LBB sits down with Ramaa Mosley to discuss her awe-inspiring breadth of her work as director and advocate.
Ramaa Mosley, who began directing spots as a teenager, is today more prolific than ever across the distinctive disciplines of commercials, feature film and television. After being encouraged by mentor Lesli Linka Glatter to apply in 2019 to NBC’s Female Forward program, Ramaa was selected from 1,000 applicants to direct the dramatic series, ‘Blindspot.’ It marked her first opportunity in episodic television and was one of two episodes she directed for the series. She went on to direct episodes of ‘Manifest,’ ‘Animal Kingdom,’ ‘All Rise’ and most recently, ’61st Street.’ The latter is AMC’s courtroom drama from BAFTA-winner Peter Moffat, Michael B. Jordan and AMC studios, with Courtney B. Vance and Academy Award-nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard).
Ramaa enjoys shifting from directing television to commercials, applying learnings from each format to the other which enable her to do her best work as a storyteller. She is represented for commercials by Station Film, where her focus now is to do more of the cinematic narrative storytelling she has been gaining recognition for in episodic television.
Ramaa remains a passionate and tireless advocate for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, undertaking initiatives through grassroots program Educate Girls Now which was founded in response to the dire needs of Afghanistan girls as seen in the documentary Girl Rising, and via her global Gen Z Creative Consultancy & Content Studio, Adolescent Content which supports brands to more authentically reach Gen Z and strives to shift parity and create space for marginalized people in and around advertising.
LBB> You recently directed episodes of ‘61st Street.’ What was that experience like?
RM> Working on “61st Street” was really exciting because the showrunner Peter Moffat (‘Your Honor,’ ‘Criminal Justice’) and executive producer J. David Shanks are both extraordinary individuals. I really enjoyed ‘Your Honor’ which Peter created for Hulu. Mr. Shanks worked as a policeman in Chicago’s South Side. Working with both Peter and David daily was impactful. I directed two episodes of the first season of ’61st Street’ and the last two episodes for the second season. Getting to work with the incredible cast – including Aunjanue Ellis who was just nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress in King Richard) and the inspiring Courtney B. Vance – was a highlight of my career. It was similar to working on a film in many ways. Peter and David, as well as Jeff Freilich (Producer), were looking for me as a director to come with a point of view. In television, it’s exciting to be able to approach a series cinematically.
It was also challenging at times for myself and the cast because the material was rigorous and triggering. Courtney set the tone and there’s nothing held back. The devotion that he, Aunjanue and Tosin Cole brought every day was spellbinding and also cost something emotionally and energetically. Normally, when working on a challenging scene, I call cut and everyone lets go and relaxes. This was a committed cast that stayed in it. They kept going as we set up for the next shot, they didn’t let go. They stayed in the scene and kept going and going. Even the crew cried daily watching the monitor.
Meanwhile, there was a lot to accomplish because the scripts were ambitious. We were filming complex scenes in a short amount of time. But it was also awe inspiring, breath taking. We shot in Chicago on location on the South Side and also on stages. Walking onto the stages – a replica of the Chicago courthouse as well as multiple homes and prisons were built on standing stages there – the sets were just beautiful. Every part of the craftsmanship and details was exceptional. It was a powerful, special project that I feel privileged to have worked on.
LBB> How did you delve into the TV world from commercials? Did you have a mentor?
RM> I made my first two feature films back in 2013 and 2018, Brass Teapot, then Lost Child. I was pondering the move into directing some TV, then the DGA Mentorship Program paired me with Lesli Linka Glatter who really gave me that incredible support. She basically reached out and pulled me up. She had launched the NBC Female Forward program. I applied. They had over 1,000 applicants and I was selected. I was placed on my first show which was an NBC show, ‘Blindspot.’ I directed my first episode; it was a very action-packed series. I was invited back. And then I was invited on Jeff Rake’s show, ‘Manifest.’ I directed an episode of “Manifest” for season two, and was invited back for season three. That was the beginning.
I think so much about how commercials set me up well to be a good TV director. On one hand you need to come with a very clear vision on what you’re doing, and be very prepared. On the other hand, you’re also working in collaboration with the show runner and the studio, so to know how to do that, having come from commercials where being very collaborative is the way it goes, is crucial.
LBB> What is your perspective about women directing in television? We see more and more women, but do you think it’s “there” yet?
RM> There’s a huge opportunity for women to be directing in television and that’s what I’m after. Having started directing when I was a teen in the early 2000s, I had opportunities. I feel very lucky. At that time, I heard other people talking about a lack of opportunity. I never wanted to be that person talking about the lack of opportunity when I was so young and felt privileged. Over the years, I have been directing big projects steadily, but I never broke through to the next level. I have yet to direct a Super Bowl spot for example. I consistently would get to the point where I would get bid on things and even though my reel was so much better, the person who was getting the job was a young man who had just finished college and had two spots. The Bro. I was the same age but had been directing for 6, 10, 15 years and had a much deeper breadth of work. It just didn’t make sense. Now we talk about unconscious bias. Which previously I didn’t understand. I thought if I just worked harder I would break through. Now I understand that many agency creatives – both male and female – work with male directors because that’s what they are familiar with. As opposed to really pushing into the unfamiliar. It’s also the brands. Agencies have a challenge to educate their clients. That said, it’s frustrating to work very hard, deliver consistently and not break forward. It’s not a matter of being busy – I’ve stayed very busy – but it’s about getting the best boards and the most creative opportunities. In some ways that’s what opened up my interest in TV.
Now with television, even more than commercials, what I’ve seen is the networks, the studios are dedicated to trying to create some semblance of parity. They’ve signed on to say, “Yes, we want to do this.” In a way the commercial industry hasn’t even been tackled. I think the commercial industry is still centred around a core group of five to eight female directors. Television has a much wider group that they’re going to.
Television has been exciting to move into not only for that, but also because I love storytelling. I kept looking for the opportunity to do storytelling in commercials, not just lifestyle vignettes which for a long time is what women have been given, but also storytelling. It wasn’t happening consistently in commercials so I had to move into a medium that was going to give me this opportunity to tell the stories. And that’s what TV has done.
Read the full Q&A HERE.
See Ramaa’s work HERE.