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Director Jeremy Podeswa’s five top tips for success

ANTHONY JENKINS/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian director and filmmaker made the move to TV on the cusp of its golden age. Today his résumé – Six Feet Under, Weeds, Dexter, True Blood, Homeland, The Walking Dead, The Newsroom and the current season of Boardwalk Empire – reads like a road map of small-screen excellence. Here, Jeremy Podeswa shares some of the secrets to his success and a killer sex scene

You don't want to be the most talented person in the room

One of the things you forget about working with these living legends like Steve Buscemi, Jessica Lange, Jeff Daniels is that they are who they are for a reason. Working with amazing actors can really bring up your game. Even after all this time I can still get astonished by a performance. Claire Danes in Homeland just blew me away. She is so intuitive and her choices are so unique. When you see somebody like that work you just have to stop in your tracks. It is a lesson in what good acting really is and it is so inspiring to be around. It can be easy, especially in television to think, okay that's good or that's good enough – let's move on, but when you see people like Claire or Jessica giving so much, you take a step back and think about how something could be better or more informed.

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Being nice is nice

I have a sense of perspective about things. As much as I am so serious about what I do, I know that we're creating a television show or a movie. We're not curing a disease, we're not waging war. There's no need to be a megalomaniac or a tyrant. The best way I know to get good work out of people is to create a good environment so that people have a good experience. I try to always hold up my own end by being prepared. What you put out is what you get back. Talent is obviously very important, but it's also about how you approach the work and, you know, maybe this is a Canadian thing, but it's good to be nice.

Sex Scenes 101

In Queer as Folk we had three or four sex scenes in every episode, so I got used to doing that very early on. Those kinds of scenes can be challenging. They take a bit of time and everyone's a bit nervous. My strategy is to ve very clear and specific. A lot of actors want to know the very matter-of-fact details: Where is the camera going to be? Are you going to see my butt? I want them to feel secure and know that they're not going to be tricked into something they don't want to do. It's about creating a safe environment.

Stick to your guns: the theory

I've never felt that the road to success is to take something that has been successful and try to mimic it. Innovation is so much more prized. You have to present a point of view that's unique – that's what attracts people to your work. Of course, there is always the risk that the more you refine your work the less people it's going to appeal to, but ultimately the only way to stand out is by offering something that isn't readily available.

Stick to you guns: the payoff

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I lived very modestly for a long time because I was very committed to only doing work that I believed in. What I tell younger filmmakers all the time is you are what you make. Especially these days: your resume is online and you can't hide anything. I was offered Six Feet Under because the creator of the show read the script for my movie The Five Senses and really liked it. Later I asked him why he picked me. Everyone wanted to work on that show and he said that he wasn't interested in hiring a name, he just wanted someone with the right sensibility.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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