On the job: Blair Breard, executive producer of Louie
As part of a series on NYC's TV industry, we chatted with Breard, who has been the EP of Louis C.K.'s critically acclaimed show since it debuted in 2010
Fri Feb 21 2014
Photograph: Erica Gannett
Forget L.A.: New York is the most exciting spot for TV these days, with dozens of series filming here, and billions of dollars of revenue coming from film and TV production. This week, meet some of the players who are making their mark on the boob tube.
The producer: Blair Breard, executive producer of Louie
Before working on Louie, what was your background in TV or film production?
I come from a feature background; I was always doing movies. Truthfully, the way we shoot this TV series is not at all like the way most TV series are done, so we had to break the mold a little bit. The unique nature of the show was Louis being the only director, the only writer and the star.
What was it like to make that change from feature films to a TV series?
Well, it was a big budget shift. Our show is still pretty low-budget, but when we started it was incredibly low-budget. I had things I had to figure out. One was, how do I make 13 episodes of a TV show with so little money, and how do I budget and schedule an episodic show? It's tricky because this show is so intrinsically wrapped up in it being Louis C.K., the only writer and the only director. It wasn't like I had to shift from a feature background to a traditional TV show; I had to shift from a feature background to a whole new way of working.
What's a typical day like for you? Assuming you can even describe a typical day—do things change a lot for you?
[Laughs] Yeah. Most TV shows shoot an episode and then finish that episode and then they shoot episode two, and on and on and on. We don't do that; we don't shoot five days a week, which is very unusual for film or a television show. On Mondays and every other Tuesday I'm in the office, or I'm scouting with our team finding locations, finalizing casting, just generally troubleshooting and problem solving and prepping for what's coming up that week.
On our shoot days, it's showing up on set with everybody else and being ready for the work at hand, but also being prepared to change things at the last minute. That happens a lot with a writer-director-star; the guy who wrote it, who's directing in it, who's acting in it and who's also editing it will often at the last minute go, "Actually, can we do something completely different?" For me it's just being as aware and prepared as I can be to shift gears at a moment's notice, and because we're a very small company, we're able to do that. It's a lot easier than a big TV show would be able to do.
Have there been times where you've had to react quickly to something, or make a really fast change on set?
Well, I'll tell you something that happened [recently]. We were supposed to be filming in the subway, and then on a Tuesday the MTA called and said, "You can't shoot on the subway four days from now because of the weather today." And I had an actor who was in from out of town, so we sat together for an hour and figured out how we could pull up materials with that actor to do, and move today's work and yesterday's work back by a day.
Sometimes we'll just say, "Let's not do this scene today, because I don't want to do that scene," because of whatever reason, and we'll either move it to another day or pull up other stuff. A lot of directors wouldn't agree to do that but Louis will say, "You know what actually, now that I think about it, I don't need to have that happen in a taxi, I can do that on the sidewalk." Or, "I actually want to do this in a taxi, we'll just hail a cab and get in and start shooting handheld. We don't need 50 pieces of equipment in order to get the scene." [Laughs] That is something we can do because I have one guy who does everything.
Louie is really a show where the location is so important; New York is almost like another character on the series. Was there ever talk of shooting episodes anywhere else?
New York is very important to Louis. We've shot in every borough and he really doesn't want to cheat things, he doesn't want to pretend things aren't what they are. He's very conscious all the time and pushes everybody on the team to show him more of New York. In the beginning we talked about whether we might have to take the show somewhere else, and he said, "I'm not doing the show if we can't do it in New York. It just doesn't work for me." So it's really important for him, and it's something that he always reminds me of: "Blair, remember you know we can't fake the subway, we can't fake whatever it is."
What has working in New York added to the experience of making the show?
Our crew is phenomenal [with] what we do and what we're able to pull off. We have an incredible pool of actors in New York. One of the things that people have already said to me about the show is how fantastic the casting is. But our casting director goes to every showcase, every tiny little theater, play, production—she is out there all the time. She's always bringing in people who aren't stars, but who are talented and have real chops because they're New York actors.
The life of New York City is the most…it's totally unreproducable. Just the life; it's in the street, it's in the cars, it's in the behavior of people, it colors everything. There's no way to repeat that or imitate that or reproduce that. From the texture of the buildings to the history of the city…every neighborhood has a different history that you see when you shoot it. You know, just walking down the street, we have seasons here, unlike Los Angeles. [Laughs] There's just a palpable energy and incredible diversity in this city that you can't get anywhere else and I feel like it permeates everything, whether you're conscious of it or not.
Are there places around the city where the crew hangs out off-hours?
Our offices are in the West Village so we tend to hang around there. Louis never hangs out; he just works too hard and he has two daughters so when we're done he's gone, as he should be. Also, I have a kid and I live way uptown so I go home. [Laughs]
What's the best thing about working on Louie?
I really feel like the most amazing thing has been working with Louis and watching him grow as an artist and helping facilitate the vision of the show. The show has grown every year, from the depth of its storytelling to the scope of what we've been able to do, and that has been the most exciting thing. To be involved in the show from the beginning and watching it grow and having the support of the unions in New York and the actors in New York and the critics and all that stuff, it's just been crazy. We're sort of the little show that could. I mean, we just never even thought it would go past season one.
What about the biggest challenges?
Our budget is still very limited, and the challenge is giving the director everything he needs and wants for his story. It's a pretty challenging job for him, which is why we don't shoot five days a week because he does everything and it's just too much. So part of the challenge is making sure that he doesn't work himself to death. Not shooting five days a week means it takes us a lot longer to finish the season, which is much harder on a budget that's already very limited.
Could you see yourself working on a more traditional episodic series after this?
Because I've never done that, I don't know. Someone would have to teach me how to do it. This show is more like doing a feature, like doing a lot of series of short films. I'm not really fit for anything after this show. [Laughs] I have one creative vision that I have to support and you know, help execute his vision. In episodic TV, it's a writer's medium, and you're in part of the machine and the directors come in and out for each episode, which would be a very, very different experience.
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)