Making a mark behind the lens
Rosemary Rodriguez ’83 uses her passion for film to direct television episodes and movies
Rosemary Rodriguez ’83 has been fascinated with film since childhood, but it wasn’t until her senior year at Brandeis that she realized that she wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking. With two feature films under her belt and numerous episodes of television shows she’s directed, Rosemary Rodriguez reflected in an interview with the Justice, on being a former addict, the challenges of being a female director, working on the set of “Jessica Jones” and her newest projects.
In her last semester at Brandeis, Rodriguez enrolled in her first and only film class. From that point on, her path as an American Studies major took a turning point. On her class curriculum, she recalls, “We would watch “Citizen Kane,” “Battleship Potemkin” — just sort of classic, old movies. We’d watch it twice ... we’d watch it once without the sound and then we’d watch it with the sound. So, that’s really what opened my eyes,” Rodriguez said.
It was not until the professor asked students to take a scene from the assigned text and prepare a treatment of that scene that Rodriguez discovered her creative directing abilities. “We had to take a scene from ‘The Book of Daniel,’ by E.L. Doctorow. We had to take a scene from it and then make a treatment of that scene. You know, like in a movie.” And with that, Rodriguez had a realization. “Just one day, I literally woke up … in the middle of the night. I had seen this whole thing in my head, and I just got up and wrote it out and that was my whole paper. And that had never happened to me before … So, that class was sort of instrumental to me thinking that, ‘It’s a job that you can do [directing].’ It’s not just watching movies.”
Realizing that she wanted her direction to be in film, was not so sudden a transition for Rodriguez. Her love for the moving image had been brewing since childhood. Growing up during the 70s in New Hampshire, in what she described as “pre-Internet” times, Rodriguez found herself sitting in front of her television everyday after school at 4 o’clock, watching old Hollywood movies and doing homework.
She and her mother frequently went to the movies, and Rodriguez found herself in a trance with classic films.
“She’d bring me to these movies that were pretty disturbing and I loved them. I remember falling asleep [during] “Mary Poppins.” I hated it as a little kid, going to see that … and then she’d bring me to “Serpico” or something, or “French Connection” or something like that and … I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was so taken in by the reality and the grittiness and the darkness. [I] always gravitated towards the darkness,” Rosemary explained.
These early childhood films were to play a significant part in the creative inspiration of what would become her first feature film. After struggling with drug addiction and homelessness for a period in New York City, Rodriguez found solace in her first feature film, which she directed and wrote: “Acts of Worship.”
“I spent quite a few years in a really dark hole. I spent three years being homeless like a cockroach. Just really messed up on heroin and cocaine and just really, really messed up, but at my heart of hearts I had this weird voice, this weird obsession inside me … I had this burning thing inside that told me that if I could just make my movie, I would be okay,” Rosemary said.
Rodriguez not only struggled with substance abuse but also had to put up with the difficulties of being a woman in the industry. She expressed her desire to defy the gender categories placed in the industry.
“It’s that thing that I really don’t like having the conversation about: women directors. Because I just want to be in the ‘great director’ category versus the ‘women’ category or the ‘female director’ category. I can’t stand that category. That’s the category that I’m put in, though. At the same time, it’s so obvious, that there are opportunities that, as female filmmakers, we don’t get very readily, or very easily, or very often, or at all, that the guys do get. So, I’m very aware of that.”
Her frustration doesn’t end there, but she wants to make a difference in the industry. “ I just try to stay positive and do great work and go through the door that opens. Hopefully with all the conversation that’s out there … hopefully it will make it easier for people … I’m very fortunate in one sense and in the other sense, that reality is always slapping me in the face.”
In the spring of 2015, Rodriguez directed the tenth episode of “Jessica Jones.” The series follows a severely flawed former superhero, Jessica Jones, as she navigates her own psychological issues while running a private detective agency. The episode Rodriguez directed, called “AKA 1,000 Cuts,” explores the primary antagonist, Kilgrave, and Jessica’s “physicalized psychological dance,” as Rodriguez describes it. She further describes the episode as “a little out of the box for the series,” and “really [more] like a horror movie, so let’s just make a horror movie out of this particular episode.”
Not only does Rodriguez have the success of “Jessica Jones,” but she also has other projects that are currently in the works. She is working on a series for Showtime with Alan Cumming that is still in development, and which she hopes will be happening soon.
“To create my own series is really important to me … It’s about a restaurant in New York called Florent. It was a great time in the 80s because there were a lot of drugs … and people dying from AIDs, but there was a lot of personal expression and an explosion of spirit and life in the midst of all of that.”
Rodriguez previously worked with Cumming on the set of the “The Good Wife,” for which she has directed a slew of episodes in the past. Other shows to anticipate that Rodriguez has directed are “Sneaky Pete,” a new Amazon original series, and “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” on FX.
Television and film are not the only thing to look forward to from Rodriguez. She also has an upcoming podcast called “The Director’s Chair” on weplayradio.com. The show is on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.; it’s live and listeners are able to call in. The first guest on her show is going to be Elizabeth Rodriguez, who is well known for her roles in “Orange is the New Black” and “Fear the Walking Dead.”
“It’s going to be about collaborating. Actors, directors, producers, writers collaborating and doing the creative process … I just wanted to have her and talk about her experience with directors,” Rosemary said.
With television being a popular platform of entertainment nowadays, Rodriguez has her own goals in mind as well. “There’s just an explosion of a lot of great TV, so my goal is to get something created on TV. So I’m not just on the treadmill of directing, but [I’m interested in] more creative opportunities and more creative expression. That’s always the goal.”
Rodriguez’s next stop is the Academy Awards. “A couple of years from now, I would place myself at the Academy Awards … That’s what I’m going to be doing in a couple of years. If I get that far then I can be producing other people’s movies. That’s the point too. The more you get to do, then the more you can reach out to other people and isn’t that just part of the dream? [To] give other people opportunities,” she said.