THE ‘SCHMOOTZ ON TINA CESA WARD
January 13, 2010
Tina Cesa Ward Anyone But Me Executive Producer/ Writer/Director
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 to shoot the ‘Schmootz with Tina. The timing of our interview was just post shooting, and as you will see in the following conversation, Tina is a very busy woman during production. So, Tina, thank you for your limited and precious 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 with the endless circle of coming out and the inevitable consequences of that decision. Anyone But Me is about relationships, both familial and friendly; it is about growing, both generationally and emotionally. Though I thankfully 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. I wince with their hurt and I laugh with their joy and I anticipate from my experience what will come next. Sometimes my 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. There is little doubt Tina is an experienced director and writer with a passion for her art, but we get a nice glimpse into the woman 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.
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SCHMOOTZ: I have discussed with friends what the title, Anyone But Me, means to each of us, but what does the series title, Anyone But Me, mean to you?
said everything ten minutes of exposition probably couldn’t - do you have a feeling when this happens that just says “yes, that’s it” Or is it really in the editing process?
how to make a series and make it work, to help out, because it was very new to me. I said I might as well ﬁnd someone who does have the experience and who understands the gay and lesbian kind of themes and who isn’t afraid of them because it was such a big part of the show. I looked around on IMDB for people and I saw Susan and that she had written for the L-Word and thirtysomething. Luckily, she also had her email there, which isn’t usual. Most people are really hard to get in touch with. I emailed her and told her that I was really looking for more of a supervising producer to just guide me here and there on certain things. We sat down and had a meeting and she said she was interested but that she 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.
TINA: To me, it’s “I can’t be anyone TINA: Sometimes it’s a bit of both. Sometimes you can see it when it but me.” All these people are who they are and they can’t be anyone else happens on set. And but who they are. Even though I was the one who came up with the title, Susan (Miller, the show’s other producer and writer) came up with a good one - about it being both about inclusion and exclusion. I thought that was a good way to look at it too. then SCHMOOTZ: You’re sometimes you do a couple of credited with titles of takes and you’re like, “well, I think I producer, writer, director and editor. Of these, what was your ﬁrst love and got it.” And then you go look at it in edit and you look at it in post and which is your true love? you’re like, “oh yeah, totally got it.” TINA: Directing and directing. I wanted to be a director since I was a young kid and I really got into writing because I needed something to direct. Although I really do enjoy writing, I think I’m probably more a director at heart, but because I haven’t been able to direct as much stuff as I would like. I think in terms of craft development I’m further along as a writer. The show’s been great in that respect because I’ve gotten to work (direct) so much, but I’ve still written so much more than I’ve directed. I’m hoping that I’ll start directing more stuff than I’ve written at some point. SCHMOOTZ: When you are directing a scene such as that look between Vivian and Sophie - as Vivian looked down from her new bedroom window in Season 1 - that SCHMOOTZ: Why did you decide to reach out to Susan Miller as a creative partner?
TINA: I’ve always done ﬁlm but So, it went from there and we did a someone mentioned to me about substantial re-write of the ten doing a web series. I had never really episodes that I already had. She did thought about doing television, even what I had wanted her to do - to say as a director. There’s been a couple of you need to do this, that, and the shows, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that other to make this better. So that was changed my mind because I saw that great. And then we went on from show and was amazed. I thought, there. “wow, you can really make incredible television.” But I didn’t really have any background in it or “...I realized I needed kind of a any experience in doing veteran - somebody that knew anything episodic. When I had the episodes written out, I realized I needed kind of a veteran somebody that knew about
about how to make a series and make it work, to help out, because it was very new to me.” - Tina Cesa Ward, on reaching out to playwright, Susan Miller
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SCHMOOTZ: How do you decide who writes what? Do either of you have a particular passion for a certain point or character in the story line? TINA: Last year we assigned rewrites. This year is all new, so sometimes who gets assigned to it is a time issue. We sit down and go through the outline of all the episodes and we both know what we want to say in each episode. There are times when Susan will say “oh I’d like to try a stab at that.” And then there are times when we’ll start off writing an episode with the idea that we’re going to hand it off to each other and it just turns out that one person just ends up writing it all together. There’s going to be a lot more this season where she’s writing some solely and I’m writing some solely and it really does come down to time because we’re trying to get so much into production as soon as possible. And once I get into production, I really have no time. I’m tied up a really good ten days prior to production, and then if after production, I end up editing, then I’m tied up again for another couple of weeks.
needs to write it, what needs to be written, you write it, what’s the plan?” SCHMOOTZ: Writing for this format, with a rather large cast of characters were you able to write the Season 1 script in 6-8 minute episodes to begin with, or did you write the entire season’s script and then go back and segment into episodes? TINA: Last season, we had them all written before we went into production. But last season we went into production as the money came into us and that, in some ways, was a good thing, because we would shoot two episodes at a time and after shooting and editing them, sometimes we’d look at the scripts for the next two episodes and go “wow, you know what, I think we have that covered, maybe we should try this now or go in this direction.”
know the story lines we want to tackle and what’s going to happen in each episode but we haven’t written them all completely yet. So with that, there might be some changes in our plan that we originally sat down with in the beginning of the season. SCHMOOTZ: As far as casting, what was it about Rachael that you said this is Vivian or about Nicole that told you she’s Aster? TINA: I saw a picture of Rachael that someone sent me because we were looking for people anywhere. I was instantly drawn to her and thought, oh, please be good. So she did come in for the audition and she was good and we instantly knew we wanted to use her but the jury was still out on exactly where. Then Nicole came in and we instantly knew we wanted to use her too, because she was great in the audition, and she had this quality that just sort of stunned us, and we were like, oh yeah, we’re using her. Then it just came down to where we going to use them. They had the best chemistry with Rachael as Vivian and Nicole as Aster when they read together. So they were a great ﬁnd for us. It was pretty early on - it didn’t take too long to ﬁnd them.
Last season, although we had them all written, we did do a lot of rewrites and pulled from different episodes before we would shoot. Episode ten last season was a I guess in the end there’s no real completely new episode. We had game plan. We’re going as “who written up until episode 8 and that was going to be the last one. But we had pulled from so NICOLE PACEN T many of the other episodes from throughout the season, that we had to create a whole new episode (ten). This season, we sat down and know where the characters are going. We
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TINA (cont’d): It took a little while to ﬁnd Sophie, but as soon as Jessy walked in and she sat down with Rachael, we were all like, OK there she is. So that happened instantly too.
I think Jessy is helping to pull that off. I’ve noticed that in some of the comments lately, so I’m happy because I really like her and I love Sophie. She was one of the ﬁrst characters that I came up with that meant a lot to me for the series. So I’m excited to progress with her and see Sometimes that happens with casting, and you hope that’s how everyone takes to her. what happens, where they just walk in you’re like immediately “yes, that’s them!” The same thing D JOSH HOLLAN happened with Josh (Archibald). Josh was by far the best actor we had seen that day, plus we just thought he was adorable and his approach to the character was so great. So we were just hooked on him immediately, too. We got pretty lucky with the casting, I have to say. They’re all so wonderful and have grown so much throughout the ﬁrst season and they continue to grow as actors. It’s an incredible thing to watch. SCHMOOTZ: Yeah, I’m really enjoying Sophie right now. There’s just something about her. TINA: I think Jessy is put in an awkward position right now because it seems people are out there saying “oh Sophie, you can’t come between Vivian and Aster!” But it seems like they’re having a hard time really hating her, which is great. I don’t see how you can. I love Jessy, she’s amazing and she’s a great little actor, but she also brings something that’s kind of real and genuine to it, that it’s hard to really dislike her even if you are thinking in the back of your head, “oh is she going to come between Vivian and Aster?”
SCHMOOTZ: In season two, are you beginning to incorporate any of the actor’s personalities into the characters? TINA: I don’t think so. I guess it’s because they’re progressing that maybe people see that more. And they’re getting more comfortable that maybe they’re melding with their characters. Susan and I certainly don’t say Jessy does this so maybe we should write that in or Rachael does that so maybe we should write that in. Obviously you cast people for who they are as well, so when you’re casting them, you want to make sure you’re casting to their strengths. So you’re casting a little bit of their personality too. Plus they’re so accessible to the fans, that I think it’s easy for the fans to get to know them now. Especially Rachael, they get to know her, and say, oh, that’s so Vivian. But they can’t act and check their personalities at the door. It’s all going to cross over here and there. SCHMOOTZ: There have been other coming of age teen dramas that tackle stereotypes and intolerance. How do you feel Anyone But Me is different?
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TINA: I never wanted to make a heavy-handed series that’s like an after-school special. I watch some series sometimes and I go, oh here comes the theme or here comes the issue. We want everything to be more organic, like this just happens in life. We don’t want to make a big issue out of anything, but want to just let it ﬂow in and out of the stories. So I think that’s kind of a major difference. We don’t walk into it and say “now we’re going to talk about coming out; now we’re going to talk about this, that, and the other.” It’s more like “now we’re going to talk about how Vivian feels and the conﬂicts she’s going through.” So I guess that’s a difference too - where we kind of approach things from an emotional standpoint and not an issue standpoint. SCHMOOTZ: In high school were you more like Vivian or Aster? Now, if you could go back to high school with the knowledge and life experiences since, would you still be more like the character you selected you were like in high school?
so that’s a big change. Maybe that helps keep people so loyal when they actually can communicate with the actors and the producers. So I think it’s helping, but again, how much it’s really helping, I don’t think any of us will really know. SCHMOOTZ: Do you ﬁnd the instant feedback from social networking sites inﬂuencing at all as far as story lines or editing go? TINA: I would say that we always have a plan. We listen to what goes on out there but I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where we’re going to hear a fan say something and we’re going to say, “yeah, let’s do that.” We have a long term plan for everything so nothing really deviates from that when we get comments.
TINA: Oh, I’m certainly a lot more Vivian. Aster would be someone I would go “wow, I wish I could be a lot more like her.” Now, no, I still don’t mind being Vivian. It’s o.k. with me, that’s who I am, that’s ﬁne. But I also really like Vivian. SCHMOOTZ: Has Social networking been an effective marketing tool or is the jury still out on Twitter and Facebook? TINA: I think it’s a little of both. I think it’s helped but there’s no true evidence that it’s really helped. I know we spend a lot of time doing it, that’s for sure. I think it has helped spread the word and it makes the web series a little different because it makes us all so accessible also to our fans. We talk to our fans all the time
But it’s always interesting to see what’s working, and maybe in that respect it does feed into a little bit because we can see what’s working and what’s not. But there are times when people will comment and I’m like, “oh, just give it a little time people.” Then I’ll see things where they’re like “oh we want to see this, that, or the other,” and we’ll kind of smile because we know those things are coming. So we’re certainly listening, but in the end, we do have our plans. SCHMOOTZ: Can you give us any sneak peeks into what’s ahead for Anyone But Me? TINA: We’re going to go deeper into the characters. You’re going to see something different with Aster in these next coming episodes. So that’s something new which I hope will be exciting for people. We’re going to show a different side of Aster, doing something outside of and without Vivian.
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SCHMOOTZ: Do you have any other projects going on? I read on your website about one of your ﬁlms in But, I’m hoping when we wrap the season, this year, development called my brother beckett. Any idea when that is which hopefully will be before the summer, then I can coming out? take the time to go and do other projects. TINA: I’ve been so busy with this series since 2007 that I haven’t had any time to do anything else. So everything else has been put on hold just because carrying all of those titles means I have a lot to do. It’s an every day affair with Anyone But Me. Susan and I talk to each other more than anybody I’ve dated it seems. So at 10 at night we’re like, o.k. we’re going to sleep now and it’s like that almost every day. And my brother beckett is certainly one of those projects I want to do. It’s based on a short ﬁlm I did years ago called Responsible Nooses. That and some other projects I have in the works, and maybe I’ll do a play in the summer. Hopefully, because it will be a nice change of pace to do something on the stage.
SCHMOOTZ: What is the worst trouble you’ve ever been in and is there a mug shot? TINA: I never really did anything bad. I was always pretty responsible. I think the worst trouble was probably when I was like nine or 10. I’m always very curious about everything and there was someone’s empty barn and I went in and just explored with my cousin. So I went home and then the cops showed up and said to my mom, “you know you’re kid and whoever else she was with broke into a barn.” And I was just like “What?!” I guess when I was a kid, and even now, if there’s some abandoned building, I’m always drawn to just go in and see if there are any ghosts or something like that. SCHMOOTZ: What do you wish you had invented? TINA: Perhaps the bicycle because it’s one of my favorite things. SCHMOOTZ: Favorite Sesame Street Character? TINA: Can it be the Muppets too? Because I wasn’t a big Sesame Street watcher. I was a huge Muppets fan and I had all of them as a kid and put on a show for the neighborhood. Boy, that’s a tough one because I loved all of them so much. It’s up in the air between Gonzo, even Scooter, and perhaps Kermit. SCHMOOTZ: What's on your screen saver? TINA: I don’t really have one. It just goes black. What’s on my desktop? An Edward Hopper painting of the 59th St. bridge. SCHMOOTZ: What is the ﬁrst thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? TINA: I’m sure something about Anyone But Me. It varies from day to day. But it’s always “ok now I have to get up and what do I need to do immediately?” And then the next thought is “let’s get the dogs out.” SCHMOOTZ: I read that you love Battlestar Galactica (BSG). Who is your favorite BSG character? TINA: The President, Laura Roslin. She is my favorite all the way through. I always liked everyone else, but there’s just something about her. I have a thing for the strong woman in the know, and who’s in control. I just love that character and I thought Mary McDonnell just played her so incredibly well and her character just goes through some really interesting changes. SCHMOOTZ: In a relationship, are you the spooner or are you the fork? TINA: Ohhh boy. What is the deﬁnition of the fork? SCHMOOTZ: Oh that’s the person that just lies there, I think. TINA: Oh, I see. I guess I’m probably more the spooner.
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For more information about Tina Cesa Ward and her web series, Anyone But Me you can visit the following sites: Tina on Twitter: @tcwnyc Tina’s website: http://www.wardpicturecompany.com Anyone But Me on Twitter: @AnyoneButMe Anyone But Me website: http://www.anyonebutmeseries.com/
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