Lena Dunham Explains Why She Incorporates Improv Takes Into Her Directing Style (Video)

Power Women Summit 2022: The actress and “Catherine Called Birdy” director spoke to Women in Film CEO Kirsten Schaffer about the Amazon Prime Video film

Lena Dunham says she primarily sticks to the script when directing, but finds that a few improvisational takes can add some pretty great moments to a film.

“I always, when I’m directing, tend to do a few takes totally to script and one take with a little bit of improv and then I’ll grab the best moments from that improvised take. It might just be a glance or a cough or a line,” Dunham told Women in Film CEO Kirsten Schaffer during Wrap Women’s Power Women Summit panel, Spotlight Conversation: View from the Director’s Chair.

Dunham then offered an analogy to further explain her directing choice: “The dish is the script and the improv is the garnish. You don’t change the substance of the scene but it’s a great way to add texture and realism. My favorite films are the ones where you’re watching and you feel like you’re getting a glimpse of life as it is. I love watching a film and going, ‘Was that in the script? Or, ‘Was that a decision that was made?’ When you can feel there’s a spontaneity to the choices, that’s when I always feel the most connected to the thing I am watching.”

Schaffer spoke to Dunham about her latest feature as a writer/director, “Catherine Called Birdy” for Amazon Prime Video.

“Catherine Called Birdy,” available on Prime Video right now, is based on the young adult novel “Catherine, Called Birdy” (for some reason the movie removes the comma) by Karen Cushman. Set in the 13th century, it follows a young girl (Bella Ramsey) who’s dealing with the constricting social parameters of the time.

“This is a book that I read when I was 10 in 1996 and it was a Newberry Prize-winning young adult novel and I fell in love with the book and read it over and over again. I always fantasized about what it could be as a movie and after ‘Girls’ began, when I was in a position to think about what I wanted to make next, that’s when I optioned this,” Dunham explained about the process of turning the book into a movie.

She continued: “Then there was an almost 10-year journey to bring this to the screen and I was lucky enough to partner with Working Title and Amazon and found myself finally making the film in 2021.”

You can watch the full video above.

The Power Women Summit (PWS) is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provides two days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “A Time to Unite.” Learn more here: thewrap.com/pws.