What the Executive Producer Wants from the Director
By Carol Barbee [Executive Producer on Jericho, Three Rivers, Swingtown, and Judging Amy]
As executive producer, I meet with the director and discuss the script. I welcome the director’s notes and we discuss her concerns. During the rewrite process, the director is welcome to continue noting the script. Once the script is approved by the network, the draft shouldn’t change except for location issues and little things that come up on the set.
The writer of the episode attends all prep meetings with the director and communicates any issues to me. The director is always welcome to discuss concerns with me.
I attend the tone meeting before shooting begins to talk the director through the episode and point out any particular moments I want to be sure that we get. I’ll also discuss anything we’ve learned about the actors and their ways of working to prepare the director for what she may face.
I try to visit the set while the director is working, to make sure she is getting all necessary support and that the shooting is going well.
What Things Do You Wish Directors Knew About the Executive Producer’s Job?
Our biggest pressure is studio and network approval. As EP, I have a vision of what I want the episode to be and how I want the audience to feel. Often, the notes we are getting on a daily basis from the studio and network run counter to that vision and can blow us off course. I need the director to be my partner—to listen to my notes and also keep a watch on the story with me so we don’t lose our way in the process.
My favorite directors are the ones who love actors and engage them. Actors feel well taken care of when they think a director has a strong hand and is paying attention to the acting. It’s a strange thing to say, but in television, a lot of directors are shooters who leave the performances to the actors and don’t engage on that level. I need someone on that set to work with the actors, and if the director doesn’t do that, I’ll get those calls from the actors, which means leaving what I’m doing to come to the set. Most actors won’t be thrilled to see that director back for another episode.
What Advice Might You Give a Director Who is Just Starting Out?
Have a vision and passion for the story you’ve been asked to tell. You are the new blood, the fresh energy on a set that may have been going for a while. Having you come in with energy and enthusiasm gets everyone focused and excited.
Don’t try to rewrite the script. Respect the writers—you work for them and they will determine whether you’re asked back.
Make your days. Don’t obsess about small things or special shots you’ve been dying to do. The day goes by quickly. Tell the story. The more you do it, the faster you’ll become, and then you can get in all those cool shots and flourishes, but please tell the story first.
Don’t yell at the crew. Stay calm and communicate clearly.
Shoot inserts when you can. Takes a little longer, but it’s better than us having to redress sets and bring actors back during another episode. Sure, you’ll be long gone, but we’ll remember who left all that work undone.
I have such respect for what television directors do. You come into a party that’s already in progress—full of personalities and dramas—and you take charge. You become the leader for a week or two. People look to you for answers and for confidence in their own work. At the same time, you have to collaborate with a team of people you may have never met and didn’t choose. Be decisive. Communicate clearly. Come to the EP if you have concerns. We want you to do well. We want a kickass episode. We want you to love working on our show. We want to want you back.
Excerpted from Directors Tell the Story: Master the Craft of Television and Film Directing by Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli © 2011 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.