• Television

Emmy Winning Director Mary Lou Belli Honored by the Alliance of Women Directors

Two-time Emmy award-winning Mary Lou Belli has been directing television for over 30 years. She was recently nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Comedy Directing as well as another Emmy in the Children’s Programming category. Mary Lou has served two terms as the Co-chair of the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA. She is an Advisory Board member of Women in Media and also serves on the Advisory Circle of Film Fatales. She is a longtime member of Women in Film as well as the Peer Group Executive Committee of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on which she presently serves as one of the Governors. Mary Lou is also the co-author of four books including “Directors Tell the Story” and “Acting for the Screen.” This month, Belli was honored at the second International Women’s Five Star celebration by the Alliance of Women Directors, on which she serves as an honorary Board member.

I attended the event and had the pleasure to talk with this show business icon whom many consider to be a “force of nature.”

How did you know you wanted to be a director?

After my Conservatory years, I worked as an actor, singer and dancer. Soon, I realized that what I enjoyed the most was putting the puzzle together. I loved script analysis and the choreography of the scenes. I looked forward to the rehearsal process, but then, when it was all coordinated, I just wanted to leave. After considering some alternate careers such as culinary school, psychology, law school and producing, I found myself going almost daily to the AFI library to read books in directing. That’s when I started understanding what my calling was, and it all made sense. Some friends started to allow me on their film sets and that’s where I really learned about cameras. A director always needs to get results and I thrived on that. Set protocol, organization, leadership qualities – these were all pre-requisites for this job, and I believed I could make it happen.

You have an impressive list of credits that range from NCIS New Orleans to Monk and The Game. What would be your advice on how to start getting work as a director?

Having an agent is the route to go. However, no agent is going to look at you until you are at the point of getting a job. I would submit work to film festivals. I would build social media currency: having one million followers on Tik Tok means something. Also, I would be the person people like to work with. This is very much a relationship-based business and that’s very important to have that in mind.

Diversity and Inclusion are very relevant topics in today’s TV and film panoramas. While at the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA you were at the helm of some policies that helped create awareness and change. What gave you the incentive to pursue that work?

While I was teaching at USC, I came across a very interesting statistic. 51% of the students were female: however, only five percent of those were actually getting jobs. Through the DGA we managed to negotiate a change that was led at the studio and network level. That got results and continues to do so. Making sure women have a fair chance in the job market was something that needed to be done. There are now many organizations that work towards making sure everyone is having an opportunity in this field of work. The Alliance of Women Directors is an example. It is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of women and gender non-binary directors working in the entertainment industry. It’s an exciting time for young artists. I also dedicate a lot of time to mentoring female directors. It is important to give back.

What are you working on next?

I will soon go to Atlanta to shoot the fourth season of The Ms. Pat Show. I will direct and co-executive produce it.