The BIRDMAN of Episodic Work

The decision to move forward with Season Two was not an easy one, mainly because Season One was so challenging, but then again, that’s what was expected since that’s when the series basically…came out of my womb!

Unlike Season One, I wrote Season Two ahead of the production schedule – – all at once and in one month. It came rushing out of me as if the recurring characters were dying to express themselves after being stored away in my mind for a short while. Additionally, I discovered a new found freedom with the conversations I wrote as I introduced a whole new set of diverse characters. And creating those characters meant giving myself permission to stretch far outside my comfort zone as a writer, but once I did that, I realized just what I’m capable of, and that in and of itself has been extremely rewarding.

So once I made the decision to take the plunge into Season Two, and direct the entire season, I decided my goals would be to make every aspect of the work stronger, more interesting, and of course more engaging. And I knew that I, and everyone else, had it in us to go the distance. I was one hundred percent certain everyone would improve upon their creative contributions for the one-shot format this series is. And I also knew that I was up for moving the work closer to the phase of mastery, if I may be so bold to say. 

Continuing the One-Shot Format 

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting aspects of directing Season Two with the one-shot format, was my thinking process and how willing I was to take the mental approach of letting go of ideas versus holding onto them. 

I consciously made the choice, during the preparation phase of each episode, to not know exactly how things were going to play out – which meant I had to be fairly comfortable with being uncomfortable, at first. Having everything set in stone in advance is sometimes the easy way out, so embracing this “letting go” approach helped me move past the common way of doing things into new and unknown territory.

For starters, I discovered more things in the moment while working with actors. It’s not to say that I didn’t make strong directorial choices in advance, on paper and in my mind…it’s to say that I remained open and flexible in my thinking so that if one idea didn’t work, I swiftly changed direction until I found an idea that was unique and interesting, and what I felt would be the most memorable. I altered the dialogue if needed, I changed locations if necessary, I erased all the blocking and began anew if I had to, but all in all, what I consistently did was listen to my first gut instincts. 

And the beauty of that was – that’s when the magic happened. That’s when the actors and I found moments, when I found the direction for the camera blocking, when I found an idea during the editing process, found the camera movement for the scene; the most challenging above all. 

To give you an example…whenever I would imagine a very brazen and even unpopular way of directing the cinematographer and actors (shooting a fast-paced walking scene or a bicycle scene, from behind) I would hear a voice in my mind that said: “You can’t possible get away with that. Nobody does that,” which later transformed into: “Wait! Not only can you do that, but that’s a great idea and you should try it because what seems radical right now might just blow you away later!”

Doing What’s Different Isn’t Easy

However, make no mistake, doing what’s different isn’t easy, but every single time I dove into the unknown, the episodes ended up being more exciting than I could have ever imagined. Creatively I can’t think too much about what viewers might or might not like, but I can’t stop myself from asking, do viewers really want to see the same thing time and time again? I believe many do, but there’s always a group of people who would agree that there’s nothing more thrilling than going to a new restaurant or traveling to a new city, right? 

The one-shot format is highly, and I mean highly demanding – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It keeps everyone on their toes. Rehearsals are challenging and camera rehearsals even more so. The truth is, to keep the camera rolling for ten-to-fifteen pages with varied blocking creates a certain amount of anxiety – in almost everyone – because that’s a long time for film. And, it’s not what everyone is used to – unless, if like myself, you’ve had the fortune to perform on stage for two hours straight. Live, non-stop acting in the theatre is a lot like what we’re doing here, but out in the real world with a crew surrounding actors instead of an audience. 

And so, the bottom line is this – in order to pull off the one-shot format, and really really well, the writing, the acting, the blocking, and the cinematography must be rigged just so. And at the end of the day, after a long and rigorous rehearsal process, after an arduous day of shooting, and several full days of editing, there are no accidents – everything we do, no matter how much letting go I did in the process, was intentional.

~ Anne Marie Cummings
Creator, Writer, and Director of CONVERSATIONS IN L.A.