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From Trickster to Director: An SPN Family Journey With Richard Speight Jr.

December 3, 2015
Richard and Jenny, Photo Chris Schmelke

Richard and Jenny, Photo Chris Schmelke

It’s a little after 1 am EST and I just finished watching ‘Just My Imagination’. OMG. I’m blown away and cannot wait to write up my review! Last night at 1 am I was on the phone with the director of tonight’s episode, Richard Speight Jr., and he was telling me just how proud he was of it. Now I see why. Oh boy, do I!

Here’s what else Richard had to say about his Supernatural directorial debut, sans spoilers – you’ll have to check back for those. Now that the episode has aired, I’ve got lots more questions for him! But for now, Richard gave us an inside look at how he ended up directing, and what it was like to be back to work on the Supernatural set.

We’ve known Richard since his very first Supernatural Creation convention way back in 2008, and have a great deal of respect for him as an actor and director (if you haven’t seen America 101, you should!) We also have a great deal of respect for Richard as host of all the Creation Supernatural conventions – he wrote a chapter for us in ‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ about how he changed con karaoke to the awesome thing that it is now, but he’s had a huge impact on every aspect of the conventions. The one time he wasn’t able to be there (because he was directing this episode!) his presence was greatly missed. Richard is a big part of our SPNFamily, so many of us have been eagerly awaiting tonight’s episode.

Baby!Richard in 2008, Photo Lizz Sisson

Baby!Richard in 2008, Photo Lizz Sisson

We met up in the green room at a recent convention to chat about ‘Just My Imagination.’ I somehow forgot the iPad once again, so tossed my brand new phone down on the table hoping it would serve as a backup to my trusty old school audio recorder. Then again, if you’ve read ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls,’ you know that technology is rarely my friend. Richard knows this too.

Lynn: I think this will work, I just don’t know if there’s a limit to how much it will record…

Richard: Oh there is – we’ll find out when we hit it!

Lynn: (laughing) I guess we will. Okay, so are you going to give spoilers? Do I need to wait to run this when the episode airs?

Richard: It depends on what your questions are, but most likely I won’t give spoilers.

Lynn: You know you can trust me if you want to….

Richard: Oh I know, of course.

Lynn: Never mind, I probably will wait to run it anyway just because that makes more sense, so you don’t have to be paranoid. Frankly, I’m too paranoid about spoilers, so I’d rather just wait.

Richard: Right right, then neither of us have to worry about it.

Our mutual paranoia about inadvertent spoiling out of the way, we got down to business.

Lynn: So go back to the beginning. I remember that you were up there on the Supernatural set shadowing directors, there were rumors that you were going to direct, but how long have you known you were going to do this and how did it happen?

Richard: I started circling my wagons after I made my film America 101, because what I wanted to do was use my short film as an entrée into telling bigger stories in terms of TV and film. That’s not to say that I immediately thought I would get a shot at doing that, I just thought it would be a good beginning. And what happened was, so I did the film and then I took it to festivals and I was lucky enough to have a very successful festival run. It played over 30 festivals in a year, which is a really good run.

Lynn: I’ll say! It’s a great film.

Richard: And it got great reviews and that was great, because what that did for me was it enabled me to use it as a calling card, moreso than ‘hey I made a short film’. You say, ‘the Huffington Post picked it as one of the best films at the Palm Springs Filmfest, Film Direct gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and it played at 30 festivals, would you watch it?’ That’s an easier pitch to people up the food chain.

Lynn: Definitely. So did you pitch it specifically to Supernatural?

Richard: Absolutely. Yes, because Supernatural is as close to a home show as I have. As an actor, I’m not currently on a show. If I were currently on a show, I would have targeted that show. So Supernatural was as close to a home show as I had, and I felt like it was a good show for me to do, in that it’s a great mix of drama and comedy.

Lynn: Absolutely – it mixes them better than just about any other show.

Richard: It has a lot of humor, it winks at itself and has a lot of fun and it has characters who have fun. At the same time, it’s also very intense, and it’s much more filmically interesting than say a procedural. Not that I wouldn’t take that job as well, but for the way my mind works, it was a better fit. And the way my eye works, it was a better fit.

Lynn: That makes sense. Then what happened?

Richard: So a couple things happened then. I made the film, got into festivals, built my resume there. Then, on the back of the success of the short film, I got picked up by a production company out of New York to direct commercials. Which was a real pleasant surprise. So that enabled me to direct professionally. I started directing other people’s things, with other people’s money.

Lynn: Right, not something you wrote for yourself as a director.

Richard: Yeah, so it was really great at a big level, with no safety net, to direct commercials for big brands, mainly Pepsi, I did 5 or 6 for Pepsi. So some really big stuff that really helped me get my feet wet and get my brain right about what it means to be on a set directing when it’s not your friends doing it and it’s not your friends acting in it.

Lynn: I guess that would be very different. Not like working with Rob or Matt or other friends.

Richard: Very. And it got me into the DGA [Director’s Guild of America], which is great, so I didn’t have to lean on Supernatural or a new TV show for that.

Lynn: Because you were already in.

Richard: [nodding] And so all that worked to my advantage. And every commercial I would direct, I would send to Bob Singer and to Phil [Sgriccia] and say here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I’m shooting. I went through every step to make sure that it was abundantly clear that I was not taking shadowing or anything at Supernatural for granted. I made sure that Serge saw my short film and the stuff I’d shot. I showed Brad Creasser, the A Camera operator, who’s a friend of mine, all my stuff. I made sure that Jensen saw all my stuff, and Jared saw all my stuff. I made sure Misha saw all of it. Just so it was clear, so they knew I wasn’t just sitting around hoping I’d get a shot with them, that I was out there doing my own thing trying to hone my craft so when the day came that I got an opportunity, I would already be on the freeway, I wouldn’t be starting from a cold stop.

Lynn: And you sort of had proved yourself.

Richard: [nodding]

Lynn: Jensen told me a month ago, I think I texted you this, that he had seen – and now I know how – that he had seen a bunch of things you’d directed and that he was really impressed. And he said that he was really looking forward to your directing, though he said ‘don’t tell him that, we want him to think we’re gonna give him shit. But honestly, we’re really looking forward to it, because he’s really good.’

Richard: And that’s a high compliment, and he was always an ally because he’s a director and an actor. But I was really nervous giving Jensen my stuff because, you know, I have a really good friendship with Jared and Jensen and I have a long standing professional relationship with them on the convention circuit and on the show and a friendship outside of it, and I would never want to blur those lines by acting like oh, I’m a friend, I should get this shot.

Richard directs Jensen in Just My Imagination

Richard directs Jensen in Just My Imagination

Lynn: Right, I see what you mean.

Richard: It was never about, ‘I’m a friend so help a brother out’. It was the exact opposite, I was saying I’m a friend so out of respect for that friendship, I’m gonna go around and make it as hard on myself as possible.

Lynn: I feel like you wanted to prove yourself a million times over…

Richard: Yeah.

Lynn: Just so it would never be like that.

Richard: I did, I wanted to take that conversation piece off the table. And meanwhile, Bob Singer has been a huge mentor to me. Bob is how I ended up on the show, and when I showed him my short film he watched it and he thought it was great, but he was very frank about one short film does not an episode get. Which I totally understood. I went out and did the commercials, and I was showing him all my stuff, and sort of letting him know that I was still very interested, and then he suggested that I do the Warner Bros. Directors Program.

Lynn: Oh, really?

Richard: Which is a very prestigious program WB has for taking people they already deem to be good directors and crafting them into TV directors.

Lyn: I didn’t even know that existed.

Richard: Mm hmm. And it’s really built to be a – what’s the term for it? I don’t know what the proper terminology is – If I think of it I’ll text you – but the real core purpose of it is to open the doors for more female and minority directors.

Lynn: [looking puzzled]

Richard: I am neither.

Lynn: That is true.

Richard: I also needed that experience for WB as well, because Bob, Phil, Jensen, they could all say yeah, Richard can direct, but WB could say no.

Lynn: I know all about WB saying no…

Richard: [laughing, because Fangasm…] Right. So I had a great relationship with Chad Kennedy based on America 101 as well, he loved the short, we had a lot of conversations about it, and he was an advocate on my part for the program. And the issue of me not fitting that slot, it was a concern but if a showrunner reaches out on your behalf – and if you pass muster on everything else and they like your work –

Lynn: Which you had –

Richard: And then a showrunner reaches out and says we’re actually thinking about it, we want him vetted through the system, then that’s your in. And Bob Singer did that on my behalf, which was a huge coup for me. And I didn’t ask him to do it, because I felt like that would be inappropriate for me to do that, but when he said go do the program, I said I would but this is the hurdle, it’s really not built for me, it’s about diversity.

Lynn: Right.

Richard: That’s the word I was looking for, it’s the diversity workshop. Its purpose is to hone great directors into great TV directors, but its core purpose aside from that is diversity.

Lynn: Which is really cool that they have that, and much needed.

Richard: It’s great. It’s also considered to be one of the best, there’s other networks and studios that have programs like that but they aren’t nearly as hands on, aren’t nearly as detail focused and strenuous as the WB program, so it’s a great program to get involved in. And granted I don’t represent diversity as a white male, but I’m still a guy who wants to direct on a bigger level and Bob was gracious enough to, without my requesting it, reach out and suggest they take me on. They had already cleared me for my work.

Lynn: So that was the last thing.

Richard: Right, so when he did that, they said okay great. He called and I was in. So I did the WB Directors Program – that was a very long story to tell you that I did that as well –

Lynn: [laughing]

Richard: And that was awesome! And that helped me meet a lot of other incredibly bright, talented people who do cool work and that was really fun. It was old school school, like you get out in front of people and do stuff, and are embarrassed and have the flop sweats and have the teacher tear you down and build you up. The teacher is a woman named Bethany Rooney who is just fantastic, she’s done a million episodes of TV and written a book on it, and is just incredibly direct and clear and is not afraid to correct you in front of everybody, but it was a great learning curve for me.

Lynn: And it seems like it really helped you. You told me about wanting to make this transition probably like two or three years ago now, over a glass of wine, before you even did the commercials.

I think it was this time...

I think it was this time…

Or maybe this one...

Or maybe this one…

Lynn: But this seems like really making the transition. Not that you won’t act too! By the time you got to the Supernatural set, did you feel confident and competent, or was it still nervewracking?

Richard: There’s no direct answer to that question. I showed up and I started prepping as soon as I got my episode. I started prepping my face off.

Lynn: [laughing] Jensen said that to me too, by the way. That you did a ton of prep just like he does and he thought that made all the difference.

Richard: It was prep prep prep and more prep, no sleep. I was in the apartment I was staying at in Vancouver, I didn’t go to dinner, I didn’t do anything. I was in lockdown. And that’s not to pat myself on the back, that’s just survival. I mean, my goal is not to direct an episode of Supernatural, my goal is to direct several episodes of Supernatural.

Lynn: [squee!]

Richard: And if I want to pull that off – or to direct several episodes of anything – I’ve got to swing for the fences. And swinging for the fences really means being so prepared that your newness doesn’t shine through. That was my goal. I knew that my inexperience would manifest itself somehow.

Thumbs up for #DirectingDick

Thumbs up for #DirectingDick

Lynn: Well, of course, it can’t not…

Richard: It can’t not when it’s your first time, it’s going to be your first time no matter how much you prep.

Lynn: But the more you prep, the more prepared you’ll be when it does inevitably happen.

Richard: Yeah, and the other thing that prep does in this situation is, if your plan is wrong, you can adjust it. If you have no plan, you’re boned. So if I go in with a plan and they say, ‘you know what, that’s going to be problematic because of x y and z’, then the incredibly bright professionals on that set will help me adjust the plan and make it work. Because I have a plan and we can all look at the plan. If you come in winging it, you’re dead before you get out of the boat.

Lynn: I cannot imagine how anyone would think they can wing it, it’s so complicated.

Richard: Well, when I say wing it, maybe it’s not really winging it, maybe they kinda come in with a slight overview, but they kinda want to see what the actors feel like for blocking and that kind of thing, and you know, having done the program, I will tell you this. If I had not done the WB program, if I had not directed commercials, and I had come in to direct an episode, it would have been a very different experience for me. And by different, I mean shittier.

Lynn: lol

Richard: Because I learned a ton the last two years of directing commercials and doing the program and shadowing too. Shadowing was great.

Lynn: Tell me about that, about shadowing.

Richard: After I did the program, I wanted to shadow. Wait, that’s not true, I did one shadow before, I shadowed Tom Wright before. And that was tricky – it’s hard to get to shadow on a show, it’s not the kind of thing they say yes to. I had to get through Jeremy Carver, Phil Sgriccia, I made sure Jared and Jensen were cool with it, and of course Bob Singer. Very tricky to get approval.

Lynn: I guess they don’t do it very often, do they?

Richard: Not really. And so I finally got approval, but Bob was like the 11th hour. I’d bought my ticket and was like, I’m headed up there to shadow, please say it’s all right! Jim Michaels was like, we’re cool with it, but Bob has got to say yes. And he finally was cool with it and Tom was cool with it. That was incredibly educational because prep is something you never get to peek in on.

Lynn: Yeah, how would you do that, because it happens sort of in isolation.

Richard: And you would sit through – there’s actors I’ve talked to who are like ‘oh yeah, I’ve talked to all these directors about their prep’, but nope, that’s not shadowing prep. Shadowing prep is you show up at the sound stage and you’re there from 8:30 in the morning until whenever they leave – 5, 6, 7, however long they stay. You sit in on every meeting they have, every decision that they make. They’re of course going to back to their room and do stuff that you can’t see, but…

Lynn: But you’re seeing an awful lot, things they can’t just tell you about.

Richard: You’re seeing everything else and talking to them about it. Interviewing them about it, hearing them talk about it, it’s not the same thing. It’s watching them do it, being a fly on the wall. That’s the only way you really get a sense of what it’s like, and I was so glad that I did that with Tom. I had really great shadow experiences with Tom for prep for 8 days. With Bob, I shadowed his entire shoot, 8 days. And with Phil, I shadowed 3 days of shooting and 2 days of editing.

Lynn: Wow, this is really a huge amount of work behforehand that went into this, more than I realized.

Richard: Oh yeah, I had no intention of a) not getting – let me put it this way, if I didn’t get an opportunity, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort. Know what I mean?

Lynn: That’s for sure!

Richard: My thing was to take anything off the table that was a reason for them to say no.

Lynn: And to do that all beforehand.

Richard: The Phil shadowing, I did once they said ‘you already have an episode, you’re going to direct’. Then I shadowed Phil. He’s one of most open and gracious guys I’ve ever dealt with. He’s the nicest guy. He’s a phenomenal director.

Lynn: When I’ve talked to him on set, he’s been incredibly nice and so friendly. Fans wish he was more involved with the show. I guess now he will be again.

Richard: It seems like that, a little more I think. But he’s literally – I owe him a tremendous amount. He’s been such a champion. We meet all the time, we meet and every couple weeks we’d have dinner and talk about everything, the positive and negative things in the directing experience in general.

Lynn: He really mentored you.

Richard: He really did. And he took a lot of time out of his schedule to do so, and even when I got my assignment we met a lot to talk about it, even before I started shooting — what pitfalls to look out for, before I even had a script. Then when I went there to shadow him when I had my assignment but not my script. And once I had my script, then we talked a lot about pros and cons, things to look out for. And he came up to Vancouver the second to the last day of prep and went over and sort of asked me about my plan for certain sequences and I went over what my designs were.

Lynn: So he came up and was really there for you, he was hands on about helping.

Richard: Mm hmm.

Lynn: I knew I liked him.

Richard: No, he’s great. And he’s been such an ally, like even on the phone, during the shoot I would call and say, ‘here’s what I’m thinking, what do you think about this?’ And he’d be like if dadadada then yes, and if dadadada then no.

Lynn: Advice in how you make the decisions, because that’s what it’s about really, directing – you’re making constant decisions as a director.

Richard: Yeah, you are. And so the journey then was Jeremy Carver called me a few months ago and said we’re gonna give you an episode, and I was like, this is awesome. And I started stressing out since then!

Lynn: And you just finished shooting and now you’re at a convention.

Richard: So now I’m two days out and OMG I still have to get involved with editing with Nicole but at least I’ve got the experience under my belt now, know what I mean? I’m not saying I’m not still stressed, but it is what it is. I’m out of the oven.

Lynn: [grinning at the relief on Richard’s face]

Richard: It was a great experience though, just fantastic. The most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

Lynn: So did they prank you at all?

Richard: Zero.

Lynn: Not at all.

Richard: No, and I didn’t expect them to. I know they’re all like, ah we’re gonna prank you, hahaha…

Lynn: Joking about it.

Richard: Yes, but here’s the thing. I’m not gonna put words in their mouths because I don’t really know why they prank or don’t prank people. But I have a theory. I think they know how hard I worked to get the slot, and if they prank me to the point where it’s a detriment to my ability to execute it, that would be counter productive for everybody.

Lynn: Yes, that’s true.

Richard: I mean, did they kinda break my balls on set a little bit? Sure, they gave me a hard time when I wanted an extra take, like ‘wow okay, whatever new guy’. I mean, did they give me a hard time in that way, kinda locker room ribbing? Absolutely. But they did not do anything that would…

Lynn: That would get in the way of you succeeding.

Richard: No, the exact opposite. They were incredibly helpful, when I had ideas they were incredibly open to my ideas and my visions of things, and would have conversations about it and bring their own ideas to the table.

Lynn: So it felt very collaborative.

Richard: Absolutely, yes. They were allies in the whole process, the exact opposite of pranks.

Lynn: I’m actually not surprised, that’s what I would have said – just enough ribbing because you’re friends.

Richard: They have a different relationship with Misha, they see Misha all the time and they have a sort of brotherly wrestling relationship with him.

Lynn: Yes, literally.

Richard: [laughing] Yes, literally. That’s not the rapport we have, we have a great great friendship, I think the world of those guys and we have a lot of mutual respect all around. I’m not the guy that they rip my shirt off in a panel and run off the stage. That’s just not the rapport we have.

Lynn: Different but just as much affection behind it.

Richard: Like I said, I could be wrong about why they chose not to.

Lynn: No, I bet you’re right.

Richard: That’s just my theory.

Lynn: So, someone said that the script that Jenny Klein wrote is awesome and weird in a Ben Edlundish way.

Richard: I will tell you this, it’s not Ben Edlundish, it’s very Jenny Kleinish. And I think to take away her 100% contribution and put another writer’s spin on it is unfair to her own unique creativity. I mean, it’s very much her creativity and her voice and it’s fantastic. I feel very lucky to have gotten that material to work with.

Lynn: I love Jenny!

Richard: She’s fantastic, I love her. She’s a great writer and this is a great example of what she’s capable of in terms of painting outside the lines and things like that.

Lynn: Now I’m even more excited!

At the next convention, which was in Pasadena, Jenny stopped by at karaoke along with fellow Supernatural writer Bob Berens. I asked her how she felt about the upcoming Richard-directed episode, and she said that this episode is her favorite of everything she’s written. Ooooh!

Richard and Jenny were so glad to see each other, and both so excited about this episode. Their mutual admiration and respect is all kinds of heartwarming. SPNFamily, you guys.

IMG_4721

I caught up with Richard again this week, as he tried to get ready for a trip to Australia for another convention.

Lynn: So the sneak peek is out for your episode. Which is awesome! I’m particularly fond of Sam and Dean’s sweaters. Who decided on those?

Richard: Well, Jenny designed that sequence, which means she had the idea of having them dress conservatively, and then it was the wardrobe department. And they really went nuts with the whole bit, which I thought was fantastic.

Lynn: I totally agree!

Richard: And it’s funny, if you look at it, Jared looks like Fred Rogers and Jensen looks like he should be smoking a pipe in a woodsy old room. Even in the sweater world, they have different energy!

11.08 sweaterboys

Lynn: (laughing) It’s true. That’s probably why they get along so well. People seemed to really like the sneak peek. There’s a lot of anticipation for this episode.

Richard: What do you think is the origin of the anticipation, is it based on the teaser? What drives that kind of interest?

Lynn: Well, partly, you! We’re all happy that you’re back with Supernatural.

Richard: That’s cool. Though I’m worried that some people are thinking that I’m in it, which I’m not. You know?

Lynn: I think most people know you’re directing. Finally in Season 11, TPTB have realized that they have this amazing wealth of talent that they could bring back to the Show. People who the fans feel close to, who they feel like they know a little bit from conventions, and who they love. Bringing you back to direct an episode, it’s like they brought in one of the family to direct!

Richard: That’s very cool. I certainly feel close to that whole world. Moreso now since the directing thing that it’s not just being in it. Not that being in it isn’t awesome, but it’s a different set of responsibilities and level of responsibilities when you’re helming it.

Lynn: Oh yes, completely different. So yes, we’re excited. And the teaser didn’t give too much away. It was more like, a) Sam and Dean look really good in those sweaters and b) that looks like a weird episode – in a good way.

Richard: Good, I’m glad that’s been their response. I try to follow on twitter but I’m just not that tapped into it even for someone who’s on social media as much as I am. I don’t know how to read the flow that well. It’s a good episode. I know I’m biased, but Jenny wrote the shit out of it and did a really good job of creating a few different things going on simultaneously, which is both the fun format-bending elements of a quirky Supernatural journey – a side journey – but also working within that she created a lot of heart and sincerity that’s really beautiful.

Lynn: Which is a combination that Supernatural does very well, better than most shows.

Richard: Mm hmm. It does and she did, and we got a great cast. I mean, the jury is still out because the episode hasn’t aired, but I’m very proud of the episode and not just because of my own experience as a director and the uniqueness of having your first time in the chair. But also because of what Jenny did and how she crafted this episode. Obviously every episode of Supernatural hinges on Jared and Jensen, but occasionally it also hinges on a very substantial guest star. This is one of those episodes. There is no Misha, there is no Mark. There’s Jared and Jensen and the third prong is Nate Torrence, who plays the imaginary friend, and he’s just so good. He was such a find when we got him – and we didn’t discover him, this guy’s a veteran actor who’s been in a million things – he’s just so good. He brings such a level to it that he enabled Jared and Jensen to play at their top level. You know, you can only play tennis with somebody who knows how to serve. If you get a guest star who kind of lobs the ball, you’re stuck with that. But if you get somebody who can fire rockets, then you can fire rockets back. The mundane becomes interesting. What could be ordinary becomes fascinating. And we were fortunate to get Nate on the roster, because he just crushed it on every level. From the comedic to the heartfelt, he was in the pocket.

Jared and Jensen with Nate

Jared and Jensen with Nate

Lynn: Apparently everyone thought so. Jensen said that this episode is one of the funniest they’ve ever done. The guest star was phenomenal, he said.

[Jensen also said that he was especially glad that Richard was directing, because he knows when a joke lands and he knows when it doesn’t. And that the episode will be like an SNL if it turns out to be as funny as they think it is. I forgot to tell Richard that in our conversation – but I’m sure he’s reading it now. It was a lovely compliment, I think]

Richard: Well we all knew going into it, once the script came out, that the episode was going to live or die based on who played that role. Really and truly. There’s other elements going on, for sure, but so much of the story is taken up by this character’s journey in relation to the fellas that if you don’t buy it, you don’t enjoy it, you don’t connect with it, then you’re just stuck watching Sam and Dean muddle through a story line that you’re not committed to. Well, you’re committed to this, because he’s the type of talented performer who can paint with a very detailed brush and create all the nuances of what seems like a real character, and it doesn’t seem fake or designed for your entertainment. It seems genuine.

Lynn: Oh, I also wanted to ask you – Jared and Jensen said this at a con, so I’m sure you’re aware, teasing you about calling them by their character names on set.

Richard: [laughing] I think I got more shit from Jared about that – and I still to this day don’t ever remember calling Jensen ‘Dean’. Which is funny to me, because why would I call Jared ‘Sam’ and not Jensen ‘Dean’?

Lynn: Hmmm, good question.

Richard: But it’s such a Sam episode – it’s very Sam heavy. And I guess it genuinely did bother Jared and we’re good friends so he could break my chops about it, but you could tell – you know it was like, ‘dude don’t call me Sam, I’m not Sam!’

Lynn and Richard: [laughing]

Richard: And part of it is, granted I’ve never been the lead of a show for 11 years, but I’ve done a lot of TV over 25 years and I’ve never had an issue being called by the character name. so I didn’t know that would bother people! Because I look at Jared and Sam as two completely different human beings.

Lynn: Oh, me too, me too.

Richard: So I’ve been studying the script from the day Jeremy gave it to me, and I’m engrossed with what Sam is doing.

Lynn: Sure, sure.

Richard: [indignant] I never called him Sam while we were having lunch! It wasn’t like hey Sam, this is what I think blah blah blah.

Lynn: [cracking up]

Richard: And Jared’s like, ‘really? Sam?’ And to his point, he’s right. He, Jared, is being directed as Sam to do something. Totally understood. But I was never forgetting who he was and if anything, I think I was more committed and more engrossed in what he was doing as the character and consequently speaking the language to the character versus pulling out and interpreting Jared from Sam. Clearly it’s a mistake I won’t make again, because lord knows I’ll never live it down!

Lynn: I think he just had to find something to bust on you for.

Richard: Oh yes he busted on me for that from day one! Also, I’m looking at the monitor when I’m directing. And looking at the monitor is like looking at a painting, you’re watching images move around in a design that you have either crafted in a room by yourself or crafted with the camera team right there with the actors, so when he’s moving in the space that is the Supernatural space, he’s Sam to me. And he’s Dean. Not Jared and Jensen, because once they’re in the outfits there on the set, they become the characters. It’s like sliding chess pieces around in a fun creative way to me, and I got so wrapped up in it that I (laughing) forgot they were the real guys.

Lynn: I think he should have been flattered actually. It’s a testament to his good acting that Sam is so different than Jared. I’ve watched them filming and you can see both of them snap into character – different expressions, mannerisms. So really, it was a compliment.

Richard: Yeah.

[beat]

Richard: YEAH!

Lynn: Yeah, damn it!

After we calmed down from laughing, I remembered one more thing I wanted to ask about.

Lynn: So there was that hysterical little video called ‘The Other Way’ with Jensen and Jared in the car. [If you haven’t seen it, find it on youtube – now!] I asked Jensen about it and he said that he had a line that was something like “There’s always another way,” but he messed up and said “There’s another way.” He and Jared know each other so well that when they mess up, the other one just goes back and feeds the line again. Apparently Jared threw him the line again, Jensen messed it up again – -and again – and then Jared was just like ok, now we’re gonna make it a bit. And they did! He also said it was your episode and you didn’t yell cut – probably because you were like, what the hell are they doing?

Richard: No, I wasn’t, because I think if I was thinking that, I would have called cut earlier. I saw where their brains were going. I didn’t know what they were going to do with it, but I knew they were gonna do something, so I decided that I would just let it happen.

Lynn: Ah. Good decision.

Richard: It’s easy to look back on it and say oh that was great, it’s a great moment, so it was fun to watch it happen. But the rest of the crew, I think it was the last shot of the night and everyone was exhausted. Johnny Mac, the first AD, was looking at me going ‘are you ready to call cut or am I going to call cut?’ He was ready to Move. On. But I let it run for a while because I could tell that they were cookin’ up something. And it is hilarious.

Lynn: It is totally hilarious. Everyone loved it. Your instincts were good. Were you far away from them, how did you know what was happening?

Richard: I’m watching on the monitor and I can hear them and see them pretty well. I was probably fifteen feet away, but I have the headset on and I’m watching on the monitor so I’m watching them do it, and I can tell that they had veered off the actual road, off the script.

Lynn: I’ll say.

Richard: But they were doing it competently, so who am I to call cut! You also don’t know — like, this ended up being a very funny piece, but the truth of the matter is they could have hit a speed bump and then brought it back to keep going with the story, so you don’t want to call cut too quickly. I’ve been a performer and stumbled over something and said I’m going to take a step back or take one forward and maybe in that one moment you figure out where the beginning and end are, so I’m slow to call cut on something like that, I want to see where it’s gonna go. Not just for the improv comedic end game, but for potentially usable footage for the Show on either end. So my goal there wasn’t to see how hilarious they would be, although it was very funny and I’m totally glad we have it, but also because they’re seasoned professionals who work with each other all the time, so it’s almost like having a drama improv group on set at any given moment. Each screw up can turn into something fantastic.

Lynn: Exactly! And this one did. So is there anything else you wanted to add? You said before that this was a real collaboration, which is a theme with Supernatural that many cast and crew have mentioned to us.

Richard: So much of what is going to end up onscreen – and I’ve seen it now, I’ve seen the final final – it is such an enormous collaboration. Obviously between the director and Jared and Jensen, but really between Jenny Klein, and before we started shooting, while prepping, Jeremy Carver was very involved in shepherding me through the process and in planning what they hope to get out of this episode.

IMG_4725

Richard: And you can’t underestimate the contribution of the editor, who in this case was Nicole Baer. I don’t know if editors get a lot of back patting, but certainly for my episode, I would want to have her back patted. Because as a director you’re out there milling lumber, and you mill the lumber to the best of your ability but the house doesn’t get built until you’re sitting back in the editing room, and there’s a million ways to build a house. If you have a great architect, you can really design it, not only what you had in mind and your vision turns out to be, but also augmented by their own expertise and artistic vision to come up with something that may be something new, and from your perspective it certainly is an amazing collaboration. The four days I spent with editing were educational beyond words and just awesome. You know, the whole process is fun. I didn’t get into entertainment because I don’t like doing it.

Lynn: No, and it’s fascinating!

Richard: Every aspect of it, as tiring as it is, as overwhelming as it can seem, it’s just an amazing experience to be on a set of people doing what you dreamt of doing as a child. That’s any set. Then you make that set Supernatural, then it is two guys who you consider close friends and great guys, and it is a crew that you have come to know and socialize with for the last decade. A crew that has filmed you and now you’re asking them to film other people with your vision.

Lynn: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing actually.

Richard: With executives like Phil Sgriccia and Bob Singer and Jeremy Carver who have known you in different capacities either as actors in other projects or a writer for other episodes you’re in or as an editor … the changing of the guard or the swapping of hats that takes place when you go from what I had been doing on the show to what I did this episode is substantial. And the support that the Show provided, from Warner Brothers all the way to the PA’s on set, was really remarkable. It was really just such a great experience. Obviously I couldn’t have done it without the support and talents of Jared and Jensen, but they’re the tip of the iceberg. There’s this huge number of people whose contributions are immeasurable. There’s Brad Creasser, Brian Rose, Serge, Bob Singer, Phil, Nicole, and Jenny. It’s like they all linked arms and helped me create this safety net for myself.

Lynn: SPN Family. It’s more than just a hashtag on twitter.

Richard: It was invaluable, and I’m super pleased with the story I was handed and the story that they want to tell. I’m excited to see how people respond to it.

Lynn: I’m excited to see it! And I do know a little of what you mean about editing. I’ve seen rough cuts of films and how the story changes with the editing.

Richard: I’ll tell you, and this is not my quote or my unique thought process, this is common wisdom in the filming world. I know this from 25 years in the business. Especially in TV, a show is made in three equal parts. The writing, the shooting, and the editing. The director may have a say in the shooting and some of the editing, but the fact of the matter is, the unique artist’s voice is reflected in the process of the writer in the writing process, and the director in the directing, and the editor in the editing. And they all have equal weight. You can have a terrible script and try to direct it well and you’re stuck with what you’ve got. Or you can have a great script and the director can lob the punch and not be able to make it good. Or you can have a great script and a great director and the editor can throw it off the walls. So they all need to work in sync and be symbiotic to make the final product.

Lynn: And on Supernatural, that really happens. Like the cast and the crew, the editors have been with the show for a long time also. The show is different in that aspect too, like it is in so many ways.

Richard: They have created a unique universe on that Show, both onscreen and off.

Lynn: Exactly. So true. The story that you’re telling here, it’s a very Supernatural story. It’s about this episode but it’s also about this Show. And your own personal journey with this Show.

Richard: To go from having done a guest spot in 2007 to directing in 2015, with only five episodes in between, is a pretty remarkable journey.

Lynn: It is. And it’s one I think many of us are really happy to follow you along. So I’ll see you on the west coast live tweet!

Richard: I look forward to it – and to hearing your review.

Surprise Matt Cohen! Photo Chris Schmelke

Surprise Matt Cohen! Photo Chris Schmelke

Which will be coming up shortly! So what did you think of the episode?

Stay tuned for more from Richard Speight now that I have specific episode-related questions!

Also coming up – Jared and Jensen at Pascon, and a chat with another of our favorite people who have recently returned to SPN, Matt Cohen!

–Lynn
Looking for fandom and Supernatural gifts?
Check out ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ and
‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ on amazon –
Click the links on this page for more info!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. anafraserlallybroch permalink
    December 3, 2015 8:22 am

    Reblogged this on Ana Fraser Lallybroch Blog.

  2. December 3, 2015 12:30 pm

    I respect the hell out of Richard for the way he approached this. He took nothing for granted, and really worked his ass off to earn his shot, and make the best episode possible. And, boy howdy, all that prep and sweat sure paid off. Amazing job, Mr. Speight! Here’s hoping to have him back behind the camera soon.

  3. Margo permalink
    December 3, 2015 2:35 pm

    I deeply enjoyed the scope and detail of this interview. It’s a fascinating read after his episode. His fantastic episode. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to Richard for providing so much background and insight.

  4. December 3, 2015 5:17 pm

    Great episode! Thank you, Richard!

    Memorable scene that I will NEVER forget: Dean, Sam, and Sully are forced to walk into the Manicorn “death room” with the child’s mother, who can’t “see” the horrible carnage. What follows is a masterpiece of comedy. Seriously, I laughed so hard my dog barked at me!

    Welcome to SPN’s directorial ranks; you truly deserve to be there. Best wishes for the future!

  5. February 18, 2016 2:23 am

    Reading this post most pleasantly complimented almost in parallel my finishing reading Richard’s essay in Fan Phenomena Supernatural “The Pro Of Cons.” He is obviously a natural and powerful driving force for the SPN fan base whether at conventions or just doing publicity for the Show. It is no coincidence his appearances on SPN occur among my most favorite episodes. Great interview Lynn!

    • spnfans permalink
      February 20, 2016 3:28 am

      I’m loving all your comments even if I’m not getting time to reply to them right now — crazy time of the semester! But thank you, I really appreciate all your insights🙂

      • February 21, 2016 12:47 am

        Lynn, I truly appreciate the fact you’ve even read the comments and that in itself makes my day. I don’t know how you juggle everything as it is. Just so grateful I found such a fan-tastic outlet for my Show fandom, your books, etc.

  6. February 21, 2016 12:09 am

    Finally got to watch this episode today (catching up rapidly now…) and loved it. Also loved your review and this interview. I think Dean’s final words to Sully might have been the hardest I’ve cried in 11 seasons; the show brings me to tears all the time, but that moment made me weep. Thanks for sharing so much of what went in to making the whole episode work so well. Richard did an amazing job, as did the rest of the team.

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