Article published in Dropline.biz on April 17, 2006
Director—Leonard R. Garner, Jr.
By Dino M. Zaffina
Leonard R. Garner, Jr., “Lenny” as he is known by some, has paved a road to a successful television directing career. Lenny’s journey began in ’74 by earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Syracuse University, School of Dramatic Arts. A year after relocating to Los Angeles, Lenny was accepted into the prestigious Assistant Directors Training Program offered by the Directors Guild of America (“DGA”). Approximately two years later in March of ’77, Lenny graduated from the program and soon became a baby bird out of the nest.
Now, a co-Chair of the Board of Trustees, Garner explains the importance of the program. “I really believe in the program in terms of the networking and invaluable information that it provides. For me when I came out to Los Angeles I didn’t know anyone in the entertainment industry and it was a great opportunity to make contacts. Also, I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of the business. The program provides hands on training, seminars about the contracts, and about all the different facets of production.”
Traditionally, acquiring employment in any area of the Motion Picture and Television Industry was predominantly driven by nepotism. Even today there are a lot of times when a P.A. (Production Assistant), is hired on a production because of who they know or are related to in the business.
Like others before him, Lenny did not have the privilege of having a family member or friend in the business to either get him started or to educate him. “Even in college at the time for me, Syracuse’s program was so theatre oriented that coming out here it was like a different ball of wax,” Lenny said. “I didn’t have any idea of the business when I first came out here.”
The DGA trainee program takes approximately two years to complete. To complete the program a candidate has to accumulate 400 working days. The trainee program assigns individuals work. “This is the only time in the business where you are going get assigned work through the DGA,” said Garner. “They place trainees on various productions. The idea is to get you to work on as many different types of projects and train under different people. The people that you work with become your contacts, so when you graduate from the program and join the guild, this is how you will find work.” This is how it all worked for Lenny Garner. The people that he impressed while working his way up through the ranks are the same people who have been hiring him as a director.
Leonard R. Garner, Jr. did not become a television director overnight. When he first arrived in Los Angeles he had his sights set on an acting career. Joining the DGA trainee program did not stifle those dreams, they enhanced them. Garner pursued both careers simultaneously; sometimes one providing a job in the other. While working as a second assistant director (“AD”) on The Blue Brothers, Garner was also given a role in the movie by director John Landis, who knew that he was also an actor. This part allowed Garner to get his “A” card with the Screen Actors Guild.
During the ’80s and ’90s Lenny worked in both areas of the business. Sometimes he would work as an actor on shows that he was working on as an AD, and there were other times that he was hired strictly as an actor. Lenny acted in various projects, including Cheers, A Very Brady Christmas, Moonlighting, Pink Cadillac, and Laurel Avenue, among many others. “I was bouncing back and forth,” Lenny said.
Garner believes that one of the things that helped him, not just getting his shot to direct, but also to make the transition to become a real director, was the producers’ knowledge that he was an actor and that he had a funny bone. Garner said, “A lot of times producers would give an AD a couple of episodes a year just to keep them happy and on the show.” That is the one thing that Garner was adamant about when he received his first few directing jobs. He told the producers, “If you guys give me this opportunity I want to be viewed as any other director, I want the real criticism, and I want to know that if I have something here that you will give me some more opportunities.”
Clearly the show runners of comedy television viewed Lenny as a true director because to date he has directed over 100 sitcoms, including Courting Alex, Eve, According to Jim, My Wife and Kids, King of Queens, NewsRadio, and Just Shoot Me. (See More Directing Credits).
Garner explained that he feels that his acting background has been a tremendous help in his directing career. Not only does it help him to understand what actors and actresses go through in their performances, but he also believes that acting classes are useful in life in general. He said, “I tell almost everybody, that regardless of what you are going to do in life, I think that everybody should take an acting class. I find it helpful. It forces you to take criticism and immediately use it constructively, because a lot of other times criticism comes a lot slower. As an actor you’ll prepare something, you’ll come in and do it, and they’ll say, okay, now, try this, this, and this and you have to shift those gears immediately and you can’t get locked into feeling put upon or frustrated because that’s not going to help the process. I think that is only going to help you later on in life no matter what you are doing. A lot of people get hung up on the criticism, they let it shut them down for awhile or they view it that way.”
A couple of years ago Lenny was hired by some independent producers to go down to Brazil and teach sitcom directing to the Brazilians. They are trying to develop sitcoms for the Brazilian market which is something that they do not have down there. “I conducted a training course. It was very interesting and a lot of fun to do,” said Lenny. “It is always great when you see people interested in learning something new.”
It was the first time that Lenny had really taught. He said, “There are a lot of opportunities in the teaching mode where you find out how much you really know by people asking you questions. You walk around knowing in your mind how everything is supposed to work and then all of a sudden as you are in conversations with people and they are asking you questions, then you have to explain, ‘this is why’ and ‘that is why’; it just kind of connects the dots.”
In 1994, Garner formed LRG Productions, Inc. to develop and produce projects. He is currently reviewing submitted material.
When he is not directing, Lenny enjoys spending time with his wife, Robin Hinz Garner and their two sons, Clayton and Colton.
Articles Written or Co-Authored by Dino M. Zaffina
© 2019 Dino M. Zaffina. All rights reserved.