Amy York Rubin, newly signed to the roster of Tool of North America, is something of a comedic chameleon.
Amy’s work across episodic TV and branded content shows the range of her talents – not only is she a talented comedy director, having worked on episodes of shows like SMILF (featured above), but she’s also a gifted writer (she’s written for shows like DIVORCE and more). We can’t wait to see how her skill at stepping into different directorial settings, honed from working on TV, will lead to even more exciting branded content work in future.
After creating the darkly comedic, award-winning series Little Horribles, which played at SXSW and eventually sold to TV Land, Amy York Rubin established herself as an up and coming director with a distinct voice and visual style that broadens the traditional look and tone of the comedic genre. This year Amy directed two episodes of the Golden Globe-winning original Hulu series CASUAL, three episodes of Andrea Savage’s critically acclaimed TruTV comedy series I’M SORRY, and two episodes of the new Showtime series SMILF. Her upcoming directing credits include THE MICK (FOX), FRESH OFF THE BOAT (ABC), GROWN-ISH (Freeform), ALONE TOGETHER (Freeform), TRIBECA (TBS) and DIETLAND (AMC).
In addition to her narrative work Amy has worked with talent such as Kate Mckinnon, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Dave Koechner, Maria Bamford, and Ilana Glazer in branded content for platforms such as CollegeHumor, Funny or Die and Above Average, working with brands such as Google, Vanity Fair, Hyundai and GQ.
We spoke to Amy about stepping out of her comfort zone, how her directorial work affects her writing, and the need for a cultural sea change that would allow more diverse perspectives to thrive.
Amy (2nd from left) and crew, including show creator/star Frankie Shaw (far right) on the set of SMILF
You’ve worked extensively across episodic TV, shooting episodes of shows like SMILF and Casual, among many others. What initially attracted you to wanting to work in TV?
After directing some of my own projects, I realized that I was eager to experiment more with my directing style, and in order to do that I had to branch out and move beyond the kind of comedic tone that I was used to. Episodic is a particularly good place to push yourself out of your comfort zone, because one week I’ll be doing very stylized, steadicam and heavily orchestrated blocking and the next I’ll be doing a more grounded, static style, so you’re constantly getting to try new things and figure out new ways of landing a joke or telling a story.
What elements of the format appeal to you most? Are there any challenges that are unique to working in episodic TV?
I like a shorter format, one that can be contained and enjoyed with minimal effort but that also has some baggage…some character development that you’re tracking and tweaking over an entire series. I think the biggest challenge is just the process of going into an entirely new work environment every other week or month. Every single show is different so I’m constantly just re-figuring out a new work culture.
You’re also a writer, having recently written for Sharon Horgan (a fellow Free The Bid director)’s Divorce. How do you find the experiences of writing and directing inform one another?
I’m constantly learning about my writing through my directing and vise versa. I remember being in the middle of directing an episode of CASUAL and simultaneously writing a pilot, and after a day of shooting a series of short scenes with each character that, when cut together, would tell a larger story about the group, I went home and revised my script to have much shorter, much cuttier scenes. From directing someone else’s story, I basically realized that I could tell the story I was trying to write in a much more visually interesting, quick, more engaging way by just cutting up my scenes and connecting my characters more through visual cues and pace in the writing. The more I direct, the more my writing skews towards creating scenes that I actually want to direct…scenes where I know the blocking will work and the reveals will make sense.
Since your work is very comedy-focused, tell us about your personal approach to humor. What do you find funny? Have you encountered any obstacles as a woman working in comedy?
What I find funny tends to vary based on my mood and what’s going on in my life. Sometimes my humor is really low-brow and basic. I love a good fall. I love deadpan and absurd humor…Mel Brooks, Airplane, etc. I also like more grounded, observational comedy. I definitely don’t like mean comedy though, anything that is really just about making fun of someone or comedy that’s very attached to its own image and is more about the performers looking a certain way than actually entertaining the audience. That’s the worst.
In terms of obstacles as a woman in comedy, I think it’s just the same obstacles that any woman in the world deals with – lots of people are threatened by anything that challenges them or upsets a status quo that has been working in their favor for a very long time. It’s a constant battle and process – being young, being female and finding the line of being in charge and confident but not shut out to collaboration. It’s tricky!
What are some qualities that you bring to set that no other director would? What makes your work specifically distinctive?
In episodic directing it’s not always about standing out and making your mark, it’s about understanding other people’s world, process and vision, so in a way, being distinct is actually about listening and understanding everyone else. That’s probably one of my biggest strengths – I’ll listen and hone in on the details and focus on what the show is and how the show works, as opposed to only being concerned with putting my own special flare on it. To me, the flare comes from the way I work with people, the environment we create on set and finding small ways – maybe through performance or transitions to improve upon something without deviating from the original vision.
How does the experience of shooting branded content differ from your TV work? Do you approach branded projects similarly to TV jobs, or are there any key differences?
I approach it in a very similar way. It’s all about understanding the brand, the client’s vision and expanding upon it, both by helping them articulate what they want and by bringing my own point-of-view. Everything, even a pair of shoes, has an emotional backbone, just like an episode of TV so I approach it the same way…what is that emotional backbone and how do we show it in the most engaging or funny way possible.
What are some dream projects for you, commercial or otherwise? Do you have any major goals for your work or types of projects you’d love to have the chance to tackle?
I’d love to do an athletic or sports commercial that features women. I grew up with the WUSA Nike soccer ads with Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. Getting to work on something like that would be amazing.
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?
When you only see things from one point-of-view, we forget that it’s even a point-of-view at all, it just becomes the norm. If I had grown up seeing a diversity of female bodies on TV, if every female love interest didn’t have to be thin and white, my life would probably be very different. A lot of people’s lives might be, because all of a sudden we would think people of various shapes and sizes and colors are desirable and deserve love. I do think that a cultural sea change, the way we see people can actually shift if we just get to see more point-of-views playing out on our screens. The thing is, that doesn’t just mean diversity in identity, it also means diversity in point-of-view and it means the people who have these different takes, these different experiences have to feel empowered and supported enough to actually express them…the institutions financing and distributing and overseeing their product have to actually want a different take on screen and that’s a much bigger step then just hiring a woman or person of color.
SMILF, Season 1 Episode 5 (“Run, Bridgette, Run or Forty-Eight Burnt Cupcakes & Graveyard Rum”)
Directed by: Amy York Rubin
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Created by: Frankie Shaw
Written by: Zach Strauss
Co-Executive Producer: Karey Dornetto
Executive Producer: Lee Eisenberg
Producer: Michele Greco
Executive Producer: Scott King
Executive Producer: Frankie Shaw
Executive Producer: Gene Stupnitsky
Cinematography: Brian Burgoyne
Film Editing: Steve Edwards, Christian Kinnard