Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Producer Tony Phelan On Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy co-executive producer Tony Phelan spoke at Cornell University about the show.



Thankfully, all was not lost for Phelan. His professor suggested the possibility of directing, and then he landed the job as the co-executive producer, writer and director of the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy.


Of his current job writing for Grey’s, Phelan was very positive regarding everything from the type of work to everyone on the set, including the actors: “Our actors are fantastic. They come from a variety of backgrounds, they’ll ask us for things, to change words, or to sometimes change storylines … we’ve learned [to listen to them].”

He mentioned that, in particular, “Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey are both very involved in what their characters are doing.”

In response to a question from the audience, “Is Bailey as funny in person as she is on the show?” Phelan responded with a definitive, “Yes.” He said of the cast, “They’re all pretty goddamn charming people.”


But it’s not all play on the set. Phelan explained, “You’re shooting typically between five and eight pages of the script every day. [It] moves very quickly.” For every extra day (they are technically supposed to shoot in eight days, but typically actually need about nine or ten days), production costs more money.


He said, “Every member of the staff, we are all involved in outlining every single episode of the show … scene by scene by scene.” They have to think ahead and consider what will happen to each individual character — “[We] always have to deal with the episodes that are coming before and the episodes that are coming later.

He showed a clip from Episode 19 of this season, “Sweet Surrender.“ Referring to this episode, he said, “We needed to deal with [the fact] that Meredith and Derek were going to get married. We know that Owen is dealing with his PTSD … and Callie and Arizona are in the midst of their relationship … then platforming where George’s character is going to go throughout the episode.”

He explained that every episode has a theme, which is found in the title of the episode (which is always also a song title). For “Sweet Surrender”, the theme was surrendering, so the writers had to figure out how to tell a story about each of the characters surrendering in some way — Izzie needed to surrender to her illness, while “Meredith surrender[ed] to the idea that she actually [was] going to get married, that she [couldn’t] escape,” said Phelan.

Phelan also commented that he and the other writers use certain devices for specific purposes. For instance, “Surgeries are really effective at having characters figure out what emotional conflict they’re dealing with.”

A significant part of the writer’s job, Phelan also noted, is research, especially on a show like Grey’s in which it is important to be as accurate as possible with regard to the medical issues. They also have experts come in to “make sure actors look like they know what they’re doing” as doctors.

As for the outlandish medical cases that often appear on Grey’s, Phelan said that as long as the experts say that a particular medical case could happen, even it is extremely unlikely, the show can still use it. Phelan noted, “We take a lot of pride in that we’re pretty honest with the medicine. Admittedly, we work on a silly show in Hollywood, but we do have some responsibility [to inform people about medicine].” Case in point: Referring to Izzie’s recent diagnosis of skin cancer, he advised, “Wear sunscreen. Skin cancer has increased I think five fold in this country.”

Full article available here.
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