Q&A: Director Lev Spiro discusses professional rise and work experience

Alessandra Jara

Radio-television-film alumnus Lev Spiro traveled to Los Angeles with only two short films in his pocket, but has since directed more than 150 episodes, pilots and features for television. He has worked on Emmy Award-winning series such as “Orange is the New Black,” “Modern Family,” “Weeds” and “Arrested Development.” The Daily Texan spoke with Spiro about his work after graduating and his views on directing.

The Daily Texan: What kind of film experience did you have before coming to UT?

Lev Spiro: I did not have very much film experience before I came to UT. The very last semester I was in school in Wisconsin, I took my first film course and fell in love with it. I decided I needed to get proper training and that’s why I came to UT. The best thing Austin did for me is it gave me a safe, cloistered place to make films and learn from great teachers. That’s what launched my career.

DT: After graduating from UT, how did you break into the industry?

LS: It was a long process. The first job I got was as a Universal Studios tour guide for $5.50 an hour with my master’s degree in my pocket. That’s where I met a [producer] who saw my film and said, “This is really good. Call these four agencies, tell them that I saw your movie and that they should watch it.” 

So here I am, two months after coming to town and suddenly I have an agent. I thought someone was going to give me five or 20 million dollars to make my first feature, and that didn’t happen. I ended up marketing myself as a sound production mixer, but meanwhile, I still tried to show my film to producers and eventually that worked. 

DT: How is directing an episode different from directing a pilot or feature?

LS: When I direct episodes, I do a lot of homework to figure out the style of the show and I try to stay faithful to that. When I’m directing [pilots and features], I’m the principal filmmaker because I’m creating an original world. You’re really coming in with nothing except the words on the page. Directing episodes is my bread and butter and I love it. You get to immerse yourself in a different imaginary creative world in every set that you walk on, but I don’t go on to “Modern Family” and say, “Well, I’m going to direct this any way I want to.” They’ve already figured out this world, but I push a little bit. I always bring something of myself to every episode.

DT: What do you love most about your job?

LS: Directing is not a 9 a.m.–5 p.m. job. You work very hard for a period of weeks or months and at the end, you have a film or television show; you have something that you helped create. I also like that as a director, I get to plunge into very different worlds and learn about them. You get to explore the medical world, the legal world, the crime world, space. I can’t think of any other job where you get to go out and create these worlds and film them.

Spiro will continue discussing his career trajectory and perspectives on directing at 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at the Belo Center for New Media 5.208 as a speaker for RTF’s Media Industry Conversations.