'Charmed' is 'committed to diversity and inclusion', says Tessa Blake who directs this week's 'haunting' episode
In a chat with MEAWW, Blake spoke of working as a female director in television and credits 'Charmed' showrunners for their ambition for the show, as well as Jennie Urman's production company for its inclusive environment
This Friday's episode of 'Charmed', 'The Truth about Kat and Dogs', will see Poppy Drayton's Abigael tap into Harry's (Rupert Evans) subconscious to figure out where his Darklighter might be and therefore find Macy. The episode, written by Johanna Lee, has been directed by Tessa Blake, who spoke about working on The CW reboot episode with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
Blake is a versatile director having worked on a variety of television shows such as 'NCIS: New Orleans', 'iZombie', and 'A Million Little Things', to name a few. She says, "I've had the opportunity to work with exceptional actors, amazing crews and with the kind of budgets that afford you some of the fun tools as a visual storyteller, like cranes, explosions, and visual effects."
On directing shows of different genres, Blake says, "Every TV show has a different visual grammar and in order to do that show you must learn that grammar, you must learn the language of that show. But it's not enough to just replicate the language of that show you want to emulate, but also elevate it and bring to it your own vision."
For 'Charmed', Blake said there were some scenes that had elements of jump-scare, so she studied jump-scares from different movies to bring something fresh to what she was making. For example, while directing an episode of 'iZombie' which featured a woman who is thought to be dead, but is a zombie, Blake pulled inspiration from Quentin Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction', particularly a scene where Uma Thurman's character overdoses and is given Naloxone and suddenly pops up. Blake broke down the scene to study its structure to help her with her own scene.
Blake aims to work collaboratively with the showrunners for each episode and to understand what they want to achieve from their show or from those scenes or from the episode. About 'Charmed' season 2 showrunners, Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro, Blake says that the couple had "tremendous ambition to bring terrific performances and continue to grow the storyline."
Blake admits there's a high level of difficulty in directing 'Charmed', which she calls a "very ambitious show", with a heavy amount of special effects and stunts, saying, "it's a demanding genre show and I loved that."
She says that this week's episode is "delightfully different, where we enter into one of the character's psyche, and in doing that we created something very different for television." She credits the director of photography, Joe Gallagher, as well as the showrunners for the collaboration, "[Shapiro and Kruger] want you to be bold, and they are well supported by CBS Studios and The CW in creating something original."
Blake had previously worked on 'Once Upon A Time' as well, and so was prepared to work with the VFX-heavy 'Charmed'. She adds that there was a great opportunity to do character-driven work as well and is really proud of some of the scenes. She says, "We created a practical scene that played in a cool way," and is thrilled for viewers to watch this week's episode.
Blake says viewers will get a glimpse into Harry's past human life and will get the opportunity to "dimensionalize our understanding of Harry and the deep psychology that drives him, even though he has no memory of it." The episode will dig deeper into Harry's past and self, and see Harry's perspective of his past. Blake says the episode is "very haunting and moving" and it will be an interesting look into somebody's subconscious. Rupert Evans called the upcoming episodes one of the best of the series and Blake agrees, adding that it was, "overwhelmingly the coolest thing we did."
Blake credits 'Charmed' for being committed to diversity and inclusion and says "you feel that in every part of the experience," adding there is diversity through the cast and the crew. She credits the environment on the set to the highly-inclusive Sutton St. Productions -- started by Jennie Urman ('Jane the Virgin') and Joanna Klein.
When Blake first started working in television, she recalls there were "about 14% female directors that year," and feels fortunate to have been part of a wave of women entering into the field. She says that when coming back to a show or a particular showrunner, "I get to walk in the door as a director who's worked with them before," rather than just as a female director and that makes her feel more comfortable to do her job.
Blake adds that she does feel optimistic that things are changing, saying, "I appreciate all the work that's been done in the industry to create a much more level playing field for women and people of color," and that she feels the sincerity of the industry in the attempt to really change the scene.
When Blake directs for episodic television, she feels that "your sacred oath is with the script," with the showrunners helping to understand what comes before and after the episode she is directing. She asks questions of the writers, the showrunners, and the actors so as not to make inaccurate assumptions, adding, "The actors know their characters better [than me]." What Blake aims to do is "to create the best version of that particular story that I possibly can," and be inspired by the material provided to her and the people she is working with.
Though she did not get to work much with Madeleine Mantock who plays Macy, Blake loved working with the actors on 'Charmed', especially Sarah Jeffery, Melonie Diaz, Poppy Drayton, and Rupert Evans who feature heavily in the episode: "They're pros who are creative and inspired and invested." She says they are really different people with really different backgrounds, though she found she had one thing in common with each of them in a fun way. She says, "It's such a cool adventure to get to know each of those people individually and to work with them."
Though Blake has been asked to return as a director for 'Charmed' -- and she would love to -- her schedule for the 2019-2020 television season is packed. Blake has work lined up from multiple shows including 'Bull', 'Riverdale', and 'Station 19'. She adds, "But I can't wait to come back and do more of the weird, interesting, fabulous episodes of 'Charmed'".
'Charmed' airs on The CW on Friday nights.