Raina Deerwater ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
T.J. Scott has directed a variety of television forms from Young Hercules to Orphan Black, and most recently, Fox’s Gotham. He has had a fruitful career for decades, juggling multiple shows at a time. We were lucky enough to speak with TJ over the phone, as he shared tricks of the trade, and what it was like working with the incredible Tatiana Maslany.
Emertainment Monthly: Have you found there to be a big difference between directing for film and television, since you are primarily a television director?
T.J. Scott: Directing for film is really driven by the director, whereas television is producer driven, and the director takes a second seat on it, so it’s really different. In film, you’re really truly in command of everything, and in television, you’re really in charge of the floor more than anything else. So, I think you’re just a little more an an auteur when you’re in film, and just direct when you’re doing it on TV. Does that make sense?
That makes perfect sense. And I’ve noticed the show’s you’ve worked on, such as Gotham and Orphan Black are very visual shows. Have you found that to be different than other projects you’ve worked on?
Each show takes on its own look and I don’t know how much I want to imprint on a show, but if I come onto a show and I find it doesn’t have enough of a look, I’ll ask them if I can add to it, sort of augment it. I did that with a project called Bitten recently, where I said “let me just take a little run at changing things around” and then in the second piece, they embraced that look.
On Gotham, Danny Cannan had already set a fantastic look. He’s a very visual director, he directed the pilot and the pilot really set the tone for the show, which is fantastic. On Orphan Black, John Fawcett, the co-creator, is also a director that I’ve worked with a lot in the past and he came in giving it a real look. And I was in early and changed around a few things, and I think between the two of us, came up with a really dynamic look for the show.
Great. So I am a huge fan of Orphan Black in all aspects. How does a show like that differ from other projects, in terms of directing Tatiana Maslany who has to play all these different parts in one episode. How do you deal with that as a director?
Well, Orphan Black is a bit of an anomaly, in that if you really look at it, it’s quite a small show. We try not to do anything that’s too big, too complicated other than Tatiana. It’s all about the quality, it’s all about detail, and it’s all about taking the amount of time that you have to direct and making it about making characters as good as they can be, and spending time with the performance and giving Tatiana all the time that she needs. So, it seems like in that way, it’s small, it’s minutia, and going into it, that’s what you’re looking for as a director and the timing of all that is her. As a director, you get a big net and you just try to scoop up all the gold she drops. It’s just magic. Watching her, even with the littlest note, she does the best change in performance. It’s fantastic.
That’s crazy. On a more technical note, on a typical day of shooting, how many clones is she playing?
Well, she once played four clones in a day.
We try to keep all of her stuff so that’s she’s playing one clone per day. Quite often, that doesn’t work and she has to play two. And every episode, we try to do something where she’s three clones in a scene, but sometimes we can do that actually over a couple different days so it feels like it’s three in a scene, but they’re not all in the same room. So we mostly stick to one, and sometimes two.
And are you planning on staying involved in the show, into the next season?
I’m not working on season 3 of Orphan Black. It got a little bit of a late pick up and I decided to do Gotham and to try to throw my time at that instead. They couldn’t commit because they were late getting picked up and Gotham was saying you gotta make the decision now. So I chose that and I also like doing shows that are in their first or second year.
Speaking of which, I see that you’re working on a bunch of different shows at the same time. How do you balance that out, between traveling different places and shooting different shows?
[He laughs] It’s tricky going back and forth between shows, between one another. I love the energy of it, and I try to spend all my weekends doing homework. That’s either getting ready for the week of shooting or heading to the next show I’m working on or watching all the episodes of the show that’s already aired, reading all the scripts. I like to see or have ready every script that’s been done by a show before I get there, so I know everything about it. So really, I just do homework all the time. That’s the life.
That’s the life. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with your busy schedule.
I’ll go back to my homework. I’m looking at Gotham today.