Television Director Bethany Rooney Dishes on Life Behind a Camera

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Beth Rooney (center w/ hat) directs on the set of Criminal Minds.

As part of Ringling College’s push to “dispel the myth of the starving artist,” as Dr. Larry Thompson puts it, the college has continued to find successful creators from diverse fields to share insights into careers in creative professions. This past Tuesday, television director Bethany Rooney, who’s resume includes over 200 episodes of primetime television shows and numerous made-for-TV movies, spoke with media and students about her career in broadcast television, how it’s changed, and the importance of mentoring the next generation of directors.

“When I first started directing, less than 10% of director’s were women,” says Rooney. Her rise in the world of television directing was in many ways an uphill battle in a world many would call a boy’s club. Her first big break came in 1982 when she directed an episode of St. Elsewhere. From there, her career climbed steadily through the 90s. In that time, she developed something of a niche in police procedurals and dramas like Criminal Minds, NCIS, Desperate Housewives and Touched by an Angel.

Working on these shows, she learned the importance of being able to think quickly and jump into the middle of a storyline already in full swing. “I may not know my part in it until what is essentially the last minute,” she says, “but that’s part of the challenge and the joy of it, because in seven days I’m going to have to cast and select locations and shoot that episode.” She got good enough over time that her work became steady, allowing her some time to think about how to leave her mark in other ways.

“A big passion in my life is helping the next generation of tv directors start their careers,” she says. To that end, she sits on the board of the Director’s Guild of America, working to help increase diversity and inclusion in the field. And her efforts, as well as those of her fellow members like Jon Favreau and Ron Howard, have paid off. “I believe in the 2018-2019 season, something like 34% of television dramas were directed by women,” she says, “and I think that has a huge impact on the way a story gets told.”

And as broadcast television continues to carve out its future in light of ever-growing streaming options, Rooney also offers a lesson in acceptance and optimism. “A lot of the streaming services just won’t hire broadcast television directors because, frankly, some of the services think they’re better than broadcast television,” she says. “I’ve accepted that broadcast television directors probably won’t be winning tons of awards anymore, but it’s hard to be sad when ten million people are still watching something you directed.”

But of all the genres she has worked on, the one she would never direct is horror. “As a director, you have to absorb a story completely,” she says, “and horror is just something I don’t want in my head. If I can make a show in which kindness makes a difference, that’s a good feeling.”

Pictured: Beth Rooney (center w/ hat) directs on the set of Criminal Minds.

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