. And the only thing that made it worth it is not those awards and all those kind of things that I can barely remember because I was so overwhelmed. It was really that night in the editing room, that day on set. It was those things.

So yes, I wish it could happen right away and I wish I could make bucketloads of money and all of those things. But more than anything, I realize the only thing that makes that kind of work worth it is to be engaged. And so that’s my priority. I do care about success and all of those things. But I don’t care enough to do movies just for that reason.

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Christopher Campbell: Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.