Sometimes making the leap is what’s important, even if you don’t always know where you’re going to land. That’s certainly been the case for Wynonna Earp (Melanie Scrofano) during four seasons of fighting demons and revenants in Purgatory, and it’s now also the case for Scrofano herself. The Wynonna Earp star stepped behind the camera to direct this week’s episode, “Look at Them Beans,” written by Shelley Scarrow. Despite previously trying her hand at directing a few scenes back in Season 3, this was the first time Scrofano had the responsibility of an entire Wynonna episode on her shoulders.
In order to give her plenty of time to prep for the shoot, Scrofano’s episode was actually the first one shot by the Wynonna Earp cast and crew after returning from their two-year hiatus between Season 3 and 4. She recently spoke with The TV Junkies about what the entire directing experience was like for her. She took us back to the first moments where the idea to direct was sparked in her mind, shares how her mentor, director Paolo Barzman, trusted and believed in her, and the ways she had to overcome self-doubt to take the plunge and step behind the camera.
The TV Junkies: We know you directed a scene back in the Season 3 premiere, but how did the opportunity to direct a full episode come about?
Melanie Scrofano: I directed in Season 3 because my mentor, Paolo Barzman, is so generous and not precious about his work. He just literally said “hot potato” and threw me the scene. He said he thought I’d be a good director and the only way to do that is to direct. He told me to pick a scene that I wanted to direct, gave it to me, and fucked right off. [laughs] His whole thing is that the real test of directing is after the blocking, when the whole crew turns and looks at you, waiting for you to tell them what to do. That’s the real test because you can really crumble there under the pressure. He just really wanted me to know that I could do it. It was never in view of directing Season 4, but just literally this man who thought I’d be good saying, ‘Here — test drive my episode.’
It’s an honor because it meant that he trusted me. He really loves our story, has been here since Day 1, and been a driving force in the heart of the story. The fact that he trusted me to tell it gave me a lot of confidence. He then did it a couple more times and let me pick scenes from other episodes.
TTVJ: How then did the chance to direct an episode in Season 4 happen?
MS: I don’t think anyone knew that he had asked me to direct that scene. When they saw it, they just thought it was a Paolo Barzman scene. After that, I think my agent and management had something to do with it because they are invested in my career and the longevity of it. You always have to think about where you’re going to be in 10-15 years, and then take steps to ensure your security in a business that will not do it for you. The business doesn’t care about you. I had people at Seven24, certainly, Josh [Van Houdt] from SYFY was a huge factor, who thought, ‘Sure! Who knows the story better than her?’ No one felt there was a reason I couldn’t do it. It felt like a natural progression.
TTVJ: Were there any other moments that caused you to look towards directing as a possible pathway for yourself?
MS: I really can’t stress this enough, but in Season 1, Tim Rozon said to me — when I was having a crisis of confidence because I wasn’t sure I could be a lead on a show — he said, ‘The universe doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.’ Then, in that same lunch, he said, ‘Oh, are you going to direct Season 3?’ It was so off the cuff, he was dead serious, and something I just hadn’t thought about at all until he said it.
I hadn’t not thought about it because I didn’t want to do it. I hadn’t thought about it because I didn’t know you could just want to do something and then do it. He literally planted the seed that day, and I did not stop thinking about it. From that day, I started watching what we were doing in a completely different way. I started looking at what lenses we were using and watching what we were doing with fresh eyes because of that one comment that Tim Rozon made. It was really that moment that started the whole thing. So when you say, ‘How did it happen?’ That’s how it happened. He’s a man of few words, but the few words he does use are pretty powerful.
TTVJ: In the BTS feature that was released, you talk about how you were scared but just decided to trust yourself and just do it. That’s a feeling so many of us can relate to having in a wide variety of situations. Can you expand upon that, the fears that you had, and how you had to really trust yourself in this situation?
MS: Here’s what I noticed in life: there are some people who think, ‘Here’s a thing I want to do. I have no idea how to do it so I’m going to do it in order to learn how to do it.’ They jump into it with that mentality. Whereas I think a lot of women, in particular, we feel like we have to know how to do something perfectly before we do it. That’s such a disservice and I looked at certain directors I’ve had and thought, ‘Oh, I directed that episode for them, basically. So if that’s the case, then maybe I can do this.’ I just thought I was going to try this thing I’ve seen people do and just learn by doing. I will just acknowledge that I don’t know everything, but if I’m willing to learn from the people I’m surrounded by, then maybe I’ll be OK.
It’s kind of a metaphor for what Wynonna is going through where she is like, ‘Yea, I don’t know how to do this, but if I just lean on the people I’m surrounded by, then I can get a win here.’ I did that and was honest about what I didn’t know, but didn’t let it hold me back. It’s funny because I asked some “stupid questions” and then seasoned crew members came up to me after and said, ‘I’m really glad you asked that because I thought we were doing X, but we were really doing Zed.’ It was just a real learning experience in terms of not being afraid to admit what you don’t know, but also not letting that hold you back. Listen, I’m still terrified, but I’m more willing to fail than miss out on an opportunity.
TTVJ: What was the response from the cast when you stepped behind the camera?
MS: They were just sort of giddy. It was really cute. Dom was just giddy and I can’t really explain it. I’d give her a direction and she’d go ‘Yea yea! Ok!’ There was zero pushback and zero resentment. If there were, then wow, they are the best actors in the world because they hid it. It was the most positive environment to come into. Kat had some stuff in my episode that was challenging for her, and I felt like she trusted me to guide her through what Nicole was going through, despite it feeling really weird because A) we had just come back after a long hiatus, and B) because what Nicole is going through is so different for her to play. I felt like she really trusted me with it.
Tim just was like ‘I want to be in your weirdo brain. Give me all your weirdo notes.’ Unfortunately, I really had no notes for him in this episode, except I do distinctly remember yelling ‘Sit on his dick’ a lot. You’ll understand when you see the episode, but in a professional capacity, literally yelled at the top of my lungs, ‘Sit on his dick! Get on his dick!’ It’ll make sense when you see the episode. That was my only weird note for him. [laughs]
TTVJ: Is this something you want to continue to do in the future and will you be looking for other opportunities to direct? Hopefully in Season 5 and beyond…
MS: Totally! Our show is really, really hard for any director. We just don’t have time and shoot in the winter. So the amount of sunlight we have is very short and it’s a constant battle to get our days in terms of daylight, in terms of budget. Then we have special effects and stunts. It’s one of the most difficult shows to do under our constraints. I totally want to do it again just because I’ve never felt so creatively fulfilled making all the little decisions that I don’t get to make as an actor. I got to decide what props are used for Nicole, that I think people will hopefully like and think are funny. I got to dress the sets and put my mark on the show in a way I never would’ve been able to do. It was so magical and I definitely want to do it again.
TTVJ: I know so many fans are really looking forward to seeing your episode and we all feel very proud of you.
MS: Awww, I feel that everyone is, too.
TTVJ: When you mention the difficulties with budget and everything else surrounding Wynonna, it really makes things that Paolo did in the first two episodes this season, where he created The Garden, even more, remarkable and beautiful.
MS: He’s a creative genius and thinks in the abstract. A lot of the successes we’ve had on our show have been because he has made our show look so expensive, but actually cost less in the way he does it. That’s one of the reasons he’s my mentor! I cannot stress enough that I think he’s a genius, but he also puts humans first. Nothing he does is at the expense of the crew or cast’s safety. He’d rather die before he even let any of us get a cold from something he did.
He has a freedom that other directors don’t bring because he’s so unafraid. All that matters to him is the heart, and if something is not working he’s not going to force it to make it work. We’re going to do what’s best for the whole of the story and not this little gag in this scene. That’s what makes his stories feel so fluid, and intuitive, and you can lose yourself in them because you trust where it’s going.
Wynonna Earp airs Sundays at 10/9c on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.