Director Norman Buckley had been inhabiting the Upper East Side for the last six years, helming episodes of The CW’sGossip Girl since its first season. He was behind the camera when Nate mistook Jenny for Serena, when Blair and Serena had a tearful tarmac reunion, and when Dan and Serena broke up…the first time. Now with the airing of “Where the Vile Things Are”, Buckley has officially left Gossip Girl’s world of schemes and scandals behind.
BuddyTV was lucky enough to speak exclusively with Buckley through email about “Where the Vile Things Are”, the Dan and Serena reunion, saying goodbye, and his favorite episodes. Most importantly he answers the question everyone is wondering: who would win in a fight, Gossip Girl or ‘A’ from Pretty Little Liars? (OK, maybe I’m the only one wondering about that.)
There were a lot of call-backs in tonight’s episode, especially when it came to the Dan and Serena storyline. Did you look at any of the old episodes as preparation, especially the last elevator scene? Was there anything you did in particular to evoke that feeling of nostalgia from a directing standpoint?
Yes, I did watch the episodes that were referenced in preparation for tonight’s episode. I watched the first date episode, and I watched the episode where Dan and Serena were stuck in the elevator.
I think there is a conscious attempt this season by the writers to reference certain touchstones from the series. The Nelly Yuki and Blair scenes also called back episodes from season two, but most of those were episodes I directed, so I knew them pretty well.
You’ve been with Gossip Girl since the beginning, so what do you think of returning to the Dan and Serena dynamic?
I’ve always felt that the Dan/Serena relationship is one of the primary paradigms of the show. I was glad that I had an episode which had them reflecting on their long relationship and the complications of it.
What was your favorite scene from tonight’s episode? What made it stand out for you?
I really enjoyed the scene between Leighton Meester and Yin Chang on the steps of the Met. I liked shooting there at night. The streets were very empty that particular evening and there was a full moon. I love the dynamic between Blair and Nelly Yuki and thought both of the actresses did a wonderful job.
I also really enjoyed shooting the elevator scenes between Blake [Lively] and Penn [Badgley]. I thought the scenes had a lot of deep feeling and I found them moving.
Art seems to be a subject very close to your heart. What was it like directing such an art-centric episode?
I’m always happy to support the arts in any way I can. The trick in this episode was to make sure we featured all of the artists who were so generous in allowing their work to be featured. I think we got them all in there.
This is the last season of Gossip Girl, which is certainly bittersweet for all of the fans and I’m sure the people on set. What was it like filming your last episode of the show? How did you feel going into your last Gossip Girl episode and what was the atmosphere like on set?
I felt very nostalgic. I did twelve episodes of the show so it has been a big part of my life for the last six years. I’ve essentially watched these kids grow into very fine actors and very fine people, and I consider them all my friends. I grew very close to many members of the crew as well. It was a real family and, while I hope to continue to see many of them, I’ll never see them in that context again and that makes me wistful.
I will always be very grateful to Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz for giving me this great opportunity. It was life-changing in many ways.
You’ve directed some great episodes of the show. For me personally, “The Age of Dissonance” (which was referenced this episode) stands out as an episode that was really terrific and had a lot of layers. What was your personal favorite episode to direct and why? Was it the performances, the experience, the script? What made it stand out to you?
That would also be my favorite episode as well, followed closely by “The Handmaiden’s Tale”. Both episodes were written by my good friend Jessica Queller and I have a particular affinity for her writing. I loved the structure of both scripts, how they looped storylines back into one another, and the way they created odd pairings that we didn’t expect. I love stories of mistaken assumptions—both of these episodes hinged on that idea.
Speaking of “The Age of Dissonance”, Gossip Girl loves it’s allusions to pop culture, historical figures, classic literature, and old movies. What do you think it is about the show that lends itself to these allusions? What’s your favorite Gossip Girl reference?
I always felt that Gossip Girl was updated Edith Wharton at its best, so again “The Age of Dissonance” stands out for me. But I also responded to the many references to Breakfast at Tiffany’s because I feel both that book and movie capture a romantic idea of New York—something that I also feel Gossip Girl did very well.
Every character on the show is great in their own way, but which character do you enjoy the most? And why?
I have said before that I always related most to the character of Dan because, for me, he is the point of access into the world of the show. He grew up in a bohemian Brooklyn environment so, in essence, he is the fish out of water on the Upper East Side, however enmeshed he becomes. I think I relate to him to him because I grew up in Texas, went to New York in my early twenties, hung out with a lot of people on the Upper East Side, and definitely felt like a fish out of water. But, like Dan, I found my way.
Do you know how aware the writers and production team are of the Gossip Girl fans? For instance, jokes like Rufus and his waffle iron seem to be repeated the more it’s picked up by fans. At this point in the show, has it become a bit of a reciprocal relationship where the production team and writers leave little shout outs to the die-hard fans?
The writers have always been definitely aware of the fans, even if the fans don’t always feel they’re being heard.
What do you like most about working on Gossip Girl? Both from the creative side regarding what you like about the show and from the personal side regarding what you like about working with the cast and crew?
I really enjoyed being able to film stories on a large canvas and there is no more exciting city in the world than New York. On the personal side, it was an exciting time for me and my partner Davyd Whaley to be in New York. While I was shooting, he would study at the Art Student’s League and it was during this time that he was encouraged by his mentors there to seriously pursue his career as an artist. His art career has really taken off
I think that traveling to New York on such a frequent basis was a great boon for both of us, in terms of our creativity. We lived a great part of that time at the Essex House and developed many wonderful friendships as well. It gave us an opportunity to reestablish old friendships from earlier parts of both of our lives. It was a grand experience all around.
Gossip Girl has always had terrific music, which is really a hallmark of all the shows Josh Schwartz works on, from The OC to Chuck and Gossip Girl. How much influence do you have over the musical selections for your episodes and how much do musical cues influence how you tackle a particular scene?
Alex Patsavas was the music supervisor on all those shows. She is a dear friend, whose musical taste has influenced my own, as we have worked together since the mid 1990’s. I used to work on feature films, as an editor, and ask Alex to send me CDs of music to inspire me (I originally introduced her to Josh Schwartz). So for the most part, the music selections were her suggestions.
Occasionally, I would find songs that I really responded to and would suggest for the particular episode I was working on: for instance, I suggested the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs song “Kiss Kiss” in “The Handmaiden’s Tale”, the Just Jack song “Embers” in “The Freshmen”, and the Massive Attack song “Paradise Circus” in “Ex-Husbands and Wives”, among others. Sometimes I will hear a song and just know its right for an episode.
But I credit Alex with helping me develop an aesthetic. I have a similar aesthetic with Chris Mollere, who I work with on Pretty Little Liars. These guys inspire me to use music dramatically and I respect very much what they and other music supervisors do—a great music supervisor is worth their weight in gold.
I also think a very large tip of the hat goes to the editors—Tim Good, Rachel Goodlet-Katz, Harry Jierjian, Marc Pattavina, and Brandon Lott. They, week after week, are actually the ones who place and edit the songs into the episodes. Their taste is impeccable, all of them. Tim was the one who decided to use opera at the end of “The Age of Dissonance” which I thought was a brilliant notion, and Rachel turned me onto the band Foxes, whose song “Youth” ended “Salon of the Dead”. I liked Foxes so much that I used another of their songs “Home” on my episode of The Client List, so I owe Rachel for that.
Lightning round! You also work on Pretty Little Liars, which I think owes a bit of its influence to Gossip Girl. In a fight between ‘A’ and Gossip Girl, who do you think would win?
Even though they are both Alloy shows, I see them completely different. The character Gossip Girl is like Truman Capote, witty and caustic. ‘A’ is like the Id, all of the really horrible things you fear about yourself reflected back to you. Gossip Girl is about the exhilaration of romance, and Pretty Little Liars is about the paranoia of romance. So they are actually coming at the idea of romance from two entirely separate points of view. Therefore difficult to compare. But…my money would be on ‘A’.