Holiday Films’ Steven Tsuchida recently took a break from directing TV commercials to direct an episode of Community. The NBC TV show, starring Chevy Chase (among others), focuses on a band of misfits who attend community college in the fictional locale of Greendale, Colorado.
Here’s a Q&A with Steven on his experience directing the show.
Q: You’ve previously directed for TV, can you tell me a little bit about previous projects and how did this job come to be?
ST: My previous experience with television was directing for The Sarah Silverman Program and another Comedy Central show called American Body Shop.
I wanted to direct Community, so my agent was very, very persistent in beating down the door to the executive producers of the show and having them take a meeting with me. It was through this fantastic meeting that I was offered the chance to direct the show.
Like my mom always says, “Always wear clean underwear, smile and be polite.” These little things go along way when dealing with people.
Q: How long did you shoot for?
ST: Our production schedule was typical of any half hour single camera comedy – three days of prep and five shoot days.
The prep is 3 days.
Q: Please tell me about how this experience differed from your past television experience.
ST: The biggest difference with Community is that the writers are tinkering with the script up until the very end. On most shows you have a script that is fairly locked-down days before your first shoot day. The constant drive to make the script better and better leads to a lot of rewrites, new pages and new jokes. This can be challenging for the production crew, as they need to accommodate these changes with short notice, but in the end it makes for a great show, one that is better than where the script started.
Q: Was there an aspect of this project that you found challenging?
ST: It is always a challenge to create the best performance – this is my constant challenge with any project. No matter how creatively you shoot a scene, it will always be the performance that sticks with an audience. Luckily I was working with a very talented cast, who have lived and breathed their characters for the last three years. As the “new guy” on set, I offered a different viewpoint in performance and character development that sometimes is not explored, since it is easy to go on auto pilot when you are doing the same character for so long.
Dealing with actors in commercials vs. film and TV is also quite different and challenging. In TV and film the direction needs to be more specific, with good reasoning behind it, and have a strong view point. I love and respect commercial actors, but the advertising system has developed a history of them doing anything that the director, agency and client want them to do – whether it is a thousand takes or a thousand versions. That methodology does not work in TV and Film.
Q: Is there anything you’ll take from this experience and apply to commercial film production?
ST: Working in TV is a constant reminder of the great acting and actors out in the industry. What I bring back to the spot making world is the nuances, psychology and skill to making me a better “actor’s” director. Every actor is different and so every situation will be different and requires a different set of skills. This was very evident when dealing with such a large cast on Community. All of which adds more ammunition toward my directing process in spot making.
Q: Do you have any other longer format work, TV or feature film, in the works?
ST: I will hopefully be working on a Comedy Central show in the late spring and a new 20th Century Fox show.
The episode of Community that Steven Tsuchida directed will air at the end of March or in April.
View Steven Tsuchida’s commercial film reel.