January 2004

Sex and the City

Directors bare all.


Michael Patrick King, Tim Van Patten, David Jones, John Coles and Michael Engler

Sex and the City, now in its sixth and final season, has assured its place in television history. During its first five years on air the show garnered five Emmys, four Golden Globes and six DGA nominations. Moderator David Jones sat down in New York with directors John Coles, Michael Engler, Michael Patrick King and Tim Van Patten to learn what it has been like to be a part of the phenomenon.

"Initially (the show) started out as this tambourine-banging 'Hey we're single!' show and that marshaled up single women," according to King, who is also an executive producer and writer for the show. But now, the show's characters have developed an audience that includes everyone. "The beginning of the series is actually interesting because of where we are now, so gigantic in scope and budget. At first it was just me and [co-executive producer] Darren Star laughing in a room."

After receiving the script, the directors receive about 10 days to prep before shooting. "Your main focus during that time is to find locations," Coles said. "And the other big focus is casting, which is enormous. The show is beautifully cast and that doesn't happen overnight."

While the show has become inseparable to its New York setting, shooting in the city presents logistical challenges. All of them agreed that completing their shooting schedule, which averages 30 to 40 setups a day and sometimes shooting as many as six pages, would be nearly impossible without the support of a crack team of assistant directors. "A big part of the DGA aspect of the show is what the AD teams have to do to get the city to make possible shooting on 5th Avenue," Engler said. And the ADs are the same for every director: Bettiann Fishman and Marc McGann.

Director Michael Engler

While the four directors were unanimous in their praise of the show's acting talent, the clock was always ticking. "Because television shooting moves as quickly as it does, there isn't separate time for rehearsal," Engler noted, "so it's figuring out a way to structure in the opportunity for the actors and director to find all the things they would find in a rehearsal, and every take is a version of it."

Van Patten, who is slated to direct the show's finale, spent a number of years directing The Sopranos before joining Sex and the City. Jones asked him what it was like coming on to an established show.

"After five years of murder and mayhem, it's a great pleasure to sit at the monitor and laugh," he joked. "And they were just brilliant scripts that just flowed. I had a great experience doing this. It's a well-oiled machine."

Director David Jones

After shooting is completed, there is a five-day period where they work on a preliminary edit before delivering it to the producers and HBO. While the show has to come in at an exact length, the varying styles of each director are still very much present. Engler remarked that, "When I end up seeing it I would say this show, in my experience, in terms of what I've done, reflects by far the majority of what I've put in during post-production: the editing, the patterns, the style of it.

At the end of the evening, King was asked what his next project might be. "This team is amazing. This crew is unbelievable and I feel like I have a shorthand with them, so I feel like it would really be nice to continue to find ways to work with them."

Note: Sex and the City garnered three out of the five 2003 DGA Award nominations for Outstanding directing in a comedy. The Award went to Timothy M. Van Patten for the episode "Boy Interrupted."


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