NEW AMSTERDAM Director Jean Lee on Digging into the Emotion and Character History for 'Truth Be Told' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

NEW AMSTERDAM Director Jean Lee on Digging into the Emotion and Character History for ‘Truth Be Told’

May 11, 2022 by  

New Amsterdam Jean Lee

NEW AMSTERDAM — “Truth Be Told” Episode 419 — Pictured: (l-r) Director Jean Lee, Frankie Muniz as Jace — (Photo by: Ralph Bavaro/NBC)

When director Jean Lee stepped on the set of NEW AMSTERDAM, she was prepared.

Lee, a member of NBCU’s Female Forward program—which mentors female directors (including having them shadow on a series, before they step behind the camera to helm their own episode)—was not only familiar with the medical drama…she had rewatched every episode to prep for her TV directorial debut.

“A lot of great TV directors who have been mentoring me very much impressed upon me that it’s all about the prep,” she says. “So that included watching and studying all the preceding episodes.”

Here, Lee talks about stepping behind the camera for “Truth Be Told”…

What led you to the Female Forward program?
I’ve actually been directing since 2009. And I’ve been mostly doing my own project, shorts, features. And then over the past few years, I’ve been doing more TV specific stuff. I was in the Ryan Murphy Half [Initiative] program. I shadowed on another show. And I’ve been doing more larger scoped, more mass audience content. So when I heard about NBCU Female Forward through some of the other cohorts I’d been [in programs with,] including AFI Directing Workshop for Women and Film Fatales. I thought, oh my gosh, what a cool opportunity, particularly since they were one of the fewer programs at the time that had that guaranteed an episode. So I jumped at that opportunity. What an honor.

Prior to this, you’ve directed a number of things you also wrote. What was the process for you in approaching something like this where you didn’t pen the script?
I was really excited because it was just an additional opportunity to collaborate. And I really love collaborating with other people on film and TV, because I’m not very much the auteur-minded person. I really like approaching these kinds of directing as a team sport, if that makes sense.

Having experience in writing helps me feel much more equipped from the kind of language to use, to what to look for in the script with the writers. And so there was this nice shorthand just a both because of my writing background, but also because the writers I ended up with, Brandy Palmer and Shaun Cassidy, are awesome. It was really easy to sort of mind-meld with them and really fun to do that.

NEW AMSTERDAM — “Truth Be Told” Episode 419 — Pictured: (l-r) Ryan Eggold as Dr. Max Goodwin, Michelle Forbes as Dr. Veronica Fuentes — (Photo by: Ralph Bavaro/NBC)

How familiar were you with the show before you directed? Had you seen it before, or was this something you needed to watch before you actually shadowed?
Both. So I felt like NEW AMSTERDAM was and is one of the best medical shows out there, particularly because there’s just a lot of cool, creative risks that they’re taking within the world of a medical procedural, which is really hard to do.

I was excited about the show, and I also heard there was a good team behind it, which makes a big difference if you have a good team you’re working with; it makes it that much more exciting. So that was the word on the street.

Then, in order to prepare for my episode, I watched every single episode that had been shot, which was hours and hours and hours of prep. But I really, really wanted to understand the style, the tone of the show, so I would be the most equipped to deliver on their vision, but also be able to knowledgeably add to it, if that makes sense. A lot of great TV directors who have been mentoring me very much impressed upon me that it’s all about the prep. So that included watching and studying all the preceding episodes.

One of the greatest gifts in my career that somebody has given me was from Peter Horton, the showrunner—with David Schulner—of NEW AMSTERDAM. They had to believe in me and give me this opportunity for me to actually be included in NBCU Female Forward and to get this episode. And so I was just so floored by their belief in me. And my God, how different would the industry be if there were more people like them? Just giving somebody a shot, that is what creates real change. And so that was incredible.

NEW AMSTERDAM makes use of the outside world more than many medical shows. How did that impact what you were able to do with the look of the show?
One of the things that I was most excited about this episode was that even though it was grounded in the medical world, there were opportunities for play and exploration because of the cool additional storylines that Brandy and Shaun wrote into this episode.

The first and foremost priority was story. Everything services the story, at the end of the day, which is why I think the show is so great: Story and characters. So it all came down to you what is the emotional beat that we’re trying to get? What is the story that we’re trying to tell in this scene? Okay, does this space tell that story? Does this choice tell that story? And so it was having those discussions, across in the different departments, and also with the writers to make sure that the choices we were making always serviced the story. So that was sort of our North Star.

New Amsterdam Jean Lee

NEW AMSTERDAM — “Truth Be Told” Episode 419 — Pictured: Director Jean Lee — (Photo by: Ralph Bavaro/NBC)

The episode also played with tension, as there were a number of, essentially fake-outs: The idea that Helen’s mom was dying, Veronica’s possible exit, and the patient who appeared to be doomed. How did you play with the tension in your directing?
The thing is, when we’re directing a scene, or the actors are performing in a scene, it’s about the present. And so there’s no twist that’s even being thought about in a moment of the scene, because it’s about finding the emotional truth and heart of the scene, and the story that’s gonna be dramatized in that moment. So I think that staying grounded and present was sort of really important in order to make those scenes feel real, and then ultimately to have those twists be surprising and cathartic.

Furthermore, I would say it was also particularly when it comes to Sharpe and her mother, it was about understanding and grounding the scenes in the history of the relationship. So it’s also about understanding the character arc, the history where they’re coming from: all that drama and conflict and tension that has been building up for so long. And then finally having that reconciliation happen that’s just so meaningful and emotional. It’s about bringing that history and that beautiful baggage into the scene.

The other cool thing that was really unexpected for me was how collaborative it felt after the episode was shot. There’s this process—it was my first time doing this process of navigating post with and through a network, the studio, the showrunners, right? And so I wasn’t sure what to expect from that. And we’re talking about how there’s these amazing twists and these incredible character arcs, and that’s very much servicing and in collaboration with the show writers, the network, the studio, the people, the experts, and the cast who have been doing this for so long. So like as much as I would love to take credit for that, it’s also very much about their vision and what they did. if that makes sense.

Looking to the episode as a whole, were there any particular moments that meant the most to you?
The first of course, was the Ghanaian dance scene, just because it was different. The dance scene with Sharpe and her mother in the dream sequence. So that was just so fun because we got to play. We got to bring in smoke and mist into this really cool community center. We had a choreographer. We had a real Ghanian group, and beautiful lighting. Andy Voegeli is an incredible cinematographer. I had an amazing AD who had done a lot of dance stuff before, Luis Nieves. And it was just such a fun and beautiful scene to shoot. I was very proud of the cinematography in that scene.

Another scene that I thought was really cool was really because of the location, which was the tennis court. I thought that was really cool. That’s the amazing locations team doing a fantastic job and bringing us that. And because the location was so cool, we got some pretty beautiful wide and cool shots there.

And not necessarily [because of the] cinematography, but more just like this real performance, I was just so proud of Tyler [Labine] and Ryan Faucett for the final scene where Iggy is just brought to his knees when Trevor leaves. And that’s the final scene that Trevor is in for the show. That was just really fun and super contained and not about crazy cinematography, once again, just about telling the story and these beautiful performances. So that was really fulfilling.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about this experience?
It feels like it has been a long journey to get here. But what’s so exciting is that it also feels like it’s just the beginning.

NEW AMSTERDAM, Tuesdays, 10/9c, NBC


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