Profile: "Pretty Little Liars" & "The Vampire Diaries" Director Joshua Butler

Joshua Butler is an award-winning director, writer, and editor. His directing credits include The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Ravenswood, Twisted, State of Affairs, The Following, Limitless and Crisis. He is currently directing new episodes of Freeform’s Shadowhunters  and SyFy's The Magicians. He also co-produced and directed an LGBT short, House Not Home.

Photo Courtesy of Brant Brogan

Check out our Q&A with Joshua below:

Her Campus: When did you decide you wanted to become a director?

Joshua Butler: First of all, thank you to Her Campus for having me! I decided to become a director on my 8th birthday, after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and then getting a video camera as a present. It’s like receiving that proverbial call from the universe where all of a sudden your destiny becomes clear. Ever since that moment, I haven’t pursued anything other than filmmaking.

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Butler/via Instagram

HC: What was your favorite thing about working on Shadowhunters? What was it like working with the cast?

JB: I just finished directing the Season 2A Finale of Shadowhunters and it was an amazing experience. I loved reuniting with the executive producer Matt Hastings, who I had worked with on The Originals. Matt assembled an incredible Season 2 staff and it was an absolute blast working with my assistant director David MacLeod, director of photography David Herrington, production designer Doug McCullough, the mind-blowing stunt team led by Darren McGuire, the incredible visual effects department supervised by Philippe Thibault and the rest of what was one of the best crews I’ve ever known. As for the cast, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer, more professional group of actors. I got to work again with my friend Isaiah Mustafa (who I had directed in Nikita) and had a spectacular time with Kat McNamara, Dom Sherwood, Alberto Rosende, Matt Daddario, Emeraude Toubia, Alan Van Sprang, Harry Shum Jr., David Castro, Nick Sagar, Alisha Wainwright and a supporting cast that never failed to impress. My episode being a season finale, the script—written by masterful showrunners Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer—was truly epic and beautiful and we all brought our A-game to make it a very fitting close to what I hope will be Shadowhunters’ breakout season.

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Butler/via Instagram

HC: Can you tell us any behind-the-scenes secrets from The Vampire Diaries?

JB: Having directed 11 episodes of The Vampire Diaries—many of which are fan-favorites—I definitely feel very connected to the cast and crew and consider the online #TVDFamily one I’m extremely proud to be a part of.  On social media I’ve been called the “Delena King”, which is a shipper reference to a lot of iconic moments I’ve directed on the show involving the central romance between Damon and Elena. As a director, I helped create a lot of those moments by designing scenes around songs that I chose to elevate the emotions in the narrative, songs like Ryan Star’s “Losing Your Memory”, Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close”, Andrew Ripp’s “When You Fall In Love”, Plumb’s “I Don’t Deserve You” and Kerli’s “Chemical”. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing feedback from the fans that they’re getting major feels from those types of directorial decisions made behind the scenes.    

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Butler/via Instagram

HC: What can you tell us about working on Pretty Little Liars and Ravenswood with Marlene King?

JB: Marlene King is far and away one of the most brilliant people I’ve met in Hollywood. Her ability to create must-watch television is almost unparalleled and I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her on Pretty Little Liars and Ravenswood. I always encourage people to seek out Ravenswood if they haven’t seen it, because even though only 10 episodes were produced, I think it is an incredibly strong series and it should have gone for many more seasons. My episode “Along Came A Spider” contains some really terrific moments and directorial flourishes that I’m quite proud of.

Photo Courtesy of Brant Brogan

HC: What is it like working on The Magicians again?

JB: The 3 episodes of The Magicians that I’ve worked on are 3 of the best-written hours of television I’ve ever directed, thanks to Henry Alonso Myers, Mike Moore, Noga Landau and a superlative writing staff.  Hopefully Season 2 will—like Shadowhunters—be a breakout season, because I think The Magicians deserves the biggest audience imaginable.  John McNamara and Sera Gamble adapted the series from the books by Lev Grossman and all of them—John, Sera and Lev—are extremely interested in what happens when people are gifted with magic and have to wrestle with its power the same way they have to manage the influence of sex and drugs in their lives.  Often the show is called an “adult Harry Potter” but I see it as much more in the vein of Dead Poets Society, with its supernatural elements serving to heighten a very powerful coming-of-age narrative.  There is something so lovely about a science fiction show that also delves deep into the hearts and souls of its characters. 

HC: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Scenarios USA organization and your short film House Not Home?

JB: Scenarios USA holds a competition every two years for high school students across America, where students are encouraged to submit stories that are either based on their own life stories or inspired by experiences that have affected them as teenagers. Three winning students are chosen, and those students are paired with Hollywood filmmakers to develop their stories into short films.  The films are shot in the winning students’ hometowns, air on Showtime, and are then sold to high schools across the country as part of a curriculum.  I was paired with the winning student from Scenarios USA’s 2014 contest, a student named Skyler Edge from Cleveland, Ohio.  Skyler is a transgender teenager who wrote a story called House Not Home about the struggle of a trans teen to come out to their peers and family, as well as the devastating effects bullying has on teen lives.  Over the course of two months, Skyler and I developed this story into a screenplay and then at the end of November 2014, I went to Cleveland to turn that screenplay into a film.  One month after I directed House Not Home, Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn killed herself by walking in front of a semi-truck.  Leelah was trans, and experienced intolerance from both her classmates and her parents, who refused to call her anything except her birth name Joshua. Before Leelah died, she left a suicide note on Tumblr, which is one of the most moving pieces of writing I’ve ever read.  In her note, she says that in order for her death to mean something, schools need to start discussing gender in their classrooms. With House Not Home, I feel like I’ve taken a step towards the reality that Leelah envisioned. I hope she is watching from above and seeing how meaningful her words have been to all of us.

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Ilic

HC: Do you have any favorite college memories, even though you went to U$C? (Go Bruins!)

JB: I studied directing at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television. While I was there, I wrote and directed a 12-minute short film called Will Work For Food, which played at many festivals after I graduated.  Making Will Work For Food is probably my favorite college memory as I was in the prestigious and legendary 480 class that many great filmmakers before me had taken. 

HC: What advice do you have for college students interested in a career in the entertainment industry, specifically as a director?

JB: The very last day at USC Film School, right after graduation, the school sends you to a career counselor who says just one thing to every student when they leave: “It’s all about networking.” As a film student who had just spent four years at an esteemed institution, it was difficult to hear, because you kind of expect that a school like USC would make it easy for you to enter the industry based on its connections. At the time, I resisted that message because it was so simple, and yet I look back on it as the best piece of advice I ever received. It is all about networking and relationships. It does not matter how talented you are or what your college diploma says.  You need to be out there making sure that people know you’re talented. The more people you know, the better the chance you have at succeeding in a business where often, it really does come down to access. Plus, there’s no excuse for any aspiring filmmaker not to be making films. It has never been easier for a director to use readily available technology to make something that looks incredibly professional for very little money. The trick is how to be as creative as possible to make something that can stand out in the age of the Internet, which is a very noisy place from a content perspective and directors need to shout louder and louder for their cinematic voices to be heard.

Make sure to follow Joshua on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with his adventures.