I recently spoke with Norman Buckley, the director of 23 episodes of Pretty Little Liars, on his experiences directing the show, which premiered 10 years ago. His other work includes episodes of Once Upon a Time, Jane the Virgin, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and The OC.
Music In the Dark: How did you approach the look of a Pretty Little Liars episode to begin your planning process? I also noticed there are times when you directed 2 episodes in a row. Was there a reason for that?
Norman Buckley: Each episode was different. I always sit down with a script and try to decide what the episode is about, and then what each scene is about in that episode. Why is it there? Who is the most important person in the scene? What are the goals of the character in a scene? Once I’ve answered these questions, then I can decide how to shoot the episode so that the answers to those questions are hopefully very clear.
I shot two episodes in a row sometimes for budgetary purposes. Usually we would shoot an episode in seven days, but occasionally we would shoot two episodes in 13 days, using the same locations and sets. It was to save money.
MItD: How much input do the actors get when filming a scene? What was the collaborative process between director and actor on Pretty Little Liars?
Norman Buckley: Some actors did a lot of homework and some didn’t. The most important thing for me as a director, on any show, is always to support the actors in whatever their particular process might be. I want to include the actor’s process in whatever way I can, but always remembering that it’s up to me to make sure their ideas fit within the overall design of the show.
MItD: Did you know who “A” was or that Ali wasn’t dead so that you would have that knowledge when deciding how to approach scenes? If not, how did that affect the way you approached the scenes with Ali and Mona and later Cece?
Norman Buckley: I knew very early who “A” was and I was told the various subsequent mysteries so that I could track who should be where, etc. Certain things changed as we went along, but certain things remained the same. My job was to always give the actors enough information to make behavior make sense.
MItD: Do you have any stories about crazy moments on set where things went wrong or something unexpected happened and it ended up turning out well for the episode?
Norman Buckley: It’s already been several years since we finished so nothing comes to mind off the top of my head. But it was always a very fun set, I always looked forward to going to work, and I considered the cast and crew to be family.
MItD: Did you have a favorite episode to work on? If so, why?
Norman Buckley: I always say that my favorite episode is whatever I’m working on at the moment. But looking back I think I would say I enjoyed two episodes more than the others: “Escape from New York” and “Songs of Innocence.” I came closest on both of those to actualizing what I had in my head when I was planning them.
MItD: Is there a particular scene you’re especially proud of? Conversely, was there an episode or scene that was particularly challenging to film?
Norman Buckley: I’m very proud of the scenes in Escape from New York where Alison is being followed down the street, because it was very complicated to shoot, but we were able to do exactly what I had planned. I also really enjoy the theater scenes in that episode because they were partly filmed in a real theater and part of them were filmed back on the soundstage and I enjoy that you cannot tell the difference. I think the sawmill sequence in “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” was also very complicated and probably the most challenging given how much time I had to shoot it.
MItD: Do you have any favorite stories about working with any of the cast members?
Norman Buckley: I worked on Pretty Little Liars for seven years and I had many great experiences with everyone. But the thing that moves me most is this: In 2014 I lost my husband and the entire cast and crew showed up for me, supported me, and made me feel cared for. I will always be grateful to them for that.
Follow @Music_IntheDark on Twitter