Director Gillian Robespierre on Fulfilling a Dream
BY OLIVIA ARMSTRONG
The creative behind the show’s bittersweet episodes discussed why walking the line between comedy and drama is her “sweet spot.”
At the second annual Split Screens Festival in New York, founder and moderator Matt Zoller Seitz welcomed four directors to the IFC Center stage for a panel spotlighting “Women Behind the Camera.” Panelists included Tricia Brock (Mr. Robot), Julie Anne Robinson (The Good Place), Lauren Wolkstein (Queen Sugar) and Gillian Robespierre, director of HBO’s Crashing and Silicon Valley, as well as acclaimed indie comedies Obvious Child and Landline.
Robespierre, who’s slated to direct more episodes of the Pete Holmes-Judd Apatow comedy Crashing this year, talked about her leap from screenwriting to directing, shooting on film and binge-watching for studying purposes. Here’s what we gleaned.
Ultimately, it’s all storytelling.
Robespierre, a screenwriter by trade, ventured into directing with her short film turned debut feature, Obvious Child. When she made the jump to television with episodes of Crashing, including Season 2’s “Artie” and “Roast Battle,” she was nervous to direct material that wasn’t originally her own. “I wasn’t sure that I could be empathetic to characters I didn’t create,” she admitted. “But now, I think it’s more about just being empathetic to human nature.”
Binge it til you make it.
Seitz inquired about the challenges of stepping onto set as a hired hand, especially in a landscape where a single director signs on for an entire season (à la Cary Fukunaga of True Detective and Jean-Marc Vallee of Big Little Lies and upcoming Sharp Objects). Robespierre sees it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. “It’s like your kid dream: My homework is to watch television,” she said with a laugh. “I’m binge-watching and studying for work.”
More is more.
Despite it being a half-hour comedy, Crashing’s production can mirror feature filmmaking, according to Robespierre. Not only is the show shot on celluloid film — a rarity in our digital age — but for certain scenes, up to three cameras are rolling at a time. “We had a lot of vantage points, and it became almost like a dance where I could incorporate comedy, drama and high stakes,” Robespierre explained. “And walking the line between comedy and drama is my sweet spot.”
Seasons 1 and 2 of Crashing are available to stream now.