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The 'Schmootz on Tina Cesa Ward

The 'Schmootz on Tina Cesa Ward

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Published by: mindschmootz on Jan 18, 2010
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01/20/2010

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The only thing better than coffee in the morning is a little cross country conversation with Tina Cesa Ward,Executive Producer, Writer, and Director of the web series,
 Anyone But Me
. I felt very fortunate in the opportunity toshoot the ‘Schmootz with Tina. The timing of our interview was just post shooting, and as you will see in thefollowing conversation, Tina is a very busy woman during production. So, Tina, thank you for your limited andprecious time. As a member of the neuvo-genre of advocacy journalism, I am afforded the opportunity to write about what I like,and I like
Anyone But Me
. This is a well written, beautifully directed drama about the human emotions associated withthe endless circle of coming out and the inevitable consequences of that decision.
 Anyone But Me
is aboutrelationships, both familial and friendly; it is about growing, both generationally and emotionally. Though Ithankfully left my teen years behind many years ago,
 Anyone But Me
is about, well, me. I watch with a nostalgic eye of experience as these characters are faced with the same decisions I made at a different time and a different place. Iwince with their hurt and I laugh with their joy and I anticipate from my experience what will come next. Sometimesmy hypothesis is supported; sometimes I am surprised...the surprises are what keeps me coming back for more. Join me in the following conversation and you will discover a professionalism and a commitment to get it right. Thereis little doubt Tina is an experienced director and writer with a passion for her art, but we get a nice glimpse into thewoman who loves the Muppets and Battlestar Galactica, who cultivates an early sense for adventure...and the sense of humor to tolerate my bad fork joke.Enjoy.
 THE ‘SCHMOOTZ ON 
 TINA CESA WARD
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SCHMOOTZ:
I have discussed withfriends what the title,
 Anyone But Me
,means to each of us, but what doesthe series title,
 Anyone But Me
, mean to you?
TINA:
 To me, it’s “I can’t be anyonebut me.” All these people are whothey are and they can’t be anyone elsebut who they are. Even though Iwas the one who came upwith the title, Susan(Miller, the show’s otherproducer and writer) cameup with a good one - aboutit being both aboutinclusion and exclusion. Ithought that was a good wayto look at it too.
SCHMOOTZ:
You’recredited with titles of producer, writer, director and editor.Of these, what was your first love andwhich is your true love?
TINA: 
Directing and directing. Iwanted to be a director since I was a young kid and I really got into writing because I needed something to direct. Although Ireally do enjoy writing, Ithink I’m probably more a director atheart,but because I haven’t been ableto direct asmuch stuff as I would like.I think in terms of craft developmentI’m furtheralong as a writer.The show’sbeen great in that respectbecause I’vegotten to work (direct) somuch, but I’ve still written so muchmorethan I’ve directed. I’m hoping that I’ll start directing more stuff than I’ve written at some point.
SCHMOOTZ:
 When you aredirecting a scene such as that look between Vivian and Sophie - asVivian looked down from her newbedroom window in Season 1 - thatsaid everything ten minutes of exposition probably couldn’t - do youhave a feeling when this happens that just says “yes, that’s it” Or is it reallyin the editing process?
TINA:
 Sometimes it’s a bit of both.Sometimes you can see it when ithappens on set. Andthensometimes you do a couple of takes and you’re like, “well, I think Igot it.” And then you go look at it inedit and you look at it in post and you’re like, “oh yeah, totally got it.”
SCHMOOTZ:
Why did you decideto reach out to Susan Miller as acreative partner?
TINA:
 I’ve always done film butsomeone mentioned to me aboutdoing a web series. I had never reallythought about doing television, evenas a director. There’s been a couple of shows, like
 Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
, thatchanged my mind because I saw thatshow and was amazed. I thought,“wow, you can really make incredibletelevision.” But I didn’t reallyhave any background in it orany experience in doing anything episodic. When I had the episodeswritten out, I realized Ineeded kind of a veteran -somebody that knew abouthow to make a series and make itwork, to help out, because it was verynew to me.I said I might as well find someonewho does have the experience andwho understands the gay and lesbiankind of themes and who isn’t afraidof them because it was such a big part of the show.I looked around on IMDB for peopleand I saw Susan and that she hadwritten for the L-Word andthirtysomething. Luckily, she also hadher email there, which isn’t usual.Most people are really hard to get intouch with.I emailed her and told her that I wasreally looking for more of asupervising producer to just guide mehere and there on certain things. We sat down and had a meeting andshe said she was interested but thatshe wanted to be something more -that she wanted to write for the series.I was over the moon and was like,wow, that’s fine with me. Sign her up.So, it went from there and we did asubstantial re-write of the tenepisodes that I already had. She didwhat I had wanted her to do - to say you need to do this, that, and theother to make this better. So that wasgreat. And then we went on fromthere.
 “...I realized I needed kind of aveteran - somebody that knewabout how to make a series andmake it work, to help out, becauseit was very new to me.” - Tina Cesa Ward, on reaching
 
outto playwright, Susan Miller
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SCHMOOTZ:
How do you decidewho writes what? Do either of youhave a particular passion for a certainpoint or character in the story line?
TINA:
 Last year we assigned re-writes. This year is all new, sosometimes who gets assigned to it is atime issue. We sit down and gothrough the outline of all theepisodes and we both know what wewant to say in each episode. Thereare times when Susan will say “oh I’dlike to try a stab at that.” And thenthere are times when we’ll start off writing an episode with the idea thatwe’re going to hand it off to eachother and it just turns out that oneperson just ends up writing it alltogether.There’s going to be a lot more thisseason where she’s writing somesolely and I’m writing some solelyand it really does come down to timebecause we’re trying to get so muchinto production as soon as possible. And once I get into production, Ireallyhaveno time. I’m tied up areallygoodten days prior toproduction,and then if afterproduction,I end up editing, thenI’m tied upagain for another coupleof weeks.I guess in the end there’s no realgameplan. We’re going as “whoneeds to write it,what needs to bewritten, you writeit, what’s the plan?”
SCHMOOTZ:
  Writing for thisformat, with arather large cast of characters were youable to write theSeason 1 script in 6-8minute episodes tobegin with, or did you write the entireseason’s script and then go back andsegment into episodes?
TINA:
 Last season, we had them allwritten before we went intoproduction. But last season we wentinto production as the money cameinto us and that, in some ways, was agood thing, because we would shoottwo episodes at a time and aftershooting and editing them, sometimeswe’d look at the scripts for the nexttwo episodes and go “wow, you knowwhat, I think we have that covered,maybe we should try this now or goin this direction.”Last season, although we had themall written, we did do a lot of re-writes and pulled from differentepisodes before we would shoot.Episode ten last season was acompletely new episode. We hadwritten up until episode 8 and thatwas going to be the last one. Butwe had pulled from somany of the otherepisodes from throughoutthe season, that we had tocreate a whole new episode(ten).This season, we sat downand know where thecharacters are going. Weknowthe story lines we want to tackle andwhat’s going to happen in eachepisode but we haven’t written themall completely yet. So with that, theremight be some changes in our planthat we originally sat down with inthe beginning of the season.
SCHMOOTZ:
As far as casting,what was it about Rachael that yousaid this is Vivian or about Nicolethat told you she’s Aster?
TINA:
 I saw a picture of Rachaelthat someone sent me because wewere looking for people anywhere. Iwas instantly drawn to her andthought, oh, please be good. So shedid come in for the audition and shewas good and we instantly knew wewanted to use her but the jury wasstill out on exactly where.Then Nicole came in and weinstantly knew we wanted to use hertoo, because she was great in theaudition, and she had this quality that just sort of stunned us, and we werelike, oh yeah, we’re using her.Then it just came down to where wegoing to use them. They had the bestchemistry with Rachael as Vivian andNicole as Aster when they readtogether. So they were a great find forus. It was pretty early on - it didn’ttake too long to find them.
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