Welcome to Julie’s Diary! Every week during the season, Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec will add an entry to her diary. From answering burning questions to giving behind-the-scenes stories and more, this is a place for fans to hear directly from Plec about the episode they just watched.
Thanks for watching “I Went to the Woods,” written by Neil Reynolds and directed by, well … me.
Last year, I directed my very first episode, which was a definite thrill. When you write an episode, you have already kind of directed it in your brain, so your challenge is to figure out a way to put those words up on the screen as close as possible to how you saw it in your head. It’s hard work, but you enter the experience with an air of confidence that comes from knowing that YOU know how to tell the story better than anyone else. This year, it was my intention to share my brain with another person by co-writing the script with another writer. I felt like I’d be stretching my directorial muscle just a tiny bit more by having to bring scenes to life that hadn’t been born inside my own head. I thought I was taking a safe and enjoyable risk. Cut to the first draft of the script that Neil wrote based on the few days he and I had spent breaking the story together. I was so blown away by the work that he did that I told him I didn’t plan on rewriting it: I was going to direct the words from HIS brain and leave my writer-brain out of it.
And so began the challenge of bringing someone else’s words to life. A job, to be clear, that is what every other television director goes through on a weekly basis. Directors and writers usually have a very sketchy relationship. In film, the writer is lucky to be invited to the set. The director is the boss of the process, period. In television, the director has to listen to the writer even if said writer is 23 years old on the set of their first-ever produced script. It can get dicey, and I’ve been on the awkward side of it as a writer more times than I can count. I didn’t want to make it awkward for Neil. I made him be on set with me, insisting that he speak up if he thought I was missing something. Imagine having to creatively babysit your boss. I’m sure Neil could write a full blog entry just on that subject alone. But as a fellow writer, I had a terrible fear of letting him down when his intentions were so clear on the page. We made a good team.
Tidbits from set:
- Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Last year, the writers and I broke a story where Bonnie enters a prison world in the middle of a snowstorm. Production hated me. Snow is not cheap. In addition to costing many thousands of dollars for the actual materials that MAKE snow, you need several extra condors (big tall electric machines that you can hang lights and cameras and snow blowers on), snow-blowing machines, a rigging crew to lay the snow for days leading up to the shoot, another crew to clean up the snow for days after the shoot, and extra man power on the shooting day to actually make snow fall. Not to mention your sound mixer hates you because the snow machines make too much noise to get a clean dialogue track, the actors hate you because they know they’ll probably have to loop all of their lines, and you hate yourself because you can’t get the fake snow out of your clothes, your hair, and various body parts for a week. So what did I do this year? I broke a story that involved a BLIZZARD. Why? BECAUSE IT’S SO PRETTY. Snow somehow makes everything more emotional and I don’t regret it for a minute.
- Neil and I jokingly called this our Revenant episode. The idea being, we wanted to put Paul Wesley through as much total misery as possible while Stefan suffered through the experience of being trapped in a human body. I couldn’t wait for him to be shooting in freezing cold weather, icicles dripping from his face, lips chapped, body stiff. I rooted for complete, utter miserable shooting circumstances. In February, Georgia can usually be counted on for such a thing. However climate change had its say and during the snow scenes, it was actually anywhere from 50–70 degrees. All that suffering he’s doing on camera? That’s ACTING. The only day of our exterior work that I didn’t need it to be cold was the night of the bus crash. That was a full night shoot, 6 p.m.–7 a.m., and no one wants anyone to suffer on a night like that. So what did Georgia give us? Twenty-five frigid degrees and 30-mile-an-hour winds. It was dreadful. I couldn’t look half the crew in the eyes the next day.
- The cabin that Stefan stumbled across did not exist two weeks before this episode shot. Production designer Garreth Stover and his team designed and built an entire cabin in the woods in the back of our production office. We could Airbnb it tomorrow and start recouping the money we spent to create it. All it needs is Netflix and it’s a perfect weekend getaway.
- I had to shoot two pieces on the airplane tarmac where Ian shot a good portion of his episode. That meant he and I had to share some shooting days. The night we shot there, we had to bring in rain towers (machines that create rain) because it was supposed to rain the next night during a scene that had to cut straight in to the scene we were shooting. In other words, we had to be prepared to make it match. That meant we had to shoot the scene both ways: with rain and without. Poor Ian, after a full day of directing, had to act in a scene we shot twice, once dry, once fully drenched in rain, knowing that the rain piece might never see the light of day. Again, Georgia weather proved to be unpredictable. It never rained again, so the rain scene we shot didn’t make it into the cut. It’s possible he’s still mad at me.