411Mania Interviews: Director/Editor David Greenspan
Posted by Al Norton on 06.01.2014
411's Al Norton sits down for an exclusive interview with Palm d'Or winner David Greenspan to discuss working on Grey's Anatomy and his 2005 movie 51/50 Mall Cop finally being available for viewing.
David Greenspan is a Harvard graduate who won a Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2001 for Best Short Film. He current works as an editor on Grey's Anatomy and has directed multiple episode of the hit ABC medical drama as well. 51/50 Mall Cop, a movie he directed in 2005 that stars Jennifer Morrison and Kathleen Robertson, is now available via Amazon and VOD
Al Norton: I talk to actors a lot who get a show picked up in April and then the series doesn't premiere until the following spring, so they're waiting upwards of a year for the show to be seen, but your situation with 51/50 Mall Cop puts a whole different spin on it.
David Greenspan: It certainly does.
Al Norton: Are you excited? Has it been stressful as you've waited for the movie to be available for mass consumption?
David Greenspan: It's something I actually thought was not going to happen. It was rescreened at Slam Dance and I called up the producer and suggested we fix the music issues that were holding it up and get it out there but there was a time I thought it wasn't going to happen at all and I had resigned myself to no one ever seeing it so it's a nice, quiet feeling of relief that people will get to see the work of the actors and the crew and myself. I'd say relief is the primary emotion (laughing).
Al Norton: At some point you must have felt frustrated; I can picture you saying to your friends and family; "no, really; I directed a movie and there are famous people in it!"
David Greenspan: It was exactly like that (laughing). It's not legitimate until it's on iTunes now or something. I've learned a lot since then but it's still something I am very proud of. There's a lot of DNA of independent cinema of the early 90's all over it, sort of an homage to that stuff that first inspired me to be a filmmaker.
Al Norton: Going back and watching it again now, 10 years later, are there moments of the movie you think you would have made different artistic choices if you could go back?
David Greenspan: My expertise now is as an editor and I think I now understand better what's entertaining to the director and someone who's that close to the screenplay and what's entertaining to the audience, especially in terms of a comedy, can be two different things, and you need to pace up a comedy. I went back and took 12 minutes out of the movie and I see another 4 – 5 minutes I could get out because now I've been trained to edit out the excess. The tone of the movie is still very much what my film school classmate who wrote it was going for, a sort of deadpan comedy, and I'm still proud of it.
Al Norton: I was going to ask how you got involved with the movie but now I know your friend wrote it, so how did you bring in the cast?
David Greenspan: What happens with these kind of indie movies is that people want to do them when they have a gap in their schedule. I brought the script to Andrew Louca, the producer and sole investor, who had seen my short film at Cannes. He had asked me if I had something I was working on and I showed him a mainstream sports comedy I had written and he told me he was looking for something more personal, and I realized he wanted something more quirky and independent. When I gave him my friend's script he immediately wanted to do it and dropped money on a New York casting agency and once it got listed as a legitimate project, the ball got rolling.
I cast an actor from the Gersh Agency in a small part and once that happened the Gersh Agency started to send more people our way, which is how Kathleen (Robertson) came on board. I think that happens a lot even now, where an agency gets on board with a project.
Al Norton: Is it possible to put into words what it's like to find out you've won a Palm d'Or?
David Greenspan: There's a picture of me at the news conference afterwards with this crazy, wide eyed, shit eating grin on my face. People always say that moments like that are surreal but I know that time sort of slowed down. It was fantastic. I went up there and said that it inspires me to keep going but I had no idea; I actually thought it was going to be easy after that (laughing).
Al Norton: Where do you keep it?
David Greenspan: I keep it in my office. They only give the actors and directors from the features the actual statuette; I got a very nice parchment scroll that I framed and put up in my office.
Al Norton: So how did you end up on Grey's Anatomy?
David Greenspan: Via a USC classmate, who was involved in the show from the pilot and by the middle of season two she had been elevated to editor. After I realized Mall Cop was not going to get any distribution and that I wasn't going to make a living as a director right away, I called her during season one and said, "you're the only person from film school making a living right now, how do I get involved?" She told me to get 100 days experience editing on a reality show, which is relatively easy to do since they make so many of them, and it was literally a month after I was eligible for the Editors Guild when she called me saying her assistant editor was having eye surgery and could I fill in for a month.
I managed to impress everybody and now this is my career. I was an assistant for only a year and a half and then Shonda Rhimes has had so much success developing new shows that she keeps taking her trusted editors and moving them over, which opens up spots. I moved up to being an editor in season four.
Al Norton: How many editors are there on a show like Grey's Anatomy?
David Greenspan: There's three. We do 24 episodes so we each edit 8.
Al Norton: And you've directed a couple of episodes as well.
David Greenspan: Yes, I did one this season and one last season. I step out of my editing rotation and my assistant edits for me.
Al Norton: At what point did you feel comfortable asking about directing an episode, or did someone come to you?
David Greenspan: It was definitely me (laughing). Pretty much the minute I got to the show, before I even got promoted to editor, I started in; I am not sure if I didn't know my place but right when I started I asked if I could shadow to in-house producer/director and he's the guy who picks the directors. I saw that one of the editors who had been with the show since the beginning got to direct an episode in season 5 so once I was done with my first full season as an editor I sort of announced that I wanted to direct. Exactly five seasons later I got the nod.
A funny thing happened along the way; Derek Cecil, who's the lead in Mall Cop, came to guest on an episode of Grey's that I was editing. He didn't know I worked there so I gave the in-house producer the poster for the movie and he brought it on set and pulled Derek aside and asked him to sign it for him, saying he was a big fan of the movie (laughing). Derek was so thrown, asking him, "how have you even heard of this?!?!?" and then I stepped out from behind the wall.
Al Norton: Where does music come in to the editing process?
David Greenspan: After I've completed my entire first pass of an episode I will temp in a set of scores and songs from a library of queues we've built up over the years – the composers have amassed a lot of music over the years and the music supervisors give us a large set of songs to choose from at the start of every season, which I listen to in my car over the year. I don't usually cut to music, I hope I can make a scene work without any music whatsoever and then spot the moment where I recognize a song or piece of music would come in in a typical episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Al Norton: So you're the perfect person to ask about this; where and how did the decision get made to use 80's covers for most of the season? It's been amazing and seemingly out of nowhere.
David Greenspan: That idea came from Shonda Rhimes. She had a vision back in the summer and told the music supervisor that the last song of the winter finale should be a cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart. She'd been bored with some of the music we'd been using – she said we'd become a bit of a mockery of ourselves – and she wanted to mix it up. The first half of the season we tried some hip-hop stuff that got a mixed reception. In August she told me our music supervisor that a Grey's Anatomy-type cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart would work great for the moment of Jackson standing up during the wedding.
She'll frequently been heavily involved in the music, giving us ideas and then saying, "I like that one, I don't like those two" but in this case she was very specific. The timing of it was just about perfect; I barely had to do any sort of music edit to line it up. She was so enamored with how well it played and at some point while the spring premiere was being edited she decided it would be all 80's covers during the rest of the season.
I can tell you it's been a couple of seasons since people have been asking me on Twitter about the show's music but it was pretty constant the second half of the season. I even had a fellow editor ask me to send him an MP3 of one of the songs. Shonda has an incredible knack for knowing what people want, what they will be talking about.
Al Norton: Grey's isn't going anywhere anytime soon but what is it you are hoping comes next?
David Greenspan: I owe so much to Shonda that I don't want to just rush out the door but I really do want to direct more episodes of television, shows other than Grey's Anatomy, but I also want Shonda to bless it as well. Perhaps an episode of Scandal. Right now my hope is to edit another season of Grey's Anatomy, get a couple more directing credits under my belt, and then with Shonda's blessing either move on to another new Shonda show or direct a new episode of something else.
Al Norton: Can you give me the quick pitch on Mall Cop?
David Greenspan: If they're fans of Kathleen Robertson and Jennifer Morrison, it's kind of like a time capsule look at their early careers. Anyone who's a fan of 90's independent cinema like Bottle Rocket or an early Coen Brothers movie or Repo Man will dig our movie. If you've ever been sort of a lonely outsider looking for a friend, that's kind of what it's about.
51/50 Mall Cop is available via Video On Demand as well as on Amazon Instant Video