Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with True Blood Director Michael Lehmann

Michael Lehmann on the set of True Blood with Stephen MoyerMichael Lehmann with Stephen Moyer while filming
True Blood's Season 2, Episode 6, "Hard Hearted Hannah"
Photo by HBO/John P.Johnson
The more I learn about the making of True Blood, I realize how much talent and skill is involved in the creation of each episode. I am more and more astonished that not only does this show have a superb ensemble of actors, writers, set decorators, music supervisors, etc., but it also has brilliant technical people who help to make each and every episode memorable.
Overseeing the production of each episode is a director and on True Blood, there are four primary directors, Scott Winant, Daniel Minehan, John Dahl, and Michael Lehmann. There are also several guest directors and even Alan Ball directs from time to time on the show.
While they all have their strengths and provide excellent direction, Michael Lehmann has stood out for me as one that seems to hit the mark each time. He has directed two episodes in season one and at least three episodes each subsequent season and from my perspective, as viewer and fan, he seems to have successfully directed some interesting, if not more technically difficult, episodes. Among those he's done that seem to be more of a challenge, in my opinion, are:
  • Season 1, Episode 8, Fourth Man In The Fire, that included the famous graveyard sex scene.
  • Season 2, Episode 6, Hard Hearted Hannah that included the flashback scenes of Bill and Lorena from the 1920's and also, although more subtle in nature,
  • Season 2, Episode 4, Shake and Fingerpop, which was recently chosen by HBO to be included in the package sent in for Emmy consideration.
Last month, Michael was kind enough to grant an interview to The Vault where he shared with me information about his career, his vision as a director, and how much he enjoys the work he is doing on True Blood as one of its directors.
But before we head to the Q&A interview, here’s a bit about Michael’s background:
Michael Lehmann, is a well known Hollywood director currently active primarily in television. Recently, he has not only been directing episodes of HBO's “True Blood,” but also other HBO shows like “Big Love” and “Bored to Death” and also Showtime's “Californication.” While he may be focusing on television right now, he has also directed several well known films such as “Heathers,” “Airheads,” “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” and “Because I Said So,” just to name a few.
Michael began his career in 1980 working in his home town of San Francisco with Francis Ford Coppola for his company American Zeotrope. Working for Coppola gave Michael the opportunity to experience film making at an early age without a formal film degree. Although he did eventually get his master's degree in film, it wasn’t until later in his career that he obtained his Master's Degree at the University of Southern California (USC). Michael explained: “My original intention had been to go to film school because that is what people did and what I thought one had to do.” So, he applied to USC and UCLA and had plans to go to those schools but then he got the job working for Coppola and decided it was better to stay there than to go back to school. He says, “I had already finished my undergraduate work, which wasn't in film, and after a few years with Francis, I went back to school”. It's a long story, but basically USC had lost my application, but later they found the application and sent me a letter saying do you want to go to this school and I said, yes. I had worked on about four feature films, but hadn't been making my own so I went back to school and got into the graduate program at USC, spent a couple years and that's what really provided the ground work for me becoming a director.”
Interestingly enough, Michael explained to me that he came from a fairly artistic household although his father was a Freudian psychoanalyst, German born and a wonderful person. His mother is an artist, a photographer and a writer and she lives in San Francisco. His sister is a novelist who writes young women's fiction.
Read the Q&A with Michael, after the cut, where he talks about the filming of True Blood, his favorite scenes, the most difficult scenes, and what it's like to collaborate and work on such a great show.