CBS recently selected four participants for its 2019-2020 Directors Initiative, which pairs seasoned directors with the network’s showrunners and other industry pros for mentorship and professional development. This year’s class includes Leena Pendharkar, an award-winning writer and director and member of the production faculty at LMU SFTV. Her sophomore feature film 20 WEEKS premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and won Best Feature Film at the Maryland Film Festival in 2018. We asked her to share some thoughts about her work and participation in the year-long initiative.
How’d you learn about the program at CBS? Is it the first time you’ve applied?
I’ve been an independent filmmaker for a long time, but I love television and wanted to explore the idea of working on a network program. I’ve applied before. It’s very competitive. The programmers want to see that you really love television and that you’re committed to the medium by seeing you shadow on shows and introducing you to people who work in TV.
What’s the difference between directing film versus directing television?
The process of directing doesn’t change, but in television, you are serving the vision of the show. So you really have to understand what the look and the world of that show are. Also, you have to be able to work quickly. Most episodes of one-hour dramas are shot in only nine days. I’ll get the chance to participate in workshops to help me better understand all of this, but the crux of the program is that I and the other participants will be sent to shadow the directors on a number of TV shows that CBS produces. This will let me see first-hand how the entire process works.
What do you hope to accomplish as a result of being in this year’s class?
I hope to gain a deeper understanding of television directing, and to build relationships so I can do more of it. It’s great to get a peek behind the curtain, and really see how certain shows work. It’s very exciting.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve done while directing? On the flip side, what’s the most fun thing for you about this work?
On my film 20 WEEKS, we had to juggle filming at a lot of locations with very little money to do so. And it also dealt with the very difficult subject matter of abortion. Just staying focused on the actors and the story was tough sometimes, but I felt like I learned how to stay cool in challenging situations while I directed that film.
For fun stuff—there are so many things I love about directing. Collaborating with smart people, telling a story, pushing the boundaries of what’s creatively possible.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anybody who wants to be a TV or film director?
Keep making projects, whether it’s on your phone or on a bigger and better camera. Work with different actors. See what you can get. You’ll do better each time you do more.