So as we finished the last shot of the day at around 7PM on Sunday after a long day of shooting, there was a sadness in the air between cast and crew. Is this it? You could feel a real hunger and want to get back to this as soon as possible and find out what happens between these two characters.
For those that have not chatted with me in the last 2-3 months, “Henry and Emma” is about a bitter scriptwriter that has not made “it” and his crush on his bright-eyed neighbor that has recently moved to LA with her boyfriend to follow her dream of being a comedian. When I first began writing this back in January, the only thing I knew was… It has to be cheap and no SFX/Props, or multiple characters. So the idea of a man trapped in his apartment in a city that flaunts the success that eludes him was particularly interesting to me.
The other aspect that pervades all my work is the idea of oppression, namely in this case, the oppression of women in the industry. I wanted to write something that was funny and accessible, but also highlighted the struggles of what it was like to be a woman trying to break in. Enter Henry. A bitter white male that believes he never caught a break, but he’s a genius. Enter Emma, this talented/smart girl that’s coming from Ohio with literally nothing and has to break in, but is super positive anyway. What a lovely combination. As I distributed drafts to friends, consistently the men who read it would sympathize with Henry for being in the “friend zone”, while the women would sympathize with Emma because they knew the headache waiting for her. This to me was good.
Bless Dave Sorafine, the producer and magic man of the project. This project begins and ends with Dave. He initially asked me back in November if I could write him something that his company, Sherwood Productions, could shoot. First draft of the season, he gave me his notes, and then on the second, he just said we’re good to go. From the get-go, there was a trust between us that you don’t always get. I trusted him with production, he trusted me with creative. And it was the greatest thing in the world. Now on to casting.
One of the concessions of the budget was that I do casting directing. I should be diplomatic, but the most soul-crushing thing in the world is going through headshots and reels. The avalanche of artists that haven’t put time or thought into their craft is painful. Somehow I managed to cobble together the 30 or so people to bring in to an audition. Dave and Chris Viglone, also producing/DPing, ran the audition from LA. I received the tape later that night. We conferred. I made the phone calls. And we were cast. And in a few days, I was on a flight to LA. It was on the flight that it dawned on me… “Dude… you’re directing this… Whoa.”
Honestly, I had no idea how this was going to go. Friday night was the rehearsal. I’m sitting there with the two actors, Dave Gironda Jr & Teresa Decher, and Dave and Chris. We all introduce ourselves and everyone seems nice enough. Then we start the cold read. And then it happens. The first laugh. That’s all I need. Just give me one genuine laugh to know that this is all going be okay. And from there, we all started clicking. It was amazing because there was no ego on the set. Everyone knew their job. Everyone contributed. And most importantly, everyone wanted to make the best possible show and it was awesome.
What I quickly figured out and loved was my directing style is not this is authoritarian dictatorship, its figuring out collectively the best ideas and executing that. For example, one of my concerns was… We don’t have an art director on this. Quickly, we realize that Chris has this covered from picking out the outfits to arting the counter-top of every scene. The true joy was reconstructing the scenes and letting the actors play with the lines and feeling out what works and what does not work.
I understood the characters better after we were finished. One of my fears with the “Emma” character was I don’t want this character to be a ditz, yet I deliberately wanted to write a feminist that’s not an academic. Teresa interjected a really weird/goofy side to the character that I loved. All of sudden made this relationship much interesting and palpable. And David, there was this weird seriousness that makes me laugh every time Henry is disturbed. And all of this came out of the conversations that we had about the characters. Some of my favorite moments was just talking to Dave G and Teresa about the characters.
(Side Note: Dave Gironda said "No" to us once and it was over a proposed stunt that involved jumping, a coffee-maker, and possible injury... Then did it anyway... The mark of a great actor.)
And then it ended around 7PM on Sunday and we were all left wondering, will we see more “Henry and Emma.” Dave and Chris are hard at work editing it together so we’ll have to wait and see what the fate of the series is. Regardless, it was an absolutely lovely experience and I am forever thankful to everyone involved because at around 7 PM on Sunday, I was a better artist.