Sculpt: Amanda

Blythe Haaga

Cap Gun Collective

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

The first time I professionally directed was in 2017, a short pilot presentation for TruTV called Happy Hour. It was an unscripted woman-on-the-street style comedy show that I co-created with Shelly Gossman, who hosted. We shot a bunch on the Venice Beach boardwalk which was a wild experience.

2) How did you get into directing? 

I got into directing after being selected for a fellowship with Indigenous Media called Project:Her. We were given the opportunity to work with a mentor—mine was Betty Thomas—who took us through the process of pitching, writing, and directing our mini pilot. Prior to that, I was on a purely producing and writing track, but after directing for the first time, I was hooked. We filmed two weeks before I gave birth to my first child, so it was a unique first directing experience in many ways.

3) What is your most recent project? 

I’m an associate producer of Showtime’s Work in Progress, which is currently gearing up for season two. I’m also finishing up post on one of my indie projects, an anthology of short films I created and directed called Sculpt—10 shorts, all beginning in the same YMCA gym class, written by 10 women I know from the Chicago comedy scene. Each piece was written as a standalone. That led to a lot of tonal variety among the shorts which made the creative process really fun. Our only limitations were the usual suspects of budget and, consequently, time.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

I grew up playing basketball and, prior to COVID, still played in a league in Los Angeles with other women in film and television. It never surprised me that the sport is so popular among people who thrive in such a collaborative industry. I bring up basketball because directing feels like being the point guard. When your team’s really cooking, the feeling is unparalleled. As director, you get to lead from the middle of the action, not from some removed space. And while your leadership and vision are important, the creative output of the team will far exceed your singular potential.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

While I would never compromise safety, there are times I’ve had to prioritize the art over the comfort of cast and crew. Last year, I shot a beach scene in Chicago in late May. It shouldn’t have been freezing but it was. We weren’t quite getting the scene. Asking for more takes in those moments, while absolutely necessary, feels crappy. I PA’d on the pilot of The Deuce and recall Michelle MacLaren having several of those moments after long overnight shoots, needing another take just as everyone is very ready to go home. You need to be resolute in those times and she was. It’s an example I often refer back to.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

I’m primarily focusing in television and commercials in the comedy or dramedy genres. Though I’m also interested in the way comedy pairs with genres like horror, action, sports, etc. And while directing a feature isn’t a focus in the immediate, it’s definitely a long-term goal.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

I have the great fortune of being mentored by Lilly Wachowski. She’s not only an incredible filmmaker but also extremely generous with her knowledge. My work as her assistant on season one of Work In Progress felt like a masterclass in directing. She’s taught me so much it would be impossible to list it all. I have pages of notes in a file labeled “Lilly Wisdom” which includes everything from “pose action figures for quick storyboarding” to “push the boundaries of what art you consume to foster your growth as an artist.” As a witness to her leadership, I’ve learned a great deal of respect can be commanded when leading by example and creating a culture of inclusivity and shared vision.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

This is difficult to answer because I don’t feel like I have just one. Right now, I’m really excited about Greta Gerwig’s work which feels intimate and relatable even in a sweeping period piece like Little Women. I also love Paul Feig both for his film and television work. He directed some of my favorite episodes of The Office including “Dinner Party,” which felt like an Edward Albee play disguised as a sitcom episode. As a teen growing up in the '90s, I loved Nora Ephron’s films and still do. Her romantic comedies are somehow both implausible in premise and totally relatable. I think that’s a tribute to both her writing and shooting style, which always felt in service of the characters.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

My favorite movie is The Sting, a Paul Newman and Robert Redford heist film that is infinitely rewatchable. Season two of Fleabag is far and away my favorite season of television. It was beautifully done and hit so many different emotional notes I’d find myself ricocheting between guffawing and weeping from one minute to the next. A few other shows very high on my list (not including the one I work for, which I love) are Veep, Catastrophe, and, this year, Watchmen. In terms of commercials, I adore ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” campaign which has managed to mine so much comedy from such a simple premise it’s incredible.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called La Cañada and, while I was very close to the movie magic, I didn’t have an inkling of my professional interest until college when I joined Princeton’s improv comedy group. After school, I worked in consulting in Washington DC for a few years before requesting a transfer to Chicago so I could take comedy classes at night. I spent the next six years there performing sketch and improv comedy several times a week. During that time, I left consulting and took a job at NPR, where I produced a podcast called “How To Do Everything.” In addition to my film work, I spent the last four years assistant coaching girls’ basketball at my old high school. I also have two amazing daughters, June (3) and Adelaide (1). When not in Chicago for work, we live in Los Angeles.

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

I feel very lucky to have kept my job during the pandemic and to be working for a network that prioritized our safety. Like most working parents, I’m navigating the strange, new work/life balance of pandemic parenting. This extended time staying at home has provided ample opportunity to take stock of what I miss and being on set, the energy of that space, is something I miss a lot.


Contact Matt Abramson, EP/Managing Director, Cap Gun Collective via email