Writer and director Jennifer Lynch got her start in film, but the filmmaker is now a prolific TV director, working for powerhouse series like “Elementary,” “9-1-1,” “Jessica Jones,” “American Horror Story,” “Zoo,” “Quantico,” “The Walking Dead,” and more. She is particularly skilled in the thriller/horror genre, and that is fitting since she grew up working on the film sets of her father, David Lynch. But Ms. Lynch is established in her own right. We spoke about her exciting new projects, and her enduring love for television. One thing that stands out almost immediately when speaking to her, is her infectious enthusiasm about her career, and her efforts to make her sets feel like collaborative, respectful spaces – Ms. Lynch has a habit of reminding crew members how much she appreciates their hard work. We had the opportunity to speak with the director, featured below.
Isabella DeLeo/Awards Circuit: You’ve worked a lot on Ryan Murphy projects like “9-1-1” and “American Horror Story.” Can you tell me a little bit more about how you got involved with those projects and what the creative process have been like directing for him?
Jennifer Lynch: You know, I became involved, I believe …They sort of found out about me through other work I had done in that genre, whether it was “Walking Dead” or “Damien,” or what have you, that they were…Tonally, I had put my foot in that pool, previously, and so, I was invited over and I think, right from the get go, we felt, at least I did, a sense of “simpatico” and…I tended to like to challenge myself and I appreciate pushing limits as long as it’s for the right reasons. If we’re trying to capture a moment, I think that’s the right reason. I try to keep everybody safe and have them all go home feeling like they did something they didn’t expect or didn’t know they could do, and that’s what it like there. So, I feel like I fit right in and they seem to like having me around, so I’m grateful for the invitation to stay.
ID: Well that’s great. Could you tell me a little bit more about other television projects you’ve done recently like “Code Black,” “Jessica Jones,” “Hawaii 5-0”? How did you get involved in those projects?
JL: Those, again, I think that fortunately for me, I work with some amazing people with whom I have made some friendships, and I think we tend to talk about how much fun we have working together, and that sort of spread. And so I found myself meeting more wonderful people and enjoying working with them, and “Jessica Jones” is easily one of the most joyful times I’ve ever had. Women writers. Women showrunners. And I think it was absolutely nothing strange about, or noticeable at all, other than how great the episodes were, about the fact that all of them were directed by women. You know what I mean? They just went and got those great directors, and they all just happened to have female genitalia, you know what I mean? But it wasn’t … I feel like they really hunted for storytellers, not for genitals, and I salute that, because I am very, very, very certain that men tell romantic stories beautifully and that women tell horrific, violent stories beautifully. There is no “gender” to storytelling and we need to stop making it seem there is.
JL: No one walks up to [Steven] Spielberg and says, “Oh my gosh, the way you handled that dinner table engagement scene was so sensitive and amazing for a man.” No one says that. No one says that. And yet, I will be stopped and say, “Boy, you can rip a throat out like a fucking trucker.” And it’s, well, my first question is have you ever met women? Have you ever been to high school? Women are exceptionally dangerous and we play the long game, so the suggestion that people are not suspecting we have the power we have, I think, is dangerous more to them than it is to us.
ID: Yeah, absolutely.
JL: I don’t wake up in the morning going, “Yay, I have a vagina!” But I also don’t wake up mad about it. I try not to bring it to work!
ID: Yeah, so another thing that, at the moment, you’ve been working on a lot of different shows at once, and I was curious to see what it’s like to work on so many different projects at a time, and to navigate all these different series and to be working with all these different series creators and the producers.
JL: It is…Let’s see if this translates. It is like a day at school with no tests, all your homework is done, and everybody’s glad to be there. It is constant activity. Nobody is starting from worry, it’s all about seeing each other and communicating and everything feels possible. There was a time in high school, or in the school hallways, that I remember thinking, “Everything is possible.” And, again, working right now where I’m working, I believe that that is the case again.
ID: Well that’s great!
ID: And have you always sort of felt that way or has it been a process into getting into work and feeling like you’re really happy with all the work that you’re doing?
JL: To be honest, I am always in my happy place when I’m telling a story. I love actors. I love the crew. I feel more comfortable on a set than I do in my own home, and my home I’ve made pretty comfortable. So, for me, it’s every single show, it’s precious. I feel like I’m in a pretty good place right now because my voice is not anything I have to raise to have it be heard, and I feel like I’m working with people. And I’m working with people I don’t mind working for every once in a while, so when my job is to do something specific that they ask of me, that’s a challenge for me, in a good way, because even if it’s not my idea, I want to capture it in a way that wows them, and that thrills me, too. I feel that, ultimately, I am always joyful there, but I am proud and grateful to say that I currently find myself in a really good place.
ID: That’s great to hear!
JL: Yeah, I wish…I gotta tell you, Isabella, I wish this feeling on everyone. If everyone could spend their time doing something they love, that they felt made them a better person everyday, it’d be a different world.
ID: Yeah, I totally agree. And it translates into the work you do. If you’re feeling happy and positive about what you’re doing, the product…It kind of shows through.
JL: Exactly. In the same way that you can tell when you walk into a room, if two people have been fighting, or having sex, or talking about you. Energy is energy, and so whatever you’re putting into things – and yes, a moment can be changed, in the edit, to mean something else. But essentially, that echo of what it was to be there stays. And that, to me, is why the journey is the most important part. Because what you’re looking at afterwards are just photos of a trip. So, if you’re making it all about the destination, or expecting it all to be okay another time, you gotta love it right now and you gotta invite everybody in to be as fearless as they can possibly be, because there’s no way to be creative when you think you’re gonna get pointed at and laughed at.
ID: So, a lot of your recent work has been in TV, and I’m curious. What draws you to the medium?
JL: Oh gosh. Films, for me…I love, not only cinema in general, but I love the idea that you walk up and you pay money for this ticket that allows you to go in and sit quietly and pretend that you’re not there while you watch other people live out their lives. That kind of group voyeurism, that mob mentality, like a group of peeping toms outside one window, it’s an amazing thing.
What television provides is for me…I’ll be in someone’s living room or bedroom, or hotel room, or on their phone, and that that kind of connection, that kind of intimacy and voyeurism is thrilling, and I like to work quickly. I don’t like to work in a restless way, but I like to work quickly and I think that TV is built like such a machine, but there are enough artists in it that it beats like a heart. It’s the military meets the circus, and that’s great! It’s a very well-run place with lots of people who jump up and down and, and animals!
ID: That’s a great way to put it! Do you think you work best under a lot of pressure, but as we were talking about earlier, the happiness and just the general contentedness of being there, that shows through?
JL: I think I do. My father was just giggling the other day, he says, “Of course they’ve got you putting out fires. You’ve come in and saved everything, that’s what you’ve done all your life.” My feeling is, yes, I am flattered to be very good at “the game” or “the machine.” I also feel like I am built to work that quickly, but remind people that it can be done joyfully and that we don’t need to miss things.
We don’t need to sacrifice quality for speed. And that’s a nice challenge for me. When that many crew members are looking to you to see how you’re going to respond to some news that’s just arrived. The best thing to do, because all I can ever control is my own response, I just sort of go, “Well, hot diggity dog! Plot twist!” And no one’s gonna get fired, and nothing is gonna go wrong and we’re all gonna work together, and by the end of the day we’ll have a feast. No one’s gonna have a creative idea if they’re terrified, so it’s my job to make sure that everybody involved in the circus feels empowered and important, because they are and that whoever’s tying the knots on the trapeze has their head on straight and feels appreciated.I want to be as much a voice for those telling the story as I am a voice speaking the work myself.
ID: Could you talk a little bit more about that? How you’re saying that you’re a voice for the crew members, and making the environment feel like it’s a happy and productive one. What sort of things do you do to help ensure that?
JL: I try and make sure that everyone knows I actually do know them and know what they do. I am deeply aware of what everyone’s job is, and I thank them for it. Quite often, I’ll hear, “Just doing my job,” but I’ll always say, “And I just want you to know, that it’s appreciated. That it’s not going unnoticed that you were doing your job this well under these circumstances, at this hour of the morning, on a Tuesday.”
I think everyone, no matter our age, no matter our color, no matter what shape the heart that beats inside of, we all just want to be appreciated and heard and feel valued. And that’s what I try and do, because I cannot be creative in an environment where I don’t feel safe, and so hopefully my reaching out and making sure everyone knows how much I appreciate them, allows them to feel safe and creative, as well.
ID: That’s great.
JL: Crews make it happen. It’s like a war zone, sometimes. And they deserve the praise and the honors, and they deserve to come home, at least emotionally, to a parade for heroes. It is amazing what get does, and I’m really fortunate to be working with the people I am.
ID: So you’ve worked with on wide variety of shows, and different genres, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you would make of the television landscape today…
JL: What do I make of the television landscape today…What I make of the television landscape today, I have to say, is now, more than ever, there are no rules, and I think that’s so important. I think that it is a time for us to be learning how to communicate with each other in ways that don’t push the wrong buttons, so that people are actually listening to understand, rather than listening to respond.
I think that there are a bazillion stories out there to be told, and television is where that’s happening right now. Much more than in film. And I believe film will come back to that bravery, but that right now, it’s that box inside our houses that is really, really providing us with eyes and ears on each other, and we should be paying a lot of attention.