Back to Basics

Michele Atkins

How did you get into directing?
I was interested in film at a very young age; the images, stories, acting and the medium itself… to me everything about it was exciting.  I grew up in Buffalo, New York and Johnson City, Tennessee.   My family wasn’t in the business and neither place had a substantial film community. I worked for local television stations shooting for public broadcasting and television news.  I moved to Los Angeles and started from the bottom. I climbed from production assistant to producer. Once I had extra cash, I began to shoot and build a reel.  The path I took gave me an absolute respect for the process and the highest regard for collaboration.

What is your most recent project?
I finished a spot in New York City for NYCgo.com. Shot in black & white. It’s a spec spot. It picks up on NYC’s soulful vibe. I love it. I recently did still shoots with two bands: The OBN III’s and Some Spirit. My boyfriend is a music supervisor, so I see some great shows.

What is the best part of being a director?
I’ve worked in almost every department on a production; watching everyone work together and seeing the vision grow is really cool. It’s also great when you knock an idea out of the park.  Conceptually you know what is needed, but once you’re shooting and you’ve captured it, it’s a fantastic feeling.

What is the worst part of being a director?
Not directing.

What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My focus is to direct anything I can get my hands on! I shoot and edit as well, so I keep pretty busy. I like realism and a documentary style. If you concentrate on very specific moments, beautiful ideas can be born.  When I’m not directing, I’m writing.  I have written two features and a television pilot.  The scripts are in different editing stages. I’m a member of a writing group.  We meet every week and give feedback on each other’s work.  Once again, collaboration is key.

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 most with you?
Two people have given me their time: Josh Canova owns Detour Films and Daniel Tuggle, an EP, from the agency Cutwater.  They offered notes and feedback on my projects, exceptionally helpful.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I can’t name only one. Sorry.
John Cassavetes & Mike Leigh = realism
Bruce Robinson & Woody Allen = humor
Jonathan Glazer = creative vision
Jacques Audiard = realism and beautiful writing
Dardenne Brothers = compassion
Nicole Holofcener & Lisa Cholodenko =  trailblazing
Zack Snyder = grace and creative vision

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Movies and commercials directed by those above!  I’m a huge fan of Levi’s campaigns…they have had a history of impressive commercials.   Also, Jonathan Glazer’s; “Odyssey” for Levis and “Surfers” for Guinness.

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I’ve done everything from cooking fries at McDonalds to folding laundry at the Holiday Inn!  To break into the industry I worked for free on projects.  I did this for quite some time. Once established, Zack Snyder gave me an opportunity to start producing. I was fortunate enough to have watched him work. He gave crew members wonderful opportunities to rise to the occasion. He encouraged people with his great attitude and positive nature. I’ve also produced for Joe Pytka for many years   I’ve worked on Superbowl, Olympics, and Emmy nominated spots.  I feel quite fortunate to have learned, watched, and have worked with some of the very best.