Spring 2016

She Loves It All

Tricia Brock’s directing career got off to a slow start, but once she knew what she wanted to do, she pursued it fiercely—on network, cable, and now, the Internet.


Director Tricia Brock (Photo: Chad Batka)

Tricia Brock has had an enviable directing career in television ranging from network programs to cable to new media. In the past year alone, she’s worked on such award-winning shows as Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, and Mozart in the Jungle. "Shows I really want to work on, I chase. Hard. I call everyone I can possibly call, try to get a meeting, try to get my foot in their door." But it took a while for her to find her footing.

Back in 1980, the Missouri-born Brock was in New York working as a PA on commercials, fetching coffee and falling in love with production. She raised money to make a documentary called Rush, about girls in the South going through sorority rush week. The film screened at the New York Film Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. "It was a very heady, very exciting time," she says. Hired to direct another feature, she joined the DGA, but the film never got made, so her directing career lay dormant. Or, as she puts it, "gestated." For two decades.

In the meantime, Brock moved to Los Angeles, supporting her family for many years mostly by doing rewrites. All that time, she harbored no dreams of directing. "I didn’t have the nerve." That changed when Showtime bought a script she wrote, based on Valerie Sayers’ novel Due East. As a producer, she was on the set daily, involved with every aspect of the film. That’s when it hit her: "What I really wanted to do was direct."

Once she knew her calling, she pursued it fiercely. Brock heard about the directing workshop at AFI, and she applied three times in five years (the program was then offered every other year); the third time was a charm. "I guess I wore them down," she says.

Her short film, The Car Kid (2002), starred James Franco, Meat Loaf, and the late Brad Renfro, a cast that raised the film’s profile immensely. She found financing to expand it into a feature called Killer Diller (2004). The film screened at SXSW but received only limited distribution. "It used to make me so mad whenever anyone said, ‘It’s a great calling card for you.’ I didn’t do it as a calling card; I wanted people to see it! But I finally came to realize that it is what it is."

Turns out it was a great calling card. She landed her first TV directing gig on The L Word. Her next was Huff, then Grey’s Anatomy. Then, as now, she directed mainstream network and indie series. And usually they were driven by strong characters, which used to terrify her.

"I felt like I had a sense of the camera and where to put it, because I was so used to visualizing everything," she says. "But the thing that would absolutely make me quake in my boots was working with actors. Therefore it was where I prepared the most. I did huge script analysis and underbelly story work so that when an actor had questions, I had answers."

Fine-Tuning: Brock, directing an episode of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, is equally at home with drama, comedy, and action. (Photo: Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios)

Brock jumped into comedy as well as drama and action. "I just wanted to work," and she loved the mix. "One of my favorite summers, I went from shooting Girls to The Walking Dead within a week," she says.

She quickly learned how to command a set. "When you walk onto a set on television, you’re the new person. You’ve got about five minutes to win these people over and get them to follow you anywhere. You just better have a plan." And it had better be flexible, because changes are always going to happen at the last minute.

When she’s on an action show like Blindspot or the upcoming Outcast, she storyboards the action sequences whenever possible. With so many elements to consider, and all the department heads involved, "if they have an idea of the angles that you’re thinking about, and how you’re going to cover it, it helps everybody do their job and be ready on the day."

Brock finds no difference in directing network, cable, and streaming shows when it comes to prep and production. "The difference is in the scripts," she says. "The [cable and Internet] content can be darker and racier, and you don’t have to tailor your shots to the big act-outs, so you can get a flow going as if you’re making a little movie."

She recently directed a series of webisodes called Margot vs. Lily for Nike.com. The branded-content series centers on two sisters who make a bet. "The thing I’m most proud of is that we did colorblind casting. One sister is black, and one’s white. I have to say, it was really a dream job. I was telling a really fun story."

Brock took the job largely because Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (director of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) was the executive producer. "Directors rarely meet each other, let alone have the opportunity to work together," she says. "Collaborating with him was a huge highlight."

And another highlight came when Steven Soderbergh tweeted about an episode she directed last August: "Tricia Brock CRUSHED this episode of MR. ROBOT." Brock was stunned. Then things got even more surreal. She was out scouting for Blindspot in January when she received a text. "Soderbergh here, can you chat?" Of course she could. "I remember so little of that conversation because I was frozen by the fact that I was on the phone with him," she says. She did have the wherewithal to congratulate him on his DGA Award nomination for The Knick.

"He said, ‘Thank you so much, but I wish it were you.’ Is that not incredible? He said, ‘and it will be you; that’s what I want to talk to you about.’" He asked her to join him on a new series, as yet unnamed. Brock is working with the writer now, and if it goes forward, she’ll direct every episode, as Soderbergh did on The Knick. "It’s thrilling and terrifying and one of the hugest things ever to happen in my career."

Through it all, the DGA has also been important to her. She serves on the Television Creative Rights Committee and, after moving back to New York, the Eastern Directors Council. "It’s very gratifying," Brock says. "The union is a living, breathing organism that needs its members to participate, so that’s been a big piece of my life in New York." That and her busy directing career.

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