BROOKLYN NINE-NINE: Rebecca Addelman Reflects on Directing 'The Therapist' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE: Rebecca Addelman Reflects on Directing ‘The Therapist’

March 29, 2019 by  

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE: Rebecca Addelman

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE — “The Therapist” Episode 608 — Pictured: (l-r) Stephanie Beatriz as Rosa Diaz, Andre Braugher as Ray Holt — (Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC)

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE hasn’t skipped a beat in its shift from Fox to NBC, but season 6 has had a lovely underrated element: the comedy has hosted a number of first-time directors this year.

In addition to series stars Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, and Joe Lo Truglio taking turns behind the camera, B99 also participated in the Female Forward initiative.

Rebecca Addelman, who spent more than a decade writing television—including NEW GIRL, LOVE, and GHOSTED—made the jump to directing with a film she wrote, but hadn’t had the opportunity to helm a television episode. After being selected as one of the ten members of the inaugural Female Forward class, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE asked her to direct the March 21 episode, “The Therapist.”  (Other participants in the program worked on CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO P.D, CHICAGO MED, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, BLINDSPOT, BLACKLIST, AP BIO, SUPERSTORE, and GOOD GIRLS.)

Here, Addelman reflects on making the jump to directing, working on a show that had an influx of new directors, the challenges, and more…

Prior to this, you had mostly focused on writing. What led to your interest in directing?
I was 100 percent on a writing path, even when I was a kid. I’ve worked in television, I was a writer on television, and I’d be on set producing an episode I’ve written, and I’d get to know the director because the writer and director work really closely on set in the TV world. I just found myself asking questions: I didn’t know why they were putting the cameras in certain places, I didn’t know the technical aspect of what they did at all. I was curious about it.

I wrote a movie [PAPER YEAR] that was personal, and something I almost did entirely for myself. And it got to a point in that script that I wanted to see it get made. And it occurred to me, after I talked to a few friends, and one of them said, someone is going to direct this movie and it should be you. And a switch went off in my brain. This is something very close to me that I’ve written. I need to nominate myself to do this job if I want to see it get made the way I want it to get made. I found a great producer, she let me be a first-time director.

From making that movie it was a direct leap to Female Forward. The program just started—I was in the inaugural class—and they are looking for female directors who had never directed television, but had directed other things. Because of the movie, I was given this opportunity. And I found myself, in a really fun way, back in TV…it was a familiar landscape, but I was doing this whole new job.

The fact that I had been a writer for so long was helpful. I understood how TV sets work, who everyone is in a TV context, and I knew some of the writers, because they were old friends. That was also a really great way to kick off what will hopefully be a career in directing television.

What were you able to do in the Female Forward program? And how much were you interacting with the other participants?
It’s helmed by a woman named Karen Horne, who runs several programs like this at NBC. Once we were selected—the ten women who were going to be a part of the class—they were so supportive of us. Their goal was to make sure we succeed; it doesn’t help any future female director if you’re a part of this program and you’re not equipped to do the job well.

There were workshops, including one by Paris Barclay who is a renowned TV director. And then one of the mentors in the program is Lesli Linka Glatter [who is perhaps best known for her work on HOMELAND]. You sit in a room with her, and you’re like, this woman is a force of nature. She insisted we all have her contact information: call her, email her with anything we ever needed. She works all the time, she’s busy! She gave us an incredible workshop, as well.

There was a really great community that was created among the ten women. We had an email chain and were our own cheerleaders as well, which was really nice. Everyone would send supportive emails going, “You’ve got this!” It was very sweet and I never felt alone or afraid or like I didn’t know what was going on. I very much felt like I was embraced both by NBC and the directors.

How did you end up coming to direct BROOKLYN NINE-NINE?
We were submitted to various shows, and ten shows made their choices. My background and expertise was in comedy, so I think I was of interest to the comedies that were taking part. What happened is we were contacted by Karen’s office to say you have meetings with these showrunners next week. And then after you had those meetings, the showrunners still got to choose if they wanted to bring you on to their show. And they could have chosen no one. I was offered BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. So it went the same way any job interview goes, technically, where you get that meeting and you have to secure the job when you’re face-to-face in the meeting.

The series has a number of first-time directors this season, including co-stars Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero. What conversations did you have with them about your parallel journey?
Reb: It was funny, because part of the Female Forward program is you shadow between one and three episodes of a show before you direct. I showed up for my first day of shadowing at video village and look to my left and Melissa Fumero sat down next to me…I introduced myself, and it turned out she was shadowing, too. The two of us did our first day of shadowing together; I got to know her well.

Stephanie was in the episode we were shadowing a lot. She came to shadow a couple days I was directing! But there was kind of this camaraderie because we were all in the same boat. And they were cool with me being a first-timer on their set, because they knew they were about to do the same thing.

What was your process for getting the very specific BROOKLYN tone down?
I think having a writing background, for me, it’s all about the script. I, thankfully, have a fair amount of experience in writing scripts, dissecting scripts, where the jokes are, how the scenes should play to maximize comedy. And in talking to the showrunner and the writers, it’s a show that wants to showcase the characters and the emotions behind the scenes to work, but it also wants the comedy. So that’s what I focused on.

From a technical aspect, I didn’t have anything exploding in my episode. I did shadow on an episode where they were blowing up cars—that I don’t have as much experience with. But you have a great team. A show like BROOKLYN NINE-NINE has been running for six seasons; there are a team of technical experts. And they’re so happy to lend you their expertise, and they’re so happy to teach you how those stunts work. That’s valuable, too: to learn these aspects of filmmaking I’ve never encountered before.

Fundamentally for me, it’s about is the script working and is each scene working? Paying attention to each new rewrite, paying attention at the table read, any time any of the writers or the showrunner are telling you anything about the script.

What was the most difficult part of the episode?
Even though it was only maybe one minute of screen time, the cold open. It kind of came late in the game. The script was written, but there was no cold open yet [as they were figuring it out]. So we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare it, and when we got it, there was a little stunt in it.

It was really fun to crack the puzzle of the stunt with the team and the DP Rick Page, and figure out how are we going to get Charles Boyle [played by Joe Lo Truglio] to roll down the bullpen. It was a very funny, zany cold open. We were rehearsing the stunt and then a wheel went flying off the chair. It didn’t seem that complicated, but a lot of people helped me figure it out.

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I could step into a show that is a well-oiled machine, has it own culture. That’s a close-knit family. When you step in as a newcomer, you need to work even harder and prove yourself. I felt very good about the fact that the actors and crew, everyone was really positive and responsive to me. Generous and helpful. I felt I was able to jump into their family for a few weeks and not screw it up for them. That felt good.

What’s ahead for you after this?
I’m actually developing my own show for CBS All Access. We’re kind of in the midst of that and figuring out if that show is going to go or not. In that case, I’d get to be a showrunner and also, hopefully, a director.

And the movie I made is going to be on Netflix on April 20!

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC


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