ICON SPOTLIGHT on Tara Miele

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 TARA MIELE has had success in short form, features, and episodic directing. Her 2016 viral video, MEET A MUSLIM, which she created to combat Islamophobia, garnered over 45 million views. WANDER DARKLY, the feature she wrote and directed premiered at Sundance and was distributed by Lionsgate, and this year she was nominated for a DGA Award for her work on Apple’s acclaimed series LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, starring Academy Award® winner Brie Larson. 

Tara shared with AWD what she feels are the most crucial things in the actor-director dynamic, who’s given her the best career advice, and what her “beast mode” entails!


AWD: You’re known for using filmmaking to delve into human experiences. What sparked your journey to becoming the storyteller you are today? 

TM: As a kid, I had such big emotions and often didn’t know what to do with them. I found catharsis in sharing them on the stage first… and fell in love with that magic that comes as an actor when you’re expressing real, raw emotion in front of an audience and you know that they’ve felt it too. That sort of immediate shared human connection is still what drives me. Finding commonality, seeing ourselves in each other – is healing. It’s what drives my process…  from meeting real people for research, to working with actors on set, digging for authenticity with an editor…  It’s still all about whether or not I feel it… and can inspire someone else to feel it. I also have lots of strong opinions, love a challenge, and love to learn – so storytelling through writing and directing film hits a real sweet spot for me.  

Can you discuss your casting approach, and how it varies across different mediums like TV, film, and digital? What do you find most crucial in the actor-director dynamic? 

This is a big question! Casting can be so exhausting – just the way we think about who has value and who doesn’t – it’s not my favorite part of the process. Whatever medium I am working in, I try to go with my gut. Often that means shutting out the voices that are telling you how much an actor is worth, how hot they are, what they’re looking for, etc. Just having a clear vision of whether or not you will be excited to work with an actor to shape a specific role – and how they fit into the larger picture of the world you’re building is key. I also do my research – I am lucky enough to know directors who will honestly share what their experiences were like working with an actor.  

I think trust and respect are the most crucial things in an actor-director dynamic. I think if you show up prepared, really listen to your actors, and give them a safe space to play and fail – you can create really exciting work together. 

You’ve taken significant creative and personal risks to step into the director’s chair. How do you navigate doubt and obstacles to see a project through to completion? 

You asked this question at a great time – I was overwhelmed by setbacks and doubts all last week. The town is slow, casting is hard, financing is hard, projects are getting pushed, projects are dying. It’s a tough time! Sometimes doubt sets in even on the things you can control… I have found that it’s helpful to take breaks to reset my perspective in a broader way, stepping away from work, spending time with my family, and finding friends to laugh with about it all. I also meditate, take walks, dance breaks, light candles, listen to other artists talk about their struggles… I do everything I can do to find some joy to buoy me over those tough times! And often I have to re-center on why I started on a particular project in the first place – why did it matter to me? What unique thing did I want to say with it? That usually gets me back into what I call beast mode… when the voice inside me gets clear and certain on what to do next to move something forward. 

Reflecting on milestones like “Meet a Muslim,” the Sundance premiere of “Wander Darkly,” and now your DGA Award nomination for “Lessons in Chemistry,” can you pinpoint pivotal moments or advice that influenced your career path? 

The best writing advice I ever got was from the late, great Bruce Paltrow who told me, “Get your ass in the chair and get the pages out.” The best directing advice I ever got was from Nancy Meyers in 2008 – she shouted it at me and another woman director in the WGA parking lot after a day of seminars on directing… She drove past, rolled down her window and shouted out at us, “Women directors! Don’t give up!” 

What notable changes have you observed as diverse voices gain more exposure in the entertainment industry?

The most notable change is that as a female writer/director I can make a living, make my insurance minimums, own a home, support my family. For me, it’s night and day from the pre- Me Too / Time’s Up days. I have also found that there is less tolerance for the toxic male behavior on set – that I get more support when some sort of resistance happens. And I am happy to be able to be in community with so many successful writers/directors who are women and people of color… That said, we have a long way to go.  

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

Supporting emerging women directors is something that I find so gratifying. I’ve always loved this idea that once I cracked the door open in this business, I would hold it open for a hundred women to come in behind me. I was a co-chair of the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA for several years and helped form the first female peer to peer mentorship program there, called The WSC Squad. I have also been a mentor through that program as well as to several women through AWD. I also reserve every Friday morning for a mentorship phone call and try to introduce the women I speak to to other directors who might be able to support their journeys, place them in internships, or support their work however possible.

Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about, like “The Process” starring Halle Berry, that you’d like to share with AWD?

I’m so excited about working with Halle. She’s obviously an incredible talent but she’s also just a very smart, grounded, incredibly collaborative partner and producer. I feel so lucky to get to play with her on The Process, which is a taut psychological thriller from Levin Menekse. I have a few other exciting things in the works but nothing that I can share just yet unfortunately!  I’ll just say that I’m excited to be working on material I love with wonderful people. That feels like the biggest win. 

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