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Seeking Our Story: Directing the Summer Blockbuster: Mimi Leder’s DEEP IMPACT

Seeking Our Story: Directing the Summer Blockbuster: Mimi Leder’s DEEP IMPACT

Seeking Our Story is
celebrating the summer with Mimi Leder’s blockbuster “Deep Impact.” Leder (b. 1952) grew up in New York City with
a mother, Etyl Leder, who played classical piano, and a father, Paul Leder, who
changed careers from real estate to making horror/slasher films. “He taught
me to have respect for the people you work with…. He taught me fearlessness
and to keep moving forward — if something doesn’t work, try it another way,”
Leder said in an interview with the DGA.
Growing up, Leder remembers their house always being filled with costumes and
props for her father’s films. Her mother would cook for his film crews, and
sometimes they would even sleep at the house.

Leder was the first woman to be accepted into the American Film
Institute
’s
cinematography course and, while enrolled, she discovered a passion for
directing. After graduating, Leder worked as a script supervisor in television
for over a decade. In 1985, she made a short film to show her bosses at “Hill
Street Blues.” They offered her a shot at directing an episode, but both men
left the show before it happened. Once they were on board at another series, “L.A.
Law,” they were able to bring Leder on to direct an episode in 1987. Leder, who
had just given birth to her daughter, still stepped up to the plate. She later
told Indiewire, “My
breasts would engorge, and I had ice packs on them and my arms folded over them,
trying to direct. It was hilarious.”

From there, she moved on to a new position
as the director-producer for “China Beach” and then “ER.” Leder received praise
for developing the directing style used on “ER.” The director on the pilot used
Steadicam for about 25% of the shots, and Leder said she increased that to about
75% when she started directing regularly. The scripts were regularly 75 to 85
pages, so the slight but natural movement of the Steadicam was perfect in keeping
up with the quick dialogue, patients being wheeled in and out, and doctors racing
to save lives. In 1994, Leder won a directing Emmy for the episode “Love’s
Labour Lost.” The show also won the Outstanding Drama Series award.

Leder was surprised when “ER” producer Steven Spielberg pulled her aside
in 1997 and asked her to direct a $50 million film. Spielberg described “The Peacemaker,” starring
George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, as an action-thriller, the type of film rarely offered to women. Although Leder was
comfortable behind the camera on “ER,” she was hesitant to accept the offer.
Leder said
Spielberg convinced her by assuring her, “You’re directing action on ER
every day.” “The Peacemaker” made $110 million worldwide, and before the film
was even released, Spielberg hired Leder to direct another big budget film, “Deep
Impact,” which grossed over $130 million. Leder then went on to direct “Pay It
Forward,” which, unfortunately, was not a critical or box-office success. After
“Forward,” scripts were simply not offered to her. Leder told the
DGA, “I
was in movie jail. It was painful coming back from that.”

Leder’s story is a prime example of how women face a tougher standard in
Hollywood. While it’s wonderful to imagine a world where women are helping
women — and that should happen, no matter the industry — sometimes the key seems
to be pairing up with a male mentor who might have better leverage with studio
execs. In Leder’s case, it seems that her “Hill Street Blues” bosses, Steve Bochco and
Gregory Hoblit, and Spielberg were essential to her career. In recent years, Leder has continued to
work in television, directing shows like “Luck” and “Smash.” She currently
produces and directs “The Leftovers” for HBO and “Shameless” on Showtime.

Join Seeking Our Story this Friday,
July 31
for Mimi Leder’s “Deep Impact” at The Los Angeles Film
School
. At 6pm,
join
@WomenNMedia for networking
and light refreshments. The film screens at 8pm and is presented free of
charge. Parking is available for $5 behind the school.  

Lauren C. Byrd is a New York-based blogger focusing on the canon of
women directors with her series
52 Weeks of Women Directors.
Follow her on Twitter
@laurencbyrd14.

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