Fall 2017


Filming in the Right Key

The Do's and Don'ts of Directing Musical Numbers
in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend


Director Marc Webb, left, with actress/co-creator Rachel Bloom while filming the season two Lemonade pastiche, "Love Kernels." (Photo: Robert Voets/The CW)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend turns the story of a New York lawyer who follows an ex-boyfriend to California into a modern musical, incorporating classic theater numbers, hip-hop music videos and everything in between. We spoke to directors Marc Webb, Aline Brosh McKenna and Erin Ehrlich about these elaborate sequences.

DO: Understand the Concept and Tone

"What's different about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is it's not just a music video, it's part of the storytelling," says Marc Webb, who directed the pilot and second-season premiere. "You have to relay the character." Show co-creator/executive producer Aline Brosh McKenna, who directed both of the season finales, emphasizes the contrast in visual styles. Spoken-word scenes, she says, are simple. "We don't move the camera a ton, we don't do a lot of hand-held, a ton of tight close-ups … so you notice the musical numbers more."

DO: Storyboard, Storyboard, Storyboard

"I'll sit down with a storyboard artist and every important frame of the music video will be drawn," says director-producer Erin Ehrlich. "One of the ADs will put them up on a big board, and we'll just cross them off to make sure we have them. There might be more things you want to do, but you have to make sure that you get all of those so it's going to cut together the way [it needs to]."

DO: Use Your AD Team

"We have a prepping second who coordinates all of the dance and music, and she is the central hub for the AD parts of the musical numbers," says McKenna. "That's Meta Valentic, and we can't do it without her." Valentic also takes note of any song changes made during the recording process and works with the script coordinator to ensure they are incorporated during filming, according to McKenna. "There's little details like that of which she is the master."

Rachel Bloom in a memorable scene from the show's opening number, an ode to West Covina, Calif. (Photo: Eddy Chen/The CW)

DON'T: Be Afraid to Adapt

The Jason Mraz-style song "Thought Bubbles" took some ingenuity to film and make interesting, says Ehrlich, "because he's just sitting the entire time singing, and it was a very limited space where we could put the dolly trucks down." Originally, the number involved a green screen and a fully animated world behind the actor, but "when we saw the footage," she explains, "the acting was so good we thought, 'Oh, just try simple animation with thought bubbles and see if it works.' And it really did."

DON'T: Over-stress

"It's not brain surgery," says Webb, "but it does require a level of specificity in terms of how you work the playback, understanding some of the details of the transitions, making sure the choreography is planned out, and that the camerawork is supportive of the choreography." And the more specific, the better. "It allows you to plan out and have one line here, a little bit there, not having to over cover the song."

Episodic TV
More from this topic
More from this issue
Check out the latest DGA Quarterly, featuring interviews with Kathryn Bigelow, Joe Pytka, Jordan Peele, Todd Haynes, Errol Morris, Alex Gibney, Marc Webb, Erin Ehrlich, Aline Brosh McKenna Brian Helgeland Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.