Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Sometimes you get to work with your heroes while you write for your heroes

Anyone who told you "don't meet your heroes" never got to write an episode of TV with Rina Mimoun.

I'll back up a little bit. Longtime readers of this blog - assuming any of you are still out there - are probably well aware of my affection for the WB TV series EVERWOOD. I not only once wrote a breakdown of the pilot, I also wrote a fun script called CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS that incorporated the characters of Ephram Brown and Amy Abbot in a multiversal teen drama crossover.

And then amazingly, got to see Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp perform the script for a live read a little over a year ago. My point is, there's little point in pretending I'm not an EVERWOOD superfan, or that the show hasn't been a major touchstone for me in my own writing.

So with that, imagine my delight when EVERWOOD writer and showrunner for seasons 3 and 4 Rina Mimoun joined the writers room of SUPERMAN & LOIS this year. I wasted no time in trying to get EVERWOOD stories out of her. And by no time I mean that I'm pretty sure the first thing I said to her was "Hi, I'm Adam and I'm a huge fan of EVERWOOD."

Flash-forward a couple months. The first four episodes are broken and episode five had yet to be assigned. Our writers were doubling up, so that meant that Rina and I were the only two left without an episode. That didn't necessarily mean we were going to be teamed and at one point it looked like each of us might fly solo on different eps.

As an aside, most of the time episodes are assigned based on seniority and availability. Indeed, you'll see that the writer breakdown this season mostly starts with the highest ranking writers on staff and works its way down. In rare cases, there might be an effort at matching a writer to their particular strength, but usually I'd caution against making assumptions about an episode that are based on what the writer has been credited on before.

For example, my name is on two of the biggest Lana episodes, but I actually didn't write any of her scenes in this week's episode at all.

To make a long story less long, I was thrilled when the assignment came down that I'd be working with Rina AND that we indeed were going to be getting "the quinceañera episode." Also, by that point, our EVERWOOD shorthand was well established so we were saying thing back and forth like, "It's like the Amy Abbott thing."

Our story break went pretty well. Most of the other writers were off on their own episodes for large parts of the break so much of it was just me, Rina and our excellent support staff. Showrunner Todd Helbing kept approving our beats along the way and eventually we were sent off to Story Area.

In the middle of this, Rina and I also reached out to Inde Navarrette, who plays Sarah. We wanted to get her perspective on what was absolutely essential to get right about our quinceañera and what elements of the celebration were likely to vary in real life. One of the notes became something we hammered again and again in our production meetings - "Make sure the tamales are authentic."

The way our show works is that we do a pretty detailed story break, send a 5-6 page Story Area (basically a synopsis of each storyline, broken into A, B, C stories) to the Studio and Network and then are sent off to script. Rina and I divided responsibilities on Story Area, which sailed through with mostly no notes and then had to decide how to divide the script.

The storyline of Sarah's quinceañera is filled with the kind of family drama that Rina is known for, BUT I also was prepared for the possibility that she might feel like she's written all that before and was more eager to dive into the superhero stuff. It turned out she was hungry for the Cushing family storyline, which was a relief to me because I did NOT want to be the guy trying to play "Piano Man" while Billy Joel was in the room.

I took the Jon and Jordan storyline and we divided the Clark/Lois A-story up by act. This worked pretty well, but while I was writing Act Two, I arrived at a concern that hadn't been evident in the story break. When Rina and I compared pages, we discovered we both had the exact same note. Still, we did the job we were sent off to do, completing the first draft according to the story break. Neither of us were shocked when Todd's assessment of that story element was the same as ours.

We rebroke the offending scenes and the second draft played much smoother. At that point, my job was done as the script rewrites become the purview of the showrunner and the upper-level writers. By the time we got to the Production Draft, it was in really good shape.

At the start of November I went to Vancouver for the shooting of my episode. After I arrived, I was told that usually they have separate cars to take the episode's director and writer from hotel to set, but for the first couple days, they needed me to double up with the director because we were tandem shooting with the previous episode. I had no problem with that.

My director was a wonderful woman named Diana Valentine. She's directed about 40 episodes of television and had worked her way up through the ranks to get there. The ice was broken immediately on our 30-minute drive to set. I mentioned she'd directed an episode of TV a friend of mine wrote and that just started a run of stories where we discovered all our various industry contacts in common.

I took my lead from Diana on set and very quickly picked up where I should be standing to be out of the way while still being available and engaged. While we waited in Video Village before our first shot, she said, "You know, I used to be Lynda Carter's photo double on WONDER WOMAN." What can you really say to that but, "Tell me more!" This was how I learned she got her start as a stuntwoman in the 70s and 80s and let me tell you, someone ABSOLUTELY needs to make a movie centered on the stuntwomen of that era because it's an underexplored topic rife with entertainment.

Also, I very much feel like we had extra superhero karma, making a Superman episode with a Wonder Woman calling the shots.

Suffice to say, by the next morning I went to our PA and told them they could just send one car to pick me and Diana up together for the rest of the shoot because we were getting on like a house on fire. It was great to start the day riding with her, and always fun doing a post-mortem on the way back.

On top of that, Diana was just a fantastic director, period. I learned quickly that she could anticipate almost any note I had and was thinking two steps ahead, always with an eye to the edit. She came prepared, knew what she wanted and - most importantly - knew how to communicate that to everyone. This was her first time on our show, but if you wandered onto our set at any point, you'd have assumed she'd worked with everyone there for years. That's a testament to her and to our crew.

I don't want to get into too many set-stories here, but I will say that the very first scene we shot for my episode had Tyler Hoechlin in full Superman regalia. That was a pretty cool moment. The day I traveled to Vancouver happened to be the anniversary of the day my dad died. I was already thinking about him, but as I was standing there, two feet from Superman, I felt very sad I wasn't able to tell him about this moment, and that he missed it by such little time.

I also resolved not to immediately turn into a fanboy and ask for a picture with Superman. After all, I was a professional there with a job to do. Also, due to COVID protocols, I had to be masked on set, so what good would ANY picture be?

All of our cast are fantastic people, by the way. I had only met Bitsie Tulloch and Erik Valdez prior to this, as they both briefly visited the writers' office at the start of the season. Both of them were friendly, personable people. I knew Erik slightly better, with our first interaction coming via Twitter. In the early weeks of shooting season 1, he saw a tweet I posted about my dad's death and that led him to realize I worked on the same show as him. He reached out over DMs and was very kind to me during a tough time. The day after that, I got flowers and a lovely note from "The S&L Cast." I'm sure that was Erik's doing, and it shows you the kind of guy he is. By the time I saw him on set, Erik felt like an old friend.

Erik's friendliness is not an anomaly among our performers. All of them proved to be very kind people. Though I didn't get to work with Wolé Parks, I did run into him at base camp and got to tell him, "I'm the reason you're Steel!" He immediately hugged me. I probably ended up spending the most time chatting up "the boys," Alex Garfin and Jordan Elsass. Because L.A. is like Neverland, I foolishly still think I'm the 22 year-old who moved out here and not someone much older. Inevitably, hanging out with the boys would disabuse me of that delusion, such as when I referenced at teen drama character of my youth and one of them responded, "Who?"

But all of our actors were wonderful professionals who came to set prepared and often brought their own suggestions and nuances to the scene. We had a ball spending two days filming the quinceañera scenes because most of the cast was there, but there was a lot of down time between shots when they were needed. They all hung out in the green room area together and I gather that for some of them, they don't often get to work with certain other cast members. Any time I happened back there, it seemed like they just delighted in each other's company and really enjoyed having that time together.

I also have nothing but raves about the crew as well. In the writers' room, we're all very passionate about our show and our characters, but we're very much isolated from the other production workers and the actors. It was very exciting to meet everyone and see they're just as jazzed about the show as we are. It was a very enjoyable two-plus weeks on set.

Our penultimate day was spent shooting a massive fight scene involving Superman. Our stunt coordinator Rob Hayter did an amazing job with this fight. I got to speak to Rob on set during a different action scene for the episode and it was great hearing him talk about how they go about making sure every fight tells a story, and how everyone knows exactly what they should be doing. For this fight, we were in a very large space and so Rob was on the "God Mike" talking our performers through the beats and moves of the fight. It was a little like hearing a boxing commentator call a match.

And I'm talking around spoilers here, but at one point we had one actor on a throwback rig and I got to watch - LIVE - Superman punch a dude and send him flying thirty feet backwards in the air! That was a helluva thing to see, and a great thing to come near the end of the experience.

Oh yeah, and in the middle of all that... I couldn't resist any longer.

I had come over to Tyler during a long downtime between set-ups and said, "So... I can't come all this way and NOT get a picture with Superman." He was happy to oblige. After someone from our crew took the picture, I said, "I just realized, you can't tell I'm smiling with the mask on." They said, "Oh, you can tell!"

You might also be able to tell by the four layers I had on that it was FREEZING there.

I hope you tune in tonight and see the results of all our hard work. The entire experience of making this episode was a delight, and a collaboration with so many awesome people I'm looking forward to working with again.