Living the Actual Dream

Scandal airs today!

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Just my family with the cast of Scandal. You know – the usual. (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Today, I have one show in prep (Mistresses), one show in post (Grimm) and one that’s airing (Scandal). This marks the first time that has ever happened for me. This is basically living the dream. I may not have a lot of days like this, so it’s critical that I appreciate and enjoy it while it lasts. Pretty great day.

Cue the shutter clicks!

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Two Mistresses

I didn’t really get a chance to write about this, but hey, I’m directing another show! And hey, it’s starts this week! Mistresses on ABC. It’s Season 4 of the summer show and I’m directing episodes three and four of the season. I just got the job last month so I’ve been catching up on the previous seasons leading up to my episode.

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This poster is two seasons old – Alyssa Milano isn’t on the show anymore. Season 4 poster not out yet I believe.

The production does what’s known as “cross-boarding” where one director directs two episodes at once. They schedule locations that are in both episodes – say a coffee shop or bar or whatever – and shoot everything in that scene at once. This is the first time I’m doing this, so it’s that’ll be a fun new challenge.

They also shoot in LA – sort of. They film at these newer studios in Santa Clarita in the outskirts of town. So it will be a bit of a commute, but I’m excited to do these two Mistresses … the show. It’s important to add “the show” whenever talking about Mistresses on ABC.

Also, this past week I delivered my director’s cut of Grimm. There’s still a long way to go in post production, what with the visual effects and all. It’s a lot of fun going seamlessly from a fantasy procedural show to a soapy drama. That’s the fun of being a hitman director in TV.

Speaking of the mercenary life – the episode of Scandal I directed was supposed to air this past Thursday. But the preceding episode before mine was split into two (!) episodes. Likely because it went long and they liked a lot of the material, but that’s pretty amazing. So now it’s going to air March 10 – which means “Sharat Raju Shameless Self-Promotion Week” will be pushed to next week.

Now I go work on preparing for my two Mistresses The Show.

One Pretty Great Year

At Sunset Gower Studios between shooting scenes of Scandal. Note the Hollywood Sign in the background. (Photo Credit: Mitch Haddad)
At Sunset Gower Studios between shooting scenes of Scandal. Note the Hollywood Sign in the background. (Photo Credit: Mitch Haddad)

Well look at that – I managed to sneak in one final 2015 post. Not bad considering I’m out of the country and yesterday I was traveling with a small child.

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A better picture of my slate than the one I took with my cell phone camera. (Photo credit: Mitch Haddad)

As mentioned in the previous post, I had a tiny tiny tiny scene to shoot to finish my Scandal episode. Since the other episode was shooting its final scene on the same set on the final Friday before the holidays, they slated my scene at the end of that day.

So, by luck, I got to shoot the final scene of the calendar year for Scandal. It was really nice – had a chance to wish the cast and crew happy holidays and new year and thank crew members individually for their hard work and patience with me. Then, about six hours later, I got on a plane for the holidays.

Seven years before I directed Scandal on this stage, I was shadowing "October Road" here.
Seven years ago, I was shadowing on “October Road” on the same stage where I was just directing “Scandal.”

Personally speaking, there’s something fitting about me shooting the final scene of a show before all of Hollywood goes on break for the year. This year, 2015, has been a remarkable one for me that I still can’t quite believe.

A year ago at this time, I had recently directed an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – my first and only time directing episodic network television – and amazingly I had just been asked to direct a second one after the producers took a liking to my work.

Camera phone photo of my credit in Finding Carter
Camera phone photo of my credit in Finding Carter. Is there a better frame that could’ve represented both MTV and my work? I think not.

Fast forward to now, the final day of 2015 – I managed to successfully direct that second SVU, an episode of Finding Carter for MTV, and capped off the year with Scandal and an episode of Grimm is coming up in 2016 in a few weeks. Not to mention, a paid screenwriting job and I attached myself to a really great thriller script.

Also, the baby completed year one. (Seen below on set with the family and Executive Producer-Director Tom Verica and Camera Assistant/long-time friend Gayle Hilary.)

Family visits us on the set of Scandal.
Family visits us on the set of Scandal. (Photo Credit: Mitch Haddad)

Pretty amazing. Here’s hoping 2016 continues apace. Even if it doesn’t, 2015 was life changing and still a little unfathomable. I certainly will never forget it.

Happy New Year, five readers!

Before the Storm

Monday is my first official day of prep on Scandal. I know – hard to believe.

As you know, five readers, I’ve been shadowing on the currently filming episode 510 as a way to watch how they do it in Scandaltown* and it’s been fun. The crew is incredible – professional, welcoming, good natured. Tom Verica is just a great director and boss (he’s the “producing director” which is the in-house director and an executive producer – much of how the show runs from a production aspect is his domain) and he makes it look easy.

Which is one of the drawbacks of being on set too long with him – watching the master on his home court was perhaps lulling me into a sense of ease, or a false sense of security. His work with that crew and cast will be different than mine with the same crew and cast. It’s important for me to hang on to at least an iota of panic. Daryn Okada, the cinematographer for my episode and who I watched work with Tom on episode 510, said it’s better to say “concern” than “panic.” He’s probably right. But the point is to maintain that little edge that keeps me thinking and planning, as opposed to sitting back in the chair with the sense that everything will be fine.

That complacency is a surefire way to fail. So I’m going exercise… concern. And have fun.

Slate, with my name on it. I should take more of these type of photos in general.
Slate, with my name on it. I should take more of these type of photos in general.

Here’s a random photo from Finding Carter, my episode of which I believe is still in post production, though I’ve now gone to Scandaltown and don’t know for sure.

More updates to come, starting next week from Scandaltown.

*No one says “Scandaltown” and that’s not a thing.

Overlap

For the last few days I’ve been working on the director’s cut of the Finding Carter episode I directed. It’s been coming together nicely, thanks to the hard work of editor Robin Katz.

Monday is my final day to edit. It’s also the first day I start on Scandal – shadowing, that is. Not directing for three more weeks or so, but I’ll be observing Executive Producer-Director Tom Verica at work to see how they do it in Scandaltown. This season has been really a great one to watch with major changes – I still can’t believe I get to have a hand in moving the train forward.

I’ll probably update a little bit more when I’m actually in prep as opposed to shadowing, so more to come then, six readers!

Now What?

Well, that was fun.

Last week, the second Law & Order: Special Victims Unit I directed aired as you know, my eight readers.

This time, while the East Coast broadcast went live, I spent that hour on Twitter watching the SVU writers and cast live tweet. It was amazing, in part that they, along with the #SVUDieHards out there, got #rectalprobeelectroejaculation trending, as well as #VarnishedEel. (Those two things make sense if you actually saw the episode.)

Anyway, yeah, that was pretty fun. Especially since I wasn’t actually watching the show, but I was “watching” people reacting to certain scenes as the hour went along. It was fascinating.

So now what? No episode on the horizon (though some are in the works, nothing officially booked yet) and only the vast expanse of the 2015 calendar ahead.

Well, it’s back to what I do in between actual assignments – writing. I have a feature script that is almost ready to show people after one small round of revisions. And another script with a partner that needs a rewrite as well.

We also have our Story of a Girl: India short project “Born Positive” that is still in post production 15 months or so later. Partially because we’re out of money and are considering a small crowd funding campaign.

And this weekend, I’m going to be on a panel at the Directors Guild talking about directing fellowships after my experience with NBC, ABC and Sony‘s.

So I guess that’s now what. Onward!

SVU2 Day 9*

(*It wasn’t a full day for me, but it was for the crew so I guess I can call it Day 9.)

Tuesday Day 9 was made necessary because of a previous issue unrelated to my episode, as written about earlier. I had to direct three scenes to complete my episode. So we started out in Foley Square which is the park area in front of the Federal Courthouse and State Courthouse.

And yes, it was cold. But ultimately short, so we went inside a nearby courthouse that has been used by the Law & Order world for the better part of 30 years for some scenes that take place within the criminal justice system but aren’t shot on the stages.

I had two final scenes to shoot there, and then that was it. The finish to production for me was anticlimactic, as compared to the previous episode. This time I finished, everyone applauded and hugged – same as last time – but then they all went back to work on the next scene while I grabbed my coat and bag and was whisked away as Jean de Segonzac, director of the next episode, took over.

That’s the way it goes in television production. The show must go on – they’re on to the next one.

And, as it turns out, editor Leon Ortiz-Gil already cut the episode together! The editors are really incredible at their jobs, just as everyone else on this show. I saw their cut today, gave my notes and now we begin post production in earnest and see the various ways in which this episode will be shaped. On to the next one!

SVU Shoot Day 8 and Post

I’m four days late on posting about Day 8 of the SVU shoot – but with the wrap, travel back to LA, and now a quick turnaround in post forced me into postponing the final day’s recap. Sorry, five readers!

Day 8 was great. And not just because that rhymes. We shot two scenes in the Rotunda, which is the hallway outside the courthouse, two scenes in the sqaudroom and also one final thing in the courthouse – all of our detectives’ reactions to all the courtroom scenes they were supposed to be in when we filmed the courtroom last week (they were all in Chicago shooting the Chicago PD scenes.) Ah, the magic of cinema (television).

The day was a lot of fun and I had two scenes that were done in a “one-er” – a scene that was shot in one continuous shot. One of the one-ers was pretty straightforward, just a walk-and-talk down a hallway. The other was a little more clever so I’m quite proud of that and glad we pulled it off.

Then, late in the day, the writer Samantha Corbin-Miller and I treated the crew to ice cream, so that was fun. We then wrapped up in the squadroom, and got to say nice things to people and some crew and cast had nice things to say to me, so that too was fun.

It’s bittersweet wrapping up the show. Of course, I was quite drained from the focus and alertness (and nerves) associated with directing, I was starting to feel sad about leaving the cast, crew, and producers. Halfway through the day, scripts for the next episode (which the crew continues on to the next day) were being handed out. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be a part of it. But, of course, the show must go on.

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Meagan Good with some guy who doesn’t understand why there are cameras all around.

So I packed up that night and in the morning got on a plane back home (on a flight with our guest star Meagan Good, and when we landed there were paparazzi – this is one of the photos – it was weird).

It was an incredible month in New York, and when the episode comes out I’ll go into more detail about what went into the episode, especially if I can figure out a way to embed individual scenes.

And then Saturday night I watched the editor’s cut. It was really amazing to see scenes that were shot two or three days earlier that were already put together. Sunday I went in for my one (1) day of editing for the director’s cut. Usually, the director gets three or four days in TV post, but I was given an accelerated post schedule for a variety of reasons. So I gave editor Karen Stern my notes, watched her enact some of them, and then gave her others to work on later.

Now, I wait to see what happens with the producers’ cut (I get to be involved in that and still submit notes since my own edit period was so short) and by the end of the week the picture will be locked. The speed of network TV production is amazing.

More updates to come soon. But for now, I deal with fatigue and overwhelming gratitude.

Parking

This probably applies in a lot of industries, but where you get to park is directly correlated to your rank in the film world.

This past week I had a meeting at a studio with a TV network executive. I’m incredibly grateful whenever someone wants to talk to me about my work and about future work, so I want to be clear that I’m not complaining here. I arrived at the studio and (as I was warned could happen, probably because it’s pilot season) the guest spots were taken up. So I had to go park in the large crew/staff garage a couple gates away. And then, I continued upward and upward, past reserved spots for producers, cast members, security vehicles, production vehicles, car pool vehicles, until I arrived at an available space.

All of which was perfectly fine – except that it put me a couple minutes late. (I hate being late – but I should’ve arrived a little earlier since I was warned, so that’s probably on me, not on parking.)

The meeting went well, so no issues there. And none of this bothers me at all; I didn’t give it a second thought until just now. If you buy the premise that the distance you walk to your car directly correlates to your place in the pecking order of the industry, just note that I parked on Level 5 in the secondary garage. (Hey, I’m happy to at least be allowed to park at all, to be honest.)

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“Misael” from a scene in
“The Worst of the Worst.”

Okay, enough metaphor.

I’ve mostly been writing and procrastinating from writing. We did have this nice write up about our Yale Visual Law Project film, The Worst of the Worst, which is cool. It’s always nice when people say good things about your children.

Also, producer of the “Story of Girl” series Jonathan Smith wrote about it for the One Foundation, one of our big funders. (Recall I directed the Indian film in the series this past summer.)

That’s it for now. A new metaphor-laden post to come soon.

National Shout Out

There was a solid few months this year where I was good at updating this little space for my three devoted readers. I’ve seemed to have fallen off the wagon a bit, so let me catch up a little here, chronologically.

First, and most importantly, our little Yale Visual Law Project film, The Worst of the Worst, was featured on national television. Wife/Producing partner Valarie was invited for her third appearance on MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry Show,” this time to talk about America’s prison system and specifically the subject of our film – solitary confinement and supermax.

Here’s Valarie from her hour-long appearance on the show:

It was so exciting to see that clip on TV, and coming out of the commercial break no less! The really cool part is that I was allowed to watch from the control room for the entire show, and got to see the film being cued up to play when the show returned from the break. I also got to see the telepromter text that Melissa Harris-Perry was about to read on air and to see “The Worst of the Worst” as part of it. It was awesome.

It has been amazing to witness our little Visual Law Project come so far from such a small start – just an idea we had, that Valarie pitched to the school, that I helped bring to life – that is now a legitimate producer of documentaries, validated in some small way by this appearance on a national news program.

In the meantime, I was fighting with the audio output from the unnamed nonlinear editing software of ill repute and finally was able to send some version of our audio files to Sound Mixer extraordinaire Sanjeev Brar. Just yesterday we finished the sound mix at Gramercy Post, a boutique sound studio in Manhattan where Sanjeev works. He edited all the sound, built sound effects for our few animations, and then did the final mix with us for six hours. This week I’m going to resync the finished audio to the project and output our screening copies and screeners.

December 11 at Yale we have our advanced screening for the students, faculty, and some who appear in the film. So close. So very very close.

In other news, some good people in Wisconsin are putting together a screening of Divided We Fall, American Made and our little Oak Creek short – including a screening in Oak Creek. More details on that to come, but the screening is December 12 in Oak Creek and December 13 in Racine, Wisconsin.

Valarie gave me for my birthday a present that signals the dawn of a new era – a DSLR camera that shoots full frame, 35mm sensor HD video. And it’s not the Canon 5D Mark III. We now own a Sony a-99. It’s technically a DSLT – digital single lens translucent instead of reflective – the technology is newer and I’m just learning about the difference. It’s very exciting, this camera – also can take professional XLR microphones after we purchase the adapter. It’s a beautiful camera and I’m so looking forward to using it.

Last, but not least, I’m still waiting to hear definitively about NBC’s Directing Fellowship, hopefully this week. I promise an update again before too long.