Spring 2018


Juggling Act

Despite directing a clutch of pilots this season, Pamela Fryman remains calm and collected


Director Pamela Fryman, in vest, performs her pilot magic on the CBS series 9JKL (Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS)

A queen of the multi-cam format, director Pamela Fryman will have helmed six comedy pilots by the time the broadcasters' upfronts start in May.

These include Amazon's Making Friends, which reconnects her with How I Met Your Mother creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas after she directed all but a dozen episodes of their long-running rom-com. Others clamoring for her attention this season are marquee names Diablo Cody and Greg Berlanti for their ABC pilot Most Likely To and Tom Werner and Michael Schur, who are executive producing the NBC pilots Friends-in-Law and Abby's, respectively. Then there's the revival of 1988 sitcom Murphy Brown and the multi- and single-cam hybrid History of Them, reuniting her with co-creator Gloria Calderon Kellett, both for CBS.

Needless to say, it's good to be queen. And yet, Fryman still had time to talk about her process and explain why multi-cams will never go out of fashion.

You read a lot of pilot scripts. What are some things you respond to?

Sometimes when you read something, you already see it. It's a subject matter that resonates with you; there are characters who speak to you; and, as you're reading it, it's like you're watching it.

Why do you like working with multi-camera sitcoms?

I love telling a story. I love the theater of it. I love the audience response. I'm a bit impatient … but multi-cam feeds that part of me. You do it and show it to people and get a reaction and fix it. It's immediate gratification.

How does a live audience impact your filming?

It is an energy that is undeniable. It keeps everybody on their toes. It creates a sense of urgency.
The season two finale of One Day at a Time is fairly gut-wrenching. The audience was so in it, audibly, that it was one of the rare times when I had to talk to them and ask if they would give us a take without reacting.

How do you work with actors on a pilot to establish characters and relationships?

So much depends on the casting and every actor has a certain take on their character. There is always so much that an actor brings to the process that was not on paper, and that's the fun part—creating things that are special and unexpected along the way.

Are there certain tricks for if they are actors you don't know or maybe newer to this kind of storytelling?

I'm rehearsing and doing run-throughs daily so that we can all weigh in on what we've seen. The trick is to stay open to new ideas and opportunities. The script is constantly evolving [and] the actors are getting more comfortable each day, [so] new ideas are always presenting themselves.

How do you get them to understand the beats in a script?

We talk about each scene individually and we rehearse and rehearse [so that] we all find the beats together. The script changes day to day, so tackling the new words and beats is a daily occurrence. Then you add a live audience and there are always unexpected laughs in places you never imagined—or maybe no laughs where you were convinced there would be some. The process is so alive and you have to embrace it.

Do you think the concept of pilot season needs to be adjusted?

I would love the pilot season to be year-round. To be competing with other people to fill these slots seems so ridiculous—whether it's in front of the camera or behind the camera.

Your goal is for all of these pilots to go to series, which means you couldn't stay with every show. Do you leave a treasure map of info for incoming directors?

If I'm lucky enough to get something picked up and I'm not staying with the show for whatever reason, it is always my pleasure to talk to whoever is going to come on board … In years past when the director was nice enough to do that for me, it made a world of difference. It's now my job to pay that forward.


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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