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The Best Indie Film Directors are Working on One Hulu Show, and Most Just Happen to be Women

In the words of star Tommy Dewey, "'Casual' had a lot of female directors this year, but we had the best directors — period."

Casual Season 3 Episode 1 Tommy Dewey Michaela Watkins Tara Lynne Barr Ashes to Ashes

Greg Lewis/Hulu

Each year, when “Casual” executive producers Zander Lehmann and Helen Estabrook brainstorm who should direct the new season, it starts with two very simple requirements:

“We sit down and make our list of who we most want to work with, and which good indie movies we’ve seen lately,” said Lehmann, who created the Hulu comedy.

“We’ve always really wanted to match the indie filmmaking aesthetic and perspective with a television show, so a lot of it comes from us sitting down and thinking about, ‘Who are the directors working in this space that we’re really excited about?’” Estabrook said.

READ MORE: ‘Casual’ Season 3 Review: 10 Reasons You Have to Watch Hulu’s Excellent Comedy Series

Their Season 3 session saw a stronger push than ever into the indie film world, and the results are nothing short of a veritable all-star team.

Meet the Team:

  • Lake Bell: The acclaimed director of “In a World…” was friends with star Michaela Watkins before joining in Season 3. Bell even helmed her two episodes while seven months pregnant.
  • Carrie Brownstein: The “Portlandia” star directed two episodes of the IFC show before heading to Hulu for “Casual.” She’s also friends with Watkins, after the two met on the set of “Transparent.” “My entry point into the show was as a fan of hers,” Brownstein said. “[After] watching the first and second seasons, I became a fan of the entire ensemble.”
  • Lynn Shelton: Between feature films “Humpday,” “Touchy Feely,” “Laggies,” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” Shelton has been rolling through the best of TV — including “Mad Men” and “Master of None” — but it wasn’t just “Casual’s” quality that lured her to Season 2. None other than — you guessed it — Michaela Watkins deserves the credit. Shelton was offered a gig in Season 1 by Jason Reitman (and wanted to do it), but passed, for scheduling reasons, before Watkins signed on. “If I had known she was going to play a lead, I would’ve erased my schedule so I could work on that show,” Shelton said.
  • Gillian Robespierre: An impressive (and young) talent, Robespierre is following up her first two Sundance entries — “Obvious Child” in 2014, and “Landline” in 2017 — with her TV debut on “Casual.” When asked why they wanted Robespierre for Season 3, Lehmann simply said, “We loved her movies.”
  • Amy York Rubin: After directing 11 episodes of the YouTube Red original series, “Foursome,” Rubin snagged a spot on “Casual” after a “great meeting” with the producers, according to Lehmann, who wanted to give a lesser known name a shot in Season 3.
  • Michael Weaver: The cinematographer and director on series like “Californication” and “Parenthood” has now helmed episodes in every season of “Casual.”
  • And finally, rounding out the directors — and the season itself — is Jason Reitman, who’s handling the last two episodes of Season 3, as opposed to the first two (as he’d done in years past).

CASUAL "Things to Do in Burbank When You're Dead" Episode 302 -- After the memorial, Alex and Valerie spend one last night roaming the streets of their old neighborhood and discussing where to scatter Charles' ashes. Behind the scenes. (Photo by: Greg Lewis/Hulu)

Thanks in large part to Reitman, the series’ first director (and ongoing executive producer), “Casual” has felt genuinely cinematic throughout. The man behind the camera for “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” set the “indie” tone for future episodes with his two-part debut, and set up future seasons to attract better and better talent.

Come 2017, it was time for “Casual” to reap what they’d sowed.

“We all just want great directors,” showrunner Liz Tigelaar said. “What’s exciting is when you look out at the landscape for strong, creative, indie, outside-of-the-box voices, so many of those voices are women. It’s hugely satisfying, being a woman, but even more than that they’re just the best [directors] right now.”

Star Tommy Dewey elegantly echoed this feminist thought.

“I don’t know how the hell we did this, but it’s people who are not necessarily leaping to do TV because they do their own cool movies,” Tommy Dewey, who stars as Alex, said. “We had a lot of female directors this year, but we had the best directors, period.”

Continue reading for how “Casual” snagged Lake Bell and Carrie Brownstein — with a little help from some friends.

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