Craig Zisk made the jump from television with The English Teacher and as he says, “It was right up my alley.” Considering the work he has done on TV, especially his seven-year stint at Showtime making The Big C, Weeds and The United States of Tara, making a movie about a strong woman with flaws and barriers to circumvent was as easy a shift as a director could make.
We caught up with Zisk for an exclusive interview where he talked about the challenges of the short movie shoot, the magic of star Julianne Moore (as teased in The English Teacher trailer) and what it was specifically about the film that he felt ready to tackle the big screen.
Movie Fanatic: If you had to pick a “best day” filming The English Teacher, could you… and what would it be?
Craig Zisk: Every day was pretty great. I was fortunate that it was a smooth transition into filmmaking. I would say the day we were at the theater, towards the end of filming, where we had 500 extras and we were doing the play. In terms of on-set excitement -- that would be the day. But, there were so many great days and since we only had 23 days to shoot the movie, every day had to count [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: What did you see in this story that you wanted to make it your feature film debut?
Craig Zisk: I’ve always been attracted to great characters. I was fortunate to direct a lot of dramas, as well as comedy, and the underlying theme on all the shows I’ve worked on and produced and directed were interesting, somewhat flawed characters. When I read The English Teacher, especially Lind’s character had an incredible voice and had all the flaws that I like to see that challenge an actor. The screenwriters gave each character such a specific voice, and their own journeys, that I knew we could attract a great cast. Everyone would have a meaty part to play. I’ve always liked stories that had self reflection and transformation.
Movie Fanatic: So true. Given your work on The United States of Tara and Weeds, this was a match made in heaven?
Craig Zisk: [Laughs] It was right up my alley! After seven years at Showtime, which were incredible working with such amazing actors, like Mary Louise Parker and Toni Collette and Laura Linney, these shows had incredibly strong, but flawed woman -- reading The English Teacher, they all share that common bond of being somewhat flawed and trying to make the right decision and having it backfire on them. It always creates a much more interesting story when the character has something to play against, an obstacle.
Movie Fanatic: The woman at the heart of The English Teacher is played by Julianne Moore. She is astounding. Having a front row seat to her talent, what will be your biggest memory from the experience of working with her?
Craig Zisk: She’s incredible, but she’s an even better person than an actor. She’s generous and that makes working with her very enjoyable. The crew loves her. She has such confidence in making choices with her character that we always saw eye to eye on. There was never a moment where I feared if it would work out. She is beyond amazingly talented. But, the one thing I always appreciated about her is her willingness to take risks and to do these intense movies where you are doing it for the passion of the material.
Movie Fanatic: You’ve had experience with network and cable TV and now film, how is the process different directing for television, cable television and film? Or is it?
Craig Zisk: I think there are some similarities, specifically with The English Teacher in terms of the schedule. Like I mentioned, we only had 23 days to make the movie and that is the pace of a television show. The differences are really in the process before you get to the set. Something I’ve never had to concern myself with is where the financing is coming from. With a movie, that’s there. I found it really interesting to me. I had three great teachers in the producers of The English Teacher.
For more about the film, check out our The English Teacher review.