6 Filmmaking Tips from “Wonder Woman” Director Patty Jenkins

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 Development, Entourage). 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.


Patty Jenkins with Gal Gadot on the set of Wonder Woman



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 often times 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.”


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


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:

“End 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.


4. Your Bell is Universal

If you think that Wonder Woman isn’t for you because it’s about a superhero and you don’t care about superheroes or because the character is a female superhero and you’re not a female, then you’re dismissing what Jenkins believes strongly in regarding filmmaking, and storytelling in general: the best ones are for all of us. During a recent “Master Class” Q&A held at YouTube Space LA, she had this to say:

What has lasted since the beginning of time? Story. And the reason that story has lasted, I believe, is because all human beings are sharing a universal experience to a certain extent. We are all struggling for love, wondering what we would do if we could make the world a better place, wondering if we wouldn’t, wondering what we would do if we did something terrible…
The job of all of you as storytellers [is] to influence the world, because that’s what the world looks to us [for], no matter whether you’re doing a five-minute video or you’re doing a two-hour blockbuster. We can speak to the world about their experience by speaking about your own experience. It’s magical, it really is. It really doesn’t matter. Everything else doesn’t matter. That’s the thing I encourage the most is your bell is universal, to a lot of people, more than you will ever know.
Watch the video below and hear the full quote, along with her personal story of why Wonder Woman is important to her, in this video recorded from the audience:


Patty Jenkins directs an Oscar-winning performance out of Charlize Theron on the set of ‘Monster’ (© 2003 Newmarket Films)Read more at Film School Rejects:


5. Pop and Seriousness

In the above Q&A, Jenkins also talks about tone and how nobody can really know how to achieve the perfect tone. It’s just something you’re always studying and continually trying to get right. When it comes to making superhero movies, though, she recognizes that the proper tone can be summed up rather simply — not that it can be done easily but can at least be defined. From a recent DGA Quarterly article on Jenkins’ appreciation of 1978’s Superman:

“It’s about getting serious actors to play it in a serious way and take it seriously. And incorporating the right amount of pop to it. It’s something I think about a lot as it relates to Wonder Woman. You have to have the right amount of pop and seriousness mixed together.”

It’s a very classical tone, one she admits doesn’t have to be sought for all superhero movies. She continues later in the article:

I think that grand, simple storytelling has gone out of vogue. But there are thousands of years of telling stories in a similar way, and knowing how to tell them is an art form that takes time and patience. It’s about withholding, rather than bombarding people or going too fast. You have to tell a great story and then have confidence in that story to tell it well.


Here’s the important part of her discussion of tone in the YouTube Space LA Q&A:

It’s not something you should ever give yourself a hard time about not knowing. Because nobody does. It is a skillset that you have to look at tone and how other people are pulling it off and then study how they’re pulling it off and then test pulling it off. That was something that when I was a younger filmmaker it was like oh I should have known that. No, you should not know that, that’s something that is a part of the process.


6. Do Anything You Want, For a Reason

Like many filmmakers, Jenkins will tell you not to let anyone tell you what you can or can not do. And that’s another thing she discusses in the YouTube Space LA Q&A, specifically about filmmaking tools and how they’re all still on the table depending on what you’re going to use them for.

Slow motion is one of those things that people talk about like they talk about voiceover. Like, “Eh, I’m over voiceover.” You’re, I mean, okay. It’s like saying, “I’m over wide lenses.” Alright. They’re all our tools. They’re all wonderful for the right thing. Just don’t do it for no reason. Do anything you want, for a reason. I totally defend, I don’t care if I do oldest-school, most played-out thing in the world, if it makes you feel what I want to do, I’m down. I’ll zoom, I don’t care. People are like, “Well, obviously you don’t want to zoom.” I might.


What We’ve Learned

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it because storytelling and cinema are important for human beings. If this is the career for you then make stuff, and keep making stuff until you break through. Don’t worry about what tools are trendy right now, don’t worry about not being like the majority of filmmakers out there (in style, technique, interests, gender, race, etc.), and don’t worry about not being an expert on tone. Just show us your story, whether it’s Your story or just the story You need to tell because if you’re good it’ll be the story that we need to see.


This article first appeared on Film School Rejects.



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