- LOS ANGELES
Director Tricia Brock is no stranger to breaking new ground. In 2016 she helmed Nike’s first scripted episodic web series, Margot vs. Lily. Fast forward to today and her directorial signature is on Dummy, part of the initial short-form programming lineup on the Quibi mobile phone-only platform which debuted on April 6 in the U.S. and Canada. The heavyweight exec talent behind Quibi consists of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman. In the 1980s, Katzenberg revived the Walt Disney Co.’s movie studio and its animation division with hits including The Little Mermaid, and in 1994 co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Quibi is Katzenberg’s brainchild, and he picked Whitman--also a onetime Disney executive, ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO and former eBay president--as the new platform’s chief exec,
Brock was drawn to Quibi and Dummy by what she says attracts her to everything: “the writing”--in this case, by Cody Heller. “Cody’s writing is so funny, so original, so fresh,” assessed Brock.
Dummy introduces us to an aspiring writer (portrayed by Anna Kendrick) who befriends her boyfriend’s sex doll (Meredith Hagner) and the two take on the world together. Brock recalled, “The Dummy scripts were so funny that I could only read three of them because I just wasn’t willing to read all 10 unless I was going to get to direct them. When I met with the writer, Cody Heller, she started talking about the end. I said, ‘Wait, Cody, I gotta stop you. I’ve only read three of them, and that’s because I love them so much that I can’t bear it if I don’t get to direct them.’”
Brock was informed she got the Dummy gig via phone about a year ago, “and six weeks later I was standing on a set with a sex doll. I was in L.A. in prep in April, and then we shot until the middle of May. It was an 18-day shoot.”
The biggest challenge was the framing for mobile phone display. Brock explained, “We had to shoot it in a certain way so the framing would work if it was vertical or horizontal. The DP Catherine (Katie) Goldschmidt took that on like a champ. It was wonderful for me because she was so technically astute. Katie’s pioneering spirit was perfect for shooting the first Quibi show. She had a monitor with her, and I had a monitor so I could also see the grid of what was in the frame and what wasn’t. It impacted Katie’s process but she so brilliantly handled it that I was liberated and able to focus on the creative. Occasionally they would say to me, ‘If we do this set up, this, this and this will be out of frame.’ Then we would adjust. But it didn’t happen that often. As far as I was concerned, I was shooting it like a movie [100 minutes over those 18 days].”
A highlight for Brock was that Heller “set out to have as much of a female crew [for Dummy] as we could possibly get. Most heads of departments were women. One exception was Ross Novie, one of my favorite ADs of all time. Beth Morgan was our costume designer, nominated for an Emmy last year for GLOW, and our production designer Beauchamp Fontaine. We had an incredible team.”
Brock was well equipped to take on Dummy, in part because of her prior short-form episodic experience on Margot vs. Lily. But at the same time, Brock said the essence of what she does is tell a story. “I approach each project as a storyteller. Whatever the format is, I like to jump in and get the best performances possible and shoot it in a way that is interesting and cinematic. And I hope I bring my own comedic edge to it. I really do feel that the energy on a set starts with me and the showrunner and, on Dummy, Cody and I had the best energy.”
There are parallels between Margot v. Lily and Dummy, according to Brock. “What Quibi shines a light on is you can go out to the market with much shorter content. They’re pioneering this format just like Nike pioneered it in branded content.”
Brock hopes that there’s another season of Dummy in store but she doesn’t yet know Quibi’s plans on that front.
Dummy marked the first time Brock worked with Kendrick, who also served as an executive producer on the show. Their collaboration was so positive that Brock went on to direct an episode of Kendrick’s romantic comedy, Love Life, in New York last October. Kendrick stars in and is an EP on that HBO Max series as well.
This adds to a body of TV work for Brock which over the years includes Orange Is the New Black, Ray Donovan, Empire, Mozart in the Jungle, and more recently On Becoming A God in Central Florida, and NOS4A2, an AMC horror/thriller series with Zachary Quinto that entailed six weeks of production in Providence, RI. Brock’s latest project, though, The Gator and the Egg, a show for Steven Soderbergh, was just two weeks into prep in New Orleans when concerns over the coronavirus pandemic shut it down. The Paramount studio project is slated for the USA Network. Brock said her “first priority” is to resume the Soderbergh pilot. “It doesn’t feel like it will be soon but I hope I’m wrong,” conjectured Brock who noted that Soderbergh has been named to chair a DGA task force on how to return to production after the pandemic.
Relative to how TV will adapt to safeguard against COVID-19, Brock related, “It’s going to change a lot. I can’t even fathom how. The term ‘set medic’ is going to take on new meaning. It’s possible they might hire full-time doctors who are on set, and crew won’t be able to come on set unless they’re tested. It’s my opinion that nothing is really going to move forward until there is reliable testing.”
Brock is also looking to move forward in her commercialmaking and branded content endeavors via production house Hey Wonderful, headed by founder/managing partner Michael Di Girolamo and partner/EP Sarah McMurray.