The actor and director reveals the step-by-step process of directing the July 10 episode of the hit series starring Sutton Foster.
Miriam Shor has a habit of stealing scenes. She’s not trying to, but her magnetism, her nuance, her timing in the small moments, and her delivery in the big ones make it so you can’t look away, whether that’s as Yitzhak in the original Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Madelaine True in The Wild Party, Jessie in Off-Broadway’s Sweat, guest-starring on television’s The Americans, or her gig as series regular Diana Trout on TVLand’s Younger. But now, she directs her first episode of television: Episode 5 of Younger’s current season.
“I always was one of those annoying people hanging out at video village, where the director and script supervisor and producers hang out and watch what we’re shooting,” says Shor of her proclivity for work behind the camera.
“[The idea to direct] came to me throughout what’s been going on with women in the entertainment industry, and this idea of understanding your own worth and understanding what you can ask for,” adds Shor, who has been working in television for 20 years. “I have more and more friends, as they get older, who have a lot of experience and who have been on a show that’s been going for a while and end up directing; so many of those friends of mine are male. This moment women are having right now caused me to question why I hadn’t asked previously and if it was because I truly wasn’t interested or was it because I didn’t think I deserved it.”
In the end, Shor asked for what she wanted. Her episode of Younger—the story about 40-something Liza Miller who passes as a 20-something to land her dream job in publishing—airs 10PM ET July 10 on TVLand. But what does it mean to direct an episode of television? How similar is it to directing something for the stage? And what, if anything, did Shor bring from her theatre experience to leading her cast and crew on set? The actor and director gets down to the nitty gritty details.
Younger shoots two episodes simultaneously in a two-week period. Directing Episode 5, Shor was filming onscreen as Diana in the first block of episodes (Episodes 1 & 2 in the first two weeks, Episodes 3 & 4 in the second two weeks) while preparing to direct the third block of shooting.
“My work started way out because I was trying to desperately cram as much knowledge into my brain as I could about directing,” says Shor. “I shadowed director Steven Tsuchida, who directed the first two episodes [of this season]. As the director, it’s just a constant stream of meetings where you meet with all of the creatives who make all of the decisions for every part of the episodes. You’re also scouting for locations, deciding on the locations, meeting with your first associate director; mine was Jennifer Truelove. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet.
“You talk to writers, you talk to wardrobe, you talk to props, you talk to set dressing. You go through page by page and figure out what you need for each moment of each scene. Not every director does this but I did: I made a list of every shot you’re going to set up for every scene in the script.
“I would be shooting [as Diana] and then I would have a meeting in between and on the day I wasn’t shooting I would scout locations.”
One of the many meetings is a Tone Meeting. An industry standard, this helps finalize the script before stepping on set to shoot an episode. “You sit down with the writers and go through the entire script. Your job as a director is to talk to the writers and ask questions about each moment in each scene that doesn’t make sense to you, or that you would like to take in a different direction.” The Tone Meeting creates consistency on a show, even when different directors lead individual episodes in a single season.
“Your job as a director is to study the show, understand the show, understand the vibe, the tone, the characters,” Shor explains. “I really did feel like I knew that better than someone who isn’t in the show. That’s what I had as a director coming to it. When I gave a direction to an actor in the show, I know their whole journey better than a guest director could know it.”
Series regulars and recurring roles may already be set, but Shor exercised her vision when casting new characters in the episode.
“There were several small roles [to cast],” she says. “There was a role of a gender-fluid character and I, very specifically, wanted a gender-fluid actor to portray them.
“This episode was written by a woman, directed by a woman, first AD was a woman, the script supervisor’s a woman, the editor was a woman and we had a gender-fluid character. It’s powerful.”
As with creator Darren Star’s Sex and the City, fashion plays a strong role on Younger. With her background as an actor, Shor prioritized functionality and form.
“The thing I brought to that meeting in particular is I understand 16 hours in an uncomfortable outfit. I understand what it needed aesthetically from the point of view of the director, but I understand what that was going to mean for the actor.”
FILMING: WORKING WITH ACTORS
“The story is written when you get it,” says Shor. Unlike theatre, only minor changes happen in the moment once the actors get on their feet. Still, the vision for the episode and the feel of the half-hour emanates from Shor as director and she had specific goals when working with her co-stars.
“There was a lot of emotion and romance in this episode, and then twist,” she says. “I just really wanted those vulnerabilities. I remember directing Nico [Tortorella, who play’s Liza’s 20-something ex] in a scene—and he has a lot of scenes where he’s vulnerable. I didn’t necessarily want it to be another ‘Josh is sad and Liza comforts him’ scene. I wanted him to make her understand where he is; he wasn’t asking her to comfort him. The effect it had on Sutton, too, was really interesting.
“Then there’s this really romantic scene that Hilary Duff has that I wanted to look at certain way and she and the actor she was with had such a lovely chemistry. That was really fun to direct. I know these particular actors. I felt really confident in the direction I was giving them.”
FILMING: GETTING THE SHOT
While in theatre and television a director works with an actor to craft a performance, screen directors also have the power to direct the audience. “[This episode] is about Liza connecting back with who she is and feeling empowered in her own identity as a mother and as a woman in a relationship,” says Shor. “The way I want the camera to capture her [in one scene] was that she was walking towards the camera and getting bigger in the camera as the guy in the scene was getting smaller in the camera to tell the story that Liza’s coming back into herself and he doesn’t matter in that moment.
“I remember the Director of Photography giving me advice and I had to say, ‘That’s great advice, but I really want this shot.’ And then when we did it, he was like, ‘Oh that was right.’”
FILMING: DOING DOUBLE DUTY
As a lead on the show, how do you director yourself? “I only had one scene I was in—it was fantastic!” Shor laughs. “I would watch the first take to make sure the parameters looked right. [Then] you get a perspective most directors don’t get.”
Shor returned to video village, this time as director, and looked at the dailies (the takes of everything that was shot that day). “As I was shooting, I would tell the script supervisor ‘I like that take’ and I would send emails to our editor and say ‘I want to get into this scene with this particular shot.’” After the two-week filming period wrapped, Shor locked herself up with her editor for two days to craft the episode from beginning to end.
“My episode was 27 minutes long and four minutes had to be cut,” says Shor of the commonplace editing process. “I had opinions about that and some of them were taken and then Darren also made his own decisions.
“It’s similar to when you’re acting because you remember each moment in it. You’re critical of things that are probably invisible to other people,” say Shor. “But you know what was thrilling? I watched [the full episode back] and was like, ‘Oh, that looks like an episode of Younger.’ I did it.”
Secrets behind Episode 5:
*Shor filmed an entire scene in New York City’s Bryant Park with manufactured snow and then had the impulse to shoot the entire sequence again without snow. “That’s the one we ended up using.”
*Shor’s use of flashbacks of Josh and Liza’s early relationship, set to a female singer’s acoustic version of “I’ll Stop the World and Melt With You,” wound up on the cutting room floor. “I’m not a fan of flashbacks usually, but this was a really lovely moment. But, we didn’t have time for it, so it was cut.”