Tanya Wexler is a New York City-based film and TV director. Her previous films include the critically acclaimed Hysteria, a Victorian-era comedy about the invention of the vibrator, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Rupert Everett, Felicity Jones, and Jonathan Pryce, which made its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where it sold to Sony Pictures Classics and was released in 2012.
Wexler also directed the feature films Ball in the House, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (released as Relative Evil) and starred Jennifer Tilly, David Strathairn, Jonathan Tucker, and Ethan Embry, and Finding North (which played at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Outfest, and Framline), starring Wendy Makkena and John Benjamin Hickey.
Projects currently in development include the film adaptation of Erica Jong's best-selling novel, Fear of Flying, and Girl With No Name, a revenge Western starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones). Wexler was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and received her BA in Psychology from Yale University. She lives in New York with her wife and four children.
On finding her way to filmmaking:
I was living in Los Angeles on a semester off from college, and I thought I was going to be an actor so I was auditioning and I needed to put myself on tape (before camera phones), so I madea short film with some friends of mine at AFI. The guy who was going to direct it asked me to re-write the script taking out all of the camera directions. He said, “That’s for the director to decide.” I said, “I don't know how to write it without these,” and that was my lightning moment where I realized that my brain had always been telling stories that way.
Her advice to women in film:
If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to find your voice or no one is going to make your movie. It’s a business of people who want people who have things to say. It’s more about standing your ground with yourself. Part of succeeding seems to be talent and part of it seems to be [surviving]in the face of all the walls that you come up against. And if what you’re trying to say isn’t being received, you may not be saying it clearly enough. You have to learn your craft and how to “practice” it in the most effective way possible.
On what she discovered through the research process for her feature film, Hysteria:
The writers did a lot of research, but I would say I discovered that a lot of women's history and the history of sexuality keeps getting buried. The original research that underpins it was shunned by mainstream academia for a long time, which led me to believe it’s our job to tell women’s —or any stories reflective of people not in the “dominant group.”
I also learned that female ducks have selective vaginas, which I had never known. More importantly, when I spoke to a foremost duck researcher I was informed that this was fairly new knowledge. Yet we'd known that male ducks have corkscrew-sized penises for quite some time, which just goes to show you, the person who tells the story or does the research very much colors what stories are told and what we pay attention to. Even now, if women act out or do something out of the ordinary they might be branded “crazy” or “nasty.” This has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years.
On where she finds inspiration in her daily life:
Inspiration generally finds me. My best ideas tend to happen in the morning when I’m in the shower and I don’t have a pencil anywhere handy (it’s super annoying).
On the filmmakers who inspire her:
A lot of filmmakers right now, who are friends of mine, inspire me because they do amazing work and also because we encourage and cheer for each other. I feel a sense of camaraderie rather than competition with them. [I’m thinking of people like] Kimberly Pierce, Lynn Shelton, Cherien Dabis, Shari Springer Berman, Laeta Kalogrides, and Marti Noxon.
On the advice she would give to her younger self:
Start writing more. It's very hard for a non-writing director to get work. Creating your own content is key.