Photo Credit: Ricardo Tirado
Melissa Wylie is the line producer for FXX’s You’re the Worst. She discusses her role more in depth, which is more on the business side. Wylie also reflects on the changes and differences with her professions and juggling with her personal life.
ATM: What is the brainstorming process of how you cogitate to schedule things that go in your line of work?
MW: We are a show that cross boards. Cross boarding means you shoot multiple episodes over a set period out of chronological order. We book directors in blocks, which also helps with the scheduling. This season we had four directors. We shot three episodes with each director for the first three blocks. The last and final block had four episodes to make a total of 13 episodes. We did the first three episodes in the first block shooting a total of thirteen days. We do not shoot consecutively. 501 is not shot in the first four days; it is spread out over the 13 shoot days.
We also group our locations. Cross boarding is very challenging for the actors, and they do a wonderful job. Cross boarding is also very challenging for the crew – but they’ve been great troopers every season. Doing it this way helps with the money . . . it makes our dollars go further. What also helped us with scheduling was to build the hero house on a stage. For the pilot and the first two seasons, we went to the real house in Silverlake. This proved to be challenging, so we built it. In the first block, we shot all our work together in the house for the first three episodes. This makes it easier, and we can shoot longer. It also means we move fewer times. Every time we move its money and time that’s not going up on the screen. Everything is scheduled to make things as easy as possible. We want to give the directors as much shooting time they can get, as much light they can get (if we’re outside). If we minimize these moves, and can group them together, then it just helps us.
ATM: In what specific ways do you use organizational and time management skills?
MW: Time is money. If you can save a little bit here, then you can spend more there. I always want to try to have a reserve when the showrunner Stephen Falk wants to do something. Stephen pushes the envelope and wants to do things that you do not normally see on television. Sometimes this stuff costs more money. If I can put a little away to pay for the unknown, then this always helps. I also want to spend everything. At the end of each season, I do not want to say to him “We had 60 more thousand. We could have spent it.” And have him (Falk) look at me cross eyed and say, why didn’t we?” That is never good. You’re always straddling the line, “oh we’ve over, we’ve got to pull back. Now we’re under, we need to spend more.” It constantly goes up and down.
ATM: How does this show continue the mission for FX’s sister company FXX?
MW: Honestly, I am not sure why they moved us from FX to FXX. I think they were launching the new channel. They had originally paired us with a show that is not on the air anymore. They give me the money, and I make sure it all gets in the can. I then hand it over. I do not have anything to do with the air dates and things like this. I am not sure why they did it. It is a mystery. I guess they did it to lure new viewers to their channel. This would be my assumption, but I am not sure.
ATM: What analogy or euphemism can you give to describe days of work?
ATM: A lot of driving cars in traffic on the highway.
MW: Ha. There is not anything I can compare it to. My parents do not even know what I do, and I have been line producing for over ten years.
ATM: They do not know, or they do not understand?
MW: Until someone is with me on set to see what I deal with all day long, it’s hard to describe: a bunch of phone calls, making sure we do not get sued, everybody stays safe, everyone is eating, preparing for the next day’s shoot. I am handling problems and making sure neighbors are happy. It is nonstop and never the same each day. Do you know what I mean? A lot of it just depends on where I am. A big portion of my job is mothering all the other departments. Making sure the cast is happy, people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Making sure the showrunner is happy, the network is happy. People are getting their paychecks on time, vendors are getting paid. Lots of plates up in the air.
ATM: How do you use your math skills the fullest in assessing the budgets?
MW: I do. I keep track of the money for sure. I work a little differently than other line producers. I track everything that we spend myself. I do not need to call my accountant to ask “where are we” because I know where we are. If we want to shoot a little longer on a day, then I have to have the savings to cover it, or I have to make it up further down the line. I am continuously running numbers every hour. Are we under or are we over? Can we afford to rent a drone? It is something I constantly deal with all day along. Math is a big deal. It is all about the pluses and the minuses.
ATM: Do you believe your concentration level on your math skills is favored more to the side of subtraction or addition?
MW: You cannot have one without the other. If we wrap earlier and I save 25 thousand, then this can potentially pay for the next day for us to go over or for me to rent a technocrane. Let’s say we have a scene with several dogs. Instead of five dogs, we can have 15. It is a running number that is going up and down all day long. I would say subtraction only because you always want to come in under and do not want to go in over. I find that when you spend more money than what you have, you do not keep working.
ATM: What is the crucialness of your focus level when including the aspect of attention to detail?
MW: I am a multitasker. I normally have 15 things going on at the same time. I am constantly getting interrupted. Your attention to detail must be really high being a line producer. You can be off by a decimal point, or you can forget something. What one might consider a tiny error can have huge financial consequences. Attention to detail is a huge part of the job. I am not sloppy with this. I also find that you do not keep working if you are sloppy. The network wants to make sure their money is being spent wisely. The showrunner wants to make sure he is shooting everything that he wrote. It is a constant balance of “if you want to do this then maybe we cannot do that.” You are constantly juggling the wishes of the showrunner and making sure you can afford to do what he/she wants to do.
ATM: If your job title does not exist, then how would this greatly impact the American television industry?
MW: Like if there were not line producers?
MW: I do not think shows would ever get made. There must be a person that is managing the farm. The skies the limit when you are the director and the showrunner. If there was no line producer, they would do as much as they wanted to do and spend as much as they wanted to. They can keep spending and spending. I am the one that says, “If you want to shoot this dog scene that costs a ton of money, then instead of 15 dogs we are going to do it with five.” It might not be as large or expensive as their original intent but at least we’ve figured out a way to shoot it. It is like not having a parent around. You know the expression “When the cats away, the mice will play.” Well, I am the cat.
ATM: In your ten years, what have you observed about the relationship between a showrunner and a director that helps push the creative process?
MW: It is very different in television because it is the writer’s (or showrunner’s) last word. It is the exact opposite when you are in a movie. It is the director’s last word. They would rather for the writer to not even be around. If you are talking about, You’re the Worst; then our showrunner Stephen has a specific vision about everything. The directors come in to pitch ideas, which he is open to. Anything Stephen thinks makes the show better, he will usually agree to. Collaboration is nice. Again, Stephen is open to hearing what the director is saying. If he has a definite opinion about how something needs to be done, then he tells them. He is open to it. I have also worked with people who are rigid and do not want to hear anything. It is like their way or the highway. Stephen is not like this. He is very collaborative.
ATM: How and what have you learned as a line producer since the beginning years that have helped you grow?
MW: I have learned that if you put the wrong team together, you are headed for disaster. Make sure you hire the right crew. This makes all the difference in the world. I still learn new things even though I have been a line producer for a long time. I learn new things every day when new situations come up. You just stay openminded when you move forward in your career. You are never going to know everything. The laws are constantly changing. The rules are constantly changing. I worked on the very first internet contract for SAG in the late 90s when we couldn’t figure out how to get the content through the pipeline because the bandwidth was too large. Now, twenty years later all these shows are streaming off the internet and people binge watch a season over a weekend! You have to change with it, which makes it exciting. But does today’s audience really want to wait an entire year for a second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? I do because I love it (and I don’t think to binge watch because I don’t have the time.) But kids today don’t even own televisions? How crazy is that? I hate watching shows on my phone.
ATM: At what year in your career, did you get to the moment where you emotionally did not take your job home with you?
MW: Never. Does this exist? You cannot just leave it at the door. There is too much on the line. Every New Year’s I make the same resolution that I am going to try and have a balance between work and personal life. It never happens. I love what I do. I get to work with interesting people, creative and talented people. I get an opportunity to work all over the country. I cannot imagine having a desk job where I go in to punch a clock working eight hours a day with the same people as a 50-year career. I feel very fortunate that I can do this. I take it home all the time. It does not end. Even when a show ends, I would still be reviewing things a year later. I keep meticulous records. I save all my emails. I have like 39,000 emails that I have to file. This is not a joke. I am the last one standing when we get an invoice from a car company saying they have a red-light ticket from a year ago. It never ends. I am not complaining, but I am just telling you.
ATM: What can you reflect on the business behavior during the 90s?
MW: The industry was different before 9/11. I moved to LA at the end of 95. This was when people with deals were getting canceled. The Vanity deals. There was like a squeeze where there was not middle management at the studio level. I worked for the studios, but I started on multicamera shows, and these all ended. I saw a lot of people lose their jobs. I was able to keep working in a single camera because I had done features. Now, multi-cameras have come back. It is all cyclical. I think now with all this programming that Netflix, Hulu, Apple do, there is so much work. How do you find the shows anymore? There is so much stuff to watch. This keeps a lot of people working, which is great. I am very happy about this.
ATM: Where is the authentic power that is squeezed into a show that is shot with the single camera as opposed to a multi-camera that gives angles?
MW: For starters, with a multicam you’re entirely on a stage with a live audience. There has to be a suspension of belief like when you go to the theater to see a play. I watch the Big Bang Theory and Will and Grace, which I love. They are multicamera. But when you watch The Golden Girls (also a multicam), you know they’re on a stage and that’s not a real house. When you watch YTW, you can’t tell if the house is real or if we built it!
I am not in any way speaking about the content or the dialogue, just about how the show looks. A single camera show looks much more realistic. For YTW, we were out in the world shooting all these bars and restaurants and out on the streets. The characters were interacting with the real weather, real light, and real people on the street. I am not saying a single camera is any better than a multicamera. I have worked in both.
ATM: How do you not let your working the business side of entertainment not get in the way of you enjoying it personally with projects you do not work on?
MW: I have my shows that I count on. I am a huge Will and Grace fan and was so happy when they brought it back. There are shows that I watch, but I have to be choosy with my love. I work in television. I work about 15 hours a day when we are shooting. I do not want to spend my weekend watching 20 hours of television (or binge watching a series); then you have no life. I try to not look at things with a critical eye. “Oh my gosh, this scene was expensive. They have 500 extras. They had to feed or dress all these people.” I try to keep it separate and just enjoy the writing and the performance.
ATM: What has been the most expensive and cheapest item derived from a showrunner’s creative vision that can impact your profession?
MW: For Worst, the most expensive thing we did was a wedding – we have done more than one wedding over the past five seasons! People, clothing, locations, food – it all adds up to lots of money. It’s like a pyramid – the more people you have, the more you spend on dressing them, feeding them, personnel to wrangle them, vehicles to transport them and so on and so on. Then the location is normally expensive, and you’re paying for tons of flower arrangements, prop food, presents, all the wait staff, food stylists, drinks!!!! The cheapest? We didn’t do anything cheap this season!
ATM: How has the travel broaden your horizon on the possibilities in life?
MW: You know LA is not how the rest of the country lives. Doing shows out of town is nice. I get to experience people, culture, food, and places on the network’s dime. It is not a vacation for me. It is nice being able to live somewhere for a couple of months (like Nashville) instead of going there just for the weekend as a tourist. You get a deeper understanding of each city that you are in. Everyone that I meet is very nice and hospitable. They are interested in what I do because everyone watches television or movies. It broadens your perspective because it is very easy to think this is how everyone lives, when you live in LA. Most people do not live like this. There is a middle class. Most of and the rest of the country are not as expensive. People can afford to buy a home. It is not crowded.
ATM: Traveling has let go of some of your assumptions, perceptions you once had on the world or because of the place you lived in.
MW: Yes. It broadens your horizon. I grew up in Houston. I was born here and lived here until I was in my mid-twenties. I went to school and college in Houston. I found that when working in LA, everyone is talking about entertainment. You know what I mean? I have conversations in other places that do not just center around the box office. Did you watch Chicago Med? People are talking about their families. It is just different. LA is so entertainment centric. When you are out and eating, everyone is talking about the industry.
ATM: When conversing with people outside of the entertainment what is the most refreshing about the connection or communication?
MW: People are super excited about it. Reality television is such a huge thing. I always disappoint them when telling them it is all fake. Cameras do not just follow the Kardashians around. All this stuff is scripted. It is fun for me to see their reactions. I do not know if people are equally excited about the banking industry.
ATM: But why? This is equally important. This also controls the excitement that people receive in their homes.
ATM: Are you aware of the social disconnect of how your profession is assessed outside of the entertainment industry? Are you desensitize to understanding the opinions that outsiders think?
MW: Outsiders have opinions about how we are that are false. One of my girlfriends is a teacher. She is like “everything that you do is all shiny, glittery, and fantastic.” Yeah, I am picking up trash and stomping it down, and I am in the middle of a dumpster right now. There is only a little bit of the glitz, glamor, and red carpet. I am happy to tell people this is a very small portion of what we all do. It is a lot of hard work. Super long hours. Lots of money on the line. There is this notion that everyone has their feet up and are drinking champagne. This is not the experience for anyone on the cast or crew. It is amazing that any T.V or movies can be made at all. So many things must come together for it to work.
ATM: Where do you believe these stereotypes stem from to create this false belief between the outsiders/non-entertainment and the entertainment industry?
MW: People watch Entertainment Tonight, and those other Hollywood shows, and this is all they see. This is all that is covered: the red carpet and the parties. Part of why people have these preconceived notions is because we do not have cameras shooting behind the scenes of a normal day of shooting. The network will not allow it. The sets are normally closed. They do not want anything airing before the show airs to give any of the storylines away. So, it’s due in part to what the networks and studios allow the media to have access to, which is very limited.
ATM: It would be because of what the media puts out. It is what they can put out. Someone can put the glitz, glam, and fame to it to make it appear like it does today.