ICON SPOTLIGHT on Anya Adams

AWD Icon Members work extensively in feature films, television, commercials, music videos, and/or new media. They have not only shown exceptional skill and/or received substantial acclaim, but are also advocates for AWD’s mission for parity in the entertainment industry.

AWD Icon Member ANYA ADAMS began as a 1st AD for television and films before bursting into her current career as a Director and Producing Director. She is a two-time NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series for the television series’ GLOW and Black-ish and in 2020 The Alice Initiative named Adams as one of the top emerging female filmmakers. Additionally, her debut feature film PROM PACT is was recently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Fiction Special.

Anya talked with AWD about the traits needed by Directors, the best ways to network, and the importance of questioning “why something is the way it is”!


AWD: Transitioning from being a First Assistant Director to a director yourself must have presented unique challenges and opportunities. What traits from your previous role have you found most valuable in your directing career?

AA: The transition from 1ST AD to director is not a direct route. So it took time to alter people’s perceptions of me before I could move forward as a director. One of the things I did that was extremely helpful was to direct my own short. This allowed me to show people I was serious about directing and demonstrate my capacity to create and direct independently. What I have learned as I moved into directing full time is that it is extremely important for the director to have a clear vision, a decisive nature, and the ability to think outside the box even when you are expected to follow a well-trodden road. You have to know how to handle the crew, (knowing their jobs and what it takes for them to do them well is an extreme plus). Be flexible and creatively problem solve in the moment. Having the ability to pivot is a huge benefit to any director because it keeps you in control moving forward.

Building on the previous question, can you talk about how your directing experience has influenced how you work as a Producing Director?

As a TV Director your job is to assimilate quickly and execute the show creatively and efficiently. As a Producing Director your function is a lot more nebulous. While ultimately you are there to service the vision of the show and maintain its tonal and visual consistency, throughout the season, you also act as a voice for the incoming directors and a guide to them when they land. The cool thing about the job of Producing Director is that the roles and influence change depending on the show and the needs that arise based on the family you’ve assembled to execute the show. Ultimately for me, it was extremely important to be a voice for the incoming directors as well as be their creative sounding board. Specifically because we were shooting in the Arctic and the challenges and opportunities were often very different from a show shot in the South.

Your industry experience showcases an impressive amount of short films. How have these experiences influenced your approach to directing longer-form content like television and feature films? I have only directed two short films so my experience there is minimal, but I would say the biggest takeaways are BE ORGANIZED!! Know what you want and communicate clearly with all involved in shepherding your vision forward. And be gracious. A happy crew is a creative and motivated crew. LOVE what you are shooting.

For aspiring filmmakers starting with short films, what advice do you have for those seeking a smooth transition into directing feature films and/or television?

Networking is your friend. It’s a long game, but it’s worth it. Start now! Everyone is a potential job. Keep in touch, and not just on holidays or when you are unemployed. Let people know you are working. I also always suggest that aspiring directors let people know what they want/need. Asking for someone to “mentor” you isn’t as effective as asking someone “If you have time could you walk me through this VFX sequence you shot? I would love to get a better understanding of how to execute sequences like that”. It goes back to being a director who has a clear vision. What is your vision for yourself? If it’s getting a job, what is precluding you from that job? Do you need more skills? More meetings? More opportunity? Do you need to make something to show others your capacity? Don’t put the onus on the person you are asking to solve your problem, but do make them an active advocate for you.

Many of the projects you’ve brought to life highlight diversity and varied perspectives. How do you ensure diverse perspectives are reflected in your work, both on and behind the camera?

I am attracted to projects that highlight diverse perspectives and people. That is a choice I consistently make. And when I am on those projects I try to keep the perspective of the world I know present in my creative space. You always have to push the boundaries and question why something is the way it is. Sometimes it’s just “default” decision making, while other times it’s very specific. You need to be able to speak to diversity in both of these situations.

The projects you work on tend to be in vastly different genres and explore many themes. What draws you to these unconventional narratives?

I like a good story. I don’t care what form it manifests itself in, if it grabs me and I resonate with it on a personal level, I’m in! For example I’ve traveled to Toronto for ‘Ginny and Georgia”, Italy for “The Decameron” and The Arctic for “North of North”. All of the stories were diverse, exciting and fresh.

How do you know when a script is perfect for your directorial voice? What elements do you prioritize when choosing projects to direct?

Is the protagonist someone I want to take a journey with? Is the story engaging? Does it capture me creatively and intellectually? Can I make an impact in the making of this project? Or what can I learn from this job that I haven’t been able to learn on another job? Ultimately it’s very subjective, so I try to follow my gut. Because if it’s a movie that I am committing too it’s going to take up a lot of my time so I better LOVE IT!

As an Icon Member of the Alliance of Women Directors, how do you advocate for and support women in the directing field?

I volunteer for panels and mentorship programs whenever I can.

Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about that you’d like to share with AWD?

I am super excited about two Netflix projects that will be landing soon. One is called “the Decameron ”. It was shot in Italy and is an incredibly funny, dark and fun period romp! The second is the show I am on right now, it’s called “North of North” and it’s been shot in the Arctic which has been an incredible rush and a giant challenge all rolled into one! I can’t wait for you all to see these two shows, both very female forward, unique and inspiring! 

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