How 4 of Hollywood's Most Powerful (and Busiest) Women Spend Their Days

Watchmen BTS - Publicity - H 2019
Van Redin/HBO

'When They See Us' director, Ava DuVernay, 'Birds of Prey' writer Christina Hodson, 'Watchmen' executive producer/director Nicole Kassell and 'Tonight Show' head writer Nedaa Sweiss share their jam-packed schedules.

To illustrate what a jam-packed Hollywood schedule really is like, The Hollywood Reporter asked four top women in film and television to share their schedules from one of their recent busiest days. Array founder Ava DuVernay, director of When They See Us, picked Nov. 6, 2019, a day that included seeing her cover profile in Glamour magazine appear, promoting her 29th theatrical release from Array, video editing, giving opening remarks at a change-makers summit, attending an awards show and ending the day enjoying a sundae at Sunset Tower. Watchmen director and EP Nicole Kassell shared what it was like on May 21, 2018, when she flew from New York to Atlanta to finalize the pilot episode of the HBO show. Birds of Prey writer Christina Hodson gave a view into her day on Nov. 4, 2019, when she did final mix playback of the 2020 DC movie starring Margot Robbie. And The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon head writer Nedaa Sweiss gave a behind-the-scenes look at Nov. 12, 2019, a day where Kristen Bell dropped by to do some Disney songs with Fallon.

Nicole Kassell 
Executive producer/director, Watchmen (May 21, 2018) 

My Day: 

4 a.m. Wake up and sneak out of the house without waking the family to catch my flight from New York City to Atlanta.

6:30 a.m. On the plane, I draft my "Here We GO!" letter to the crew. This is my first time running the whole thing!

8:30 a.m. My amazing assistant Emily greets me at the airport, kombucha in hand. We head straight to the production offices at Atlanta Metro Studios. When I get to my office, I light a candle and have a hot green tea.

9-9:30 a.m. I review the storyboards for the Tulsa 1921 scenes and give final notes. Then I go over our final show-and-tell presentation for the studio to show what the pilot will look like, which I'll present later tonight.

10-10:30 a.m. Meet with costume designer Sharen Davis and pilot DP Andrij Parekh to discuss Sister Night's [Regina King] costume. There've already been many meetings to land how her costume will look, including deep dives into fabric samples to assess texture and how it translates onscreen.

10-11:30 a.m. Meet with VFX and team to decide how to do the sequence where baby squids rain down from the sky. Do we build actual baby squids? We decide to do it all via VFX because of safety.

11:30 a.m.- 12 p.m. Review approvals for props, including a dummy baby and the pattern for the new American flag in our alternate universe.

12-2 p.m. Eat a smattering of something somewhat healthy in a to-go container, from the production crew lunch, on the car ride to the rehearsal for the Oklahoma! musical number.

2-3 p.m. Go over editing of Trust in the Law, the black-and-white movie that will play in the opening of the pilot episode. We filmed it during preproduction so that we could have the actual movie playing in the theater.

3-4 p.m. Cast rehearsal. I meet with Jeremy Irons and discuss using the look of his character as a way in. Should his hair be blond, or pure gray, or what shade of silver?

4-6 p.m. Pilot production meeting, our last big get-together with the whole crew before filming begins. Logistics and final decisions.

6:30 p.m. I call to say hello to my family during their dinner, while taking a stroll and putting some food in my mouth.

7 p.m. My call starts for the show-and-tell presentation with Damon [Lindelof], our other show execs and Warner Bros. execs in L.A. We hang a room like a gallery with big boards. I have it on PowerPoint on my computer, so I can see what they are looking at in L.A. I feel like I am playing Vanna White, showing them locations, costumes and what things like cars and flags look like in this universe we're creating. It goes tremendously well. High fives around the room.

8-10 p.m. I drive home to my rented house in the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta. I have a nice long walk talking to my husband on the phone. I write an entry in my gratitude journal and drink tea. 

***

Ava DuVernay
Array founder; director, When They See Us (Nov. 6, 2019) 

My Day: 

Early morning I wake up to a call from my sister Tera on her way to work in Alabama. She works at the Equal Justice Initiative, overseeing the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I'm proud of her every day. 

Early morning Burning Cane, the 29th theatrical release from our arts collective Array, directed by 19-year-old Phillip Youmans, debuts on Netflix today. I go on social to post and promote.

Early morning While online I notice that the Glamour cover I'm on has dropped. An unopened email would have delivered the news. Lovely article by the lovely Elaine Welteroth. I send her a note.

Mid-morning Head to Array Creative Campus in Historic Filipinotown to finish my edit on Cherish the Day, episode 102. I wish I had a shot that doesn't exist. Due tonight.

Late morning Across one of our courtyards, our friends at Pop Culture Collaborative are having a summit. About 100 narrative-change advocates from across the country are on campus. I go over and give opening remarks.

Mid-afternoon One of our new projects drops in the trades: a project I'm working on with former Queen Sugar showrunner Kat Candler, a murder mystery set in the world of oil refineries. We're developing it for TNT. I call Kat and we are happy that the project is moving along.

Mid-afternoon I have a visit from Chris Chalk, one of my actors in When They See Us. He toured the campus and we catch up. I love when actors I've worked with come by to visit me.

Late afternoon Conference call with Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson. He's such a giant.

Early evening I take my Array colleagues Amber and Norma to the Sentinel Awards, where When They See Us is being honored. I'm introduced by my sweeties, young actors Ethan Herisse and Asante Blackk. Isis King is also there. We all take the stage with my producing partner Berry Welsh. I give my speech, and we enjoy watching others give theirs.

Early evening End the night at Sunset Tower Bar with Amber and Norma. Ice cream sundaes are in order.

***

Christina Hodson
Writer, Birds of Prey (Dec. 4, 2019) 

My Day: 

5:30 a.m. Wake up in what feels like the middle of the night. Walk the new 6-month-old puppy I got to help with stress and anxiety, whose anxiety problems are my latest source of stress.

7 a.m. Final mix playback of Birds of Prey (the DC movie I wrote and co-produced) on the Warner Bros lot. Probably the 700th and final time I will watch it before its Feb. 7 release.

9 a.m. Catch a moment with BOP producer Sue Kroll post-screening to discuss our next project: a female-driven action thriller for HBO Max. We are in the process of meeting potential writers.

9:30 a.m. Daily FaceTime with niece and nephew (Jeanie, 7, and Otis, 5) in London.

10 a.m. Arrive at Lucky Exports Pitch Program (LEPP) room and touch base with the six participating writers. We are coming to the end of the monthlong initiative — a joint venture between Hodson Exports and Margot Robbie's LuckyChap — to address the lack of diversity in the feature writing space. This week we are focusing on the art of the studio pitch.

10:30 a.m. Vocal coach Liz Himelstein, the final guest speaker, arrives at the LEPP room. Focus today will be on projection, tone and self-confidence when pitching.

11:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Back-to-back mock pitches (and feedback) for all six writers in a simulated studio setting. Fifteen-minute lunch break where I attempt, and fail, to catch up on inbox.

6 p.m. Arrive home. Work on the Flash script for DC in home office. Handwrite first, then type.

8 p.m. Meet up with friends to watch mindless television in sweatpants.

10:30 p.m. Return home to the puppy, Maine Coon cat, and my producer husband, Matthew Plouffe, and download on the day. Reciprocal story-solving services offered. Also cuddles. 

***

Nedaa Sweiss
Head writer, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (Nov. 12, 2019) 

My Day: 

6:30 - 8:30 a.m. Wake up and meditate with the Headspace app. Have coffee. Emails. Read for 20 minutes. Get the F train. I listen to podcasts (The DailyDolly Parton's America).

8:30- 8:45 a.m. At the office, I try to get things in order, like prepping creative elements, from sketches to game ideas for upcoming guests.

9-10 a.m. Meetings with our sketch supervisor and head monologue writer. Today's big sketch is "History of Disney," a mashup of Disney songs Jimmy will sing with guest Kristen Bell.

10- 10:30 a.m. Writers meeting. It's the only time the staff writers (around 11 of us) are all in one place.

10:30 - 11 a.m. Staff production meeting. Writer Becky Krause launches into singing "Beauty and the Beast."

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. Daily creative meeting with Jimmy. We take bets on which writer wrote a joke that Jimmy particularly likes. Gerard Bradford ends up being right and Jimmy pays him 10 bucks.

1:30 p.m. Eat a salad in my office and give notes out of creative to departments and writers.

2:30 - 4:15 p.m. Kristen Bell arrives early and asks if she can watch the blocking of the Disney sketch. Jimmy joins and they rehearse music and practice choreography. Kristen gets it immediately, Jimmy has to catch up with it.

4:30 p.m. Read through the monologue with Jimmy in the green room. He scans the cue cards and makes last-minute changes.

5 p.m. We start the show. Do "History of Disney" twice and use the second take.

6:15 p.m. Post-show meeting with the producers and Jimmy in the green room.

7:30 p.m. Leave to get dinner with my friend, writer Matt Whitaker, at the Strip House, our usual spot for a steak and a martini. I make it a rule to talk about work for no more than 20 minutes.

9:30 p.m. Arrive home. I always light a candle, read for a bit, FaceTime my sister to see my nephew in Chicago, and watch some TV (lately, Great British Bake Off).

10:30 p.m. Journal and go to bed.

A version of this story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.