Director Paolo Barzman on Being Part of the Wynonna Earp Magic

Credit: Paolo Barzman

If you’re lucky enough, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle. For the cast, crew, and fans of Wynonna Earp, the supernatural western series sure has felt that way at times. Paolo Barzman, who has directed some of Wynonna’s biggest episodes and served as a co-executive producer since the beginning, is definitely one that would agree with that assessment. “There’s some magical combustion between Emily [Andras], the character of Wynonna, and Mel [Scrofano]. That cocktail was just an incredible mix that generated everything,” he recently told The TV Junkies.

“The people who are watching it, as well as the people who are making it, a lot of them have that same very intense connection. It’s quite rare. I’ve done a lot of shows, and I’ve seldom seen so much love, empathy, caring, and people getting involved,” he said. It’s that passion for the Wynonna magic that led fans to fight for the show and bring it back for Season 4. Barzman said the Fight for Wynonna really inspired the cast and crew to approach Season 4, which is airing now on Fridays at 10 p.m. on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi, in a way that would ensure that it’s the best season yet.

During his chat with us, the director, who has also worked on shows such as Killjoys, X Company, and Lost Girl, shared some of his favorite moments from the series. He told us how he knew star Scrofano would also excel behind the camera as a director. Barzman also walked us through the approach and process that he, showrunner Andras, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, and Katherine Barrell took when discussing and filming the important WayHaught reunion scene that occurred earlier in Season 4. “The whole Wynonna adventure has been a big part of my life — emotionally, creatively, and the amount of time I spent on it. It’s a show I really love very much.”

The TV Junkies: You’ve been with Wynonna Earp since the beginning. How did you get involved with the show?

Paolo Barzman: I knew Emily and we had worked together really well on Lost Girl. We immediately had this friendly, creative connection. I understood what she was saying and there was an immediate connection. When Wynonna started to come into existence, she asked me to do the pilot. I read it and just loved it! In the first five episodes we really fought to make it a certain way. That created the bond between Emily and myself, and me with the show, even more.

TTVJ: We know you’re a director on the show, but your duties seem to go beyond that, as you’re also a co-executive producer. How would you describe your role and the many hats you wear?

PB: Honestly, it was never really defined. It was obvious that I was going to play a different role outside of directing, though I’m not really sure what that means. I was there and directed about half of the episodes, including the pilot, but I was just there because I loved being there, loved the people, and being involved. I tried to help Emily whenever I could to make it happen. I think Emily, even though she had been a showrunner, she didn’t have that much experience. It’s difficult because you’re trying to invent the show, but there’s all these realities that can make you lose some of your intentions if you’re not fighting for them. Mostly, it was me saying to her, ‘Look, if you have this crazy idea, we can do it! We can do it!’ I had no clue how I would do it, but I found them funny and interesting and wanted to try. So there was a great back and forth with her. 

Another big thing was that I really got on with the actors. I knew Tim [Rozon] from before, but I really loved Mel and her crazy spontaneity and charm. Right away, I created an environment of safety and warmth where we could try something. I wanted to give them freedom. 

For me, I had an equation to solve: ‘What is the film translation of Emily’s writing?’ When you read the script, it just pops out in an incredibly clunky, charming, wonderfully imperfect way. That meant for me that I would use the camera in a certain way that would keep this freedom and not create a rigid environment. It was all about freedom. Like we wanted to keep Mel free and not block her in positions. That, in a way, just generated a certain way of working, and little by little, that’s how my position in all of this came to exist.

TTVJ: So there were a lot of challenges early on, but as the show gets going you all start to really figure out what it is, you see what people start responding to, and Emily’s vision becomes clearer and clearer. Heading into Season 4, having conquered a lot of that, then what are the new challenges that exist?

PB: When I saw Emily for the first time after everything, I said ‘We are condemned to excellence. There’s no other way.’ There was a real desire, because of the near-death experience, that became a motor and powerful for everyone, even though we weren’t always thinking that. In Season 4, there was a sense that we were coming back from the dead so let’s just go crazy! Let’s really do it! We were dead anyway and now had this sense of freedom. There was a sense of liberation and doing it how we really wanted to do it. 

Also in Season 4, we have this accumulated knowledge of each other. I knew Emily would follow me and my choices. Season 4 was just incredible! 

TTVJ: Melanie directing an episode in Season 4 was a pretty big thing. She has really credited you with a lot when it comes to making that step. What did you see in Melanie that let you know she’d be a great director in her own right?

PB: I know she has an eye because I see the pictures and images she posts. She has a real, definite eye. That, along with how she was when she shadowed me, I would see the way she looked and processed things. When people have that ability to not be locked into an image of what you’re supposed to do, but give yourself a sense of freedom, directing, for me, is a lot of that. It’s connecting with your own creative energy and not being bogged down by it. Melanie has that. 

In the first three seasons, I’d see the way she watched blocking, how we shot things, and was always interested in how it’s made. I also love her so much! I don’t do the shadowing with everybody. There’s people who get the opportunity to direct, and I honestly think they shouldn’t. Not everybody can direct, even though sometimes it’s presented like everyone can. She’s doing it, though, and she’s proving it! She’s enjoying it and finding the dynamic with the actors, thinking about the script and how to adapt it into a scene and image language. She’s made for that, and if you talk to her it’s obvious.

TTVJ: A huge moment for the show, that was also important to so many fans, was the WayHaught love scene in Episode 402. Emily has said that was a full team collaboration between you, Dom, Kat, and herself. Can you just share a little about your thoughts on that scene?

PB: We all knew we couldn’t just go into the scene and do it. So we sat down — Emily, Dom, Kat, and myself — and really discussed many, many things. We discussed what it meant, but also for them as actors. We went way back into the birth of them, as actresses, doing WayHaught. After we had that quite long discussion — that was very honest, candid, and wonderful for everyone — we decided how we’d shoot it. 

I had this idea of fragmenting it so that we wouldn’t have to see all the continuity of all the moves, but just fragments of moments all broken up. Everyone agreed to that, and then we really spoke practically of where people would be. On the floor? Against the wall? They were so wonderful because we really spoke in all honesty like, ‘In this position, we cannot see things of the body,’ and ‘In this position, this is where I think the camera will be.’ They were so easy in their approach of it. 

We shot that scene extremely fast because we had discussed it before so much and were at ease. We had everybody out besides the camera operator, the boom guy, and them so that they’d feel at ease. But more than anything, it had to do with the generosity of these two girls and the simplicity. 

For a male director, directing two girls making love, I didn’t want to do it in a way where I’d be the archetype of the schmuck guy. But Dom was very generous also in making it easier. It was really interesting, and honestly, for me, it was a really interesting experience in learning of each other and how we can function in honesty, respect, and still be creative. It was a very intense moment that I will never forget, and maybe more than anything, just the four of us sitting in the conference room talking. The heart of it was when we discussed and conceived it.

TTVJ: Something else I was curious about is the fact that you have directed all of the Wynonna Earp season finale episodes. These are major episodes with not only bigger fight sequences and showdowns, but some of the most important emotional moments. What are you trying to accomplish in those?

PB: For me, every episode is important, even if it’s in the middle of the season. It’s a difficult balance of the magnitude of it not destroying the intimacy because there is a lot of pressure on the stunts and special effects. Having done them a few years now, I enjoy the challenge of the finales. It’s similar to the challenge of doing a pilot where you really have to invent something, and that’s one of the most gratifying things. There’s a little bit of that in the finale because you have to wrap things, and because we never know if there will be another season, the finale of every season has to work as the end of the season or end of the whole show. Usually, finales have an emotional intensity that I love because you’re wrapping up the whole season. Things are more intense and I love that! The actors, the camera, everything just gets into this frenetic mode. 

Credit: Paolo Barzman

TTVJ: You’ve been behind the camera for so many of the most important Wynonna Earp moments. Do you have a favorite scene to direct or one that really stands out above everything else?

PB: I love things from Season 1 because we were just discovering the show. Also, the vision quest episode with Bobo. It was -28℃ and Michael Eklund was just so good. When it comes to Melanie, honestly for me, it’s one long scene that started in Season 1 and goes all the way to the end of Season 4. She always brings it, even when she’s tired, and it’s always something. There are just so many moments with her. There’s also some scenes I can’t talk about in the Season 4 finale that are really some of the strongest moments of the entire series — for everybody. There’s a liberation in the fact that we all know the show so well now and how to do it, that there’s this trust and it just was, ‘Wow!’ I told my assistant that shooting the finale had the flavor of Season 1. I don’t know what it was. 

There is a particular scene in Season 1, Episode 1 when Dolls finds Wynonna at the well. She’s changing by the truck and the wind catches her hair. There’s something about it and she’s just glowing. 

TTVJ: If conventions ever happen again, can we get you to come and speak on some panels so that we can quiz you deeper about all of this amazing stuff?

PB: If they invite me I’ll come!

Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.