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The ABC family and Kenya Barris’ Khalabo Ink Society have been very good to me lately. Probably because I love the shows they’re creating AND the creative teams, both in front of and behind the camera, are a pleasure to collaborate with. I had the pleasure of directing Episode 412 of Black-ish, making my network television debut!

NOW, as far as this post goes, I’m going to go ahead and warn you that it will be a little “stream-of-consciousness”, primarily driven by photos I grabbed on set and my response to them now as I look back on the experience. You may be familiar with the saying “sorry for such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”, and I will co-opt that statement to add appropriate context to this post.

So, with that, here goes:

Caption for photo above: me and Tracee Ellis Ross, “Rainbow”, immediately after wrapping the episode…

Quick snap with Anthony Anderson after wrapping his character “Dre” for the episode…

A typical, 30-minute, single camera comedy (you shoot with two cameras, but “single” camera distinguishes the show from “multi-camera”, typically three cameras before a live studio audience) preps for 4 days and shoots for 5. Over this period of time, the director really zeroes in on the script and breaks it down for story. You work to understand the architecture and structure of the script, then apply those themes to how you want to compose shots for camera, suggest blocking to talent, maximize production design, art direction, costume … and everything down the line that requires creative input. Your input as director will be requested and needed for almost everything.

Having shadowed on episode 312 last year, directed by Linda Mendoza (who also directed last night’s episode), I saw the inner workings on how a successful episode of Black-ish is achieved. I also worked with the crew on the four Walmart commercials I directed back in July that starred the Johnson Family Children (Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Marsai Martin, and Miles Brown).

Nevertheless, while I was fortunate to have a handle on what to expect, and burgeoning relationships with the cast and crew, I needed to maximize my pre-production time to get up to speed and develop a clear, concrete, communicable vision for my episode.

My shot list and diagram for Scenes 18 and 19 laying over my incredibly marked up, notated script…

“Sweat in prep so you don’t bleed in production…”

One thing I make sure to do is use my Hollywood Shot Designer software to map out ALL the blocking and camera angles for each and every scene. Episode 412 has 31 scenes so I have 31 documents similar to what you see above.

Additionally, your location scouts and prep meetings often happen before you meet with the cinematographer. That tends to happen on the last day of prep during your tech scout (the Friday before Monday’s start of your episode), so you MUST have a very solid idea of where the cameras will go, what the cameras will see, etc so TRANSPORTATION can know where all of the trucks can be parked, PRODUCTION DESIGN can know if a set needs all 4 walls, COSTUME can know what parts of the body we’ll see in the event we can save time on wardrobe changes, etc. It’s real.

But, back to the diagrams. There’s more here than the paper suggests. I’ve watched EVERY episode of Black-ish to get a sense of where characters enter/exit most often, how sets are typically used and from what angles, what the standard camera coverage is (and perhaps more importantly… isn’t), etc … etc … etc. Because the shooting schedule could change at any moment during the 5 day shoot (and ultimately will), it’s super important to have ALL of this work done before production begins so you can respond to anything that pops up. I tend to shoot fast and not waste time on unnecessary takes and angles, so oftentimes I’d get ahead of the schedule and my assistant director and cinematographer would want to look at my plan for scenes later in the day, and sometimes later in the week. If I haven’t done this work, I’ll be unable to move things forward and can potentially lose the faith of the crew, and cast.

In all honesty, I’m this obsessive about prep because I’ve been exposed for lack of preparation in the past and vowed to NEVER HAVE THAT HAPPEN AGAIN.

EVER.

The first photo I took on set when I arrived one hour early to get my thoughts together and walk the space...

Having shadowed on about 10 different TV shows at this point (Black-ish, Ballers, The Blacklist, Grey’s Anatomy, Greenleaf, Silicon Valley, and more), I’ve learned a lot, met many amazing people, and often laughed to myself when looking at the ominous “Director’s Chair” from the back row of video village.

Why?

Well, my internal joke is that this aluminum chair is similar to that highly coveted seat on Game of Thrones. There’s a great deal of work to do to sit in that chair, EVERYONE thinks they can do it better than whoever is currently occupying it, but until it’s your a** in the chair you’ll always be off the mark as to the magnitude of responsibility, talent, and psychological strength required to find yourself in it more than once. It’s also a PHYSICALLY demanding job as there’s not much sleep (I arrive an hour early to have some time on set NOT answering questions) and after each day I’m reviewing my prep for the next day’s scenes.

No joke. If I were able to keep a tally, I don’t think I’d be off by saying I made at least 500 decisions in relation to the completion of this episode. Decisions that needed to be made quickly. Sharply. Accurately. And decisions that I could back up with context, as well as stand by, if challenged. I also needed to be flexible to collaborative input that might cancel out my original inclinations, while never feeling that this challenged my prep or my “authority” as director.

NOW, some flicks of the cast while shooting:

Brittany Daniel, Christina DeRosa, and Sarah Hudson killed it as the “Yoga Moms” pressuring Rainbow to hang out…

The talented Marcus Scribner, “Junior”, on the trailer, rigged with 3 Arri Alexas via hostess tray and hood mount…

Marsai Martin and Miles Brown as the twins, “Diane” and “Jack”. Such a pleasure to work with…

Holding “Faux-vante”, which is basically the fake “DeVante” baby. You only get so many hours with the twins…

Deon Cole as “Charlie Telphy”. Straight-up hilarious. Also had the pleasure of directing him in my Grown-ish episode…

Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Anderson knocking out the funny in one take…

At this point, I’m looking forward to diving into post-production, for which I’ll get 2 days in the editing suite. From my looks at the dailies, we’ve got it all “in the can” and there will be plenty of options for me to choose from for my Director’s Cut.

It takes DOZENS of people to pull an episode of network television together, and there are at least two handfuls of people that were closely involved in my even getting hired for this assignment, which will be the first of many if I have something to do with it. Those folks know who they are because I make sure to personally thank them with every opportunity.

Stay tuned to my Instagram @double7 for photos along this journey, and if anyone has any questions about the process, hit me up there and I’ll do my best to answer in either a photo or an Instagram Live video.

Thanks!