Shumdario News had the great honor and privilege of interviewing Joshua Butler, the director of Shadowhunters “By The Light of Dawn“. Joshua comes to the show with an impressive list of directing credentials including Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. We are very excited to share with you his candid thoughts and experiences of working with Harry Shum Jr. and Matthew Daddario on the midseason finale of Shadowhunters.
Had you heard about Malec and the fandom behind it before you started working on the show?
Joshua: First of all, thanks for the opportunity to talk about my behind-the-scenes experience directing “By The Light Of Dawn” AKA The Season 2 Winter Finale AKA 2×10! It was an absolutely incredible month of my life, bringing that episode from script to screen. Before I started working on SHADOWHUNTERS, I had definitely heard about Malec and how the Magnus Bane-Alec Lightwood relationship has become a worldwide phenomenon.
What was your reaction when you learned that you were going to direct an episode of Shadowhunters’ Season 2A? Specifically, how did you react when you first read the now-famous Malec scene?
Joshua: I got a call from my dear friend Matt Hastings, with whom I’d worked on THE ORIGINALS, and he told me that he was an executive producer on SHADOWHUNTERS Season 2 and wanted me to direct an episode. I’d say yes to Matt whatever he’s involved with—he’s a wonderful human being—but the fact that he was bringing his genius leadership skills and artistic vision to a show that I really wanted to direct already…well, there was no way I was going to say no. And then to be trusted with the Winter Finale, written by the amazing showrunners Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer, that included a game-changing Malec scene? This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My reaction was to thank the universe, as soon as I was done thanking Matt, Todd and Darren.
In this episode the audience got to see a lot more physicality from Alec’s character. (Fight scenes, seraph blade work, Alec being thrown into the elevator, etc.) What was Matt’s reaction to being directed in these scenes? Was it challenging? Exciting?
Joshua: Matt absolutely loved training with Darren McGuire, the show’s stunt coordinator, on the fight scenes and blade work. Darren McGuire is one of the most jaw-droppingly awesome stunt coordinators I’ve ever worked with. All the actors love Darren McGuire and his team. Yes, stunts can be challenging but Darren McGuire makes the impossible possible. Matt was particularly excited to do the scene where Madzie throws him into the elevator. It was a classic “stunt pull”, where he’s actually performing the action as you see it and we digitally remove the gear we used to help Matt defy gravity.
Magnus Bane is such an iconic character. Not only on television and film but a beloved literary figure as well. What was it like having the opportunity to put your own interpretation and ideas to Magnus?
Joshua: Magnus is iconic on so many levels. I think what really resonated with me was his profound loneliness, as someone who has been alive for centuries and loved and lost and loved again so many times. Having the opportunity to be a storyteller during this part of Magnus’ long journey was incredibly emotional for me. Even though our lifetimes are much shorter than Magnus Bane’s, I think we can all relate to his search for a soulmate and the difficulties of finding that perfect person to share our lives with, however long our lives may be.
Magnus had several emotional moments in this episode. What were some of the motivational pointers you gave to Harry? Especially during the balcony scene. Or does Harry just get where he needs to be without much direction?
Joshua: Because Harry has an incredible command of the character of Magnus—and his acting craft is so finely tuned—he gets where he needs to be in every take we do. As a director, it is my job to find the opportunities for extra beats that can ensure each scene is the best incarnation possible. Harry is extremely open and collaborative and willing to play with new ideas, so needless to say, he is a pleasure to work with. I think we found some wonderful nuances during the balcony scene and I’m particularly happy with Harry’s beautiful take on the Magnus-Madzie confrontation.
About the epic kiss, it was such a brilliantly directed scene. We got to see you talk about it a bit on AfterBuzz but we were wondering if you had anything else to add? You seem to be an expert directing these amazingly touching moments. What’s the secret?
Joshua: Thank you for the kind words! I think the secret to directing poignant scenes—especially ones that include an epic kiss—is to find and maximize as many unspoken moments as possible. When human beings are feeling most deeply, what we say often fails to accurately express what’s truly in our hearts. Characters on screen who express their physical affection for each other—hugs, kisses, even just the touching of noses and foreheads—can affect an audience in ways that words can’t.
As you know, the Shadowhunters fandom is a very passionate one. Did you expect their reaction to the Malec scene to be this big and positive? (@BaneAndLewis)
Joshua: I truly love the passion of the SHADOWHUNTERS fandom. It’s downright inspiring. I did expect a big and positive reaction to the Malec scene, but I wasn’t expecting all the amazing fan art and GIFs and intense social media discussion that came out of it. It’s overwhelming, but in the best way.
Tell us what the normal process of shooting a scene is like (for the Malec one for example), from the rehearsals to the day of filming. How long does it take?
Joshua: As you’re probably aware, television is shot at often record speeds. The budgets and schedules are tight, but we really strive to give viewers a mini feature film experience from week to week. That means everyone in the cast and on the crew must be at the top of their game. Luckily, the SHADOWHUNTERS team is extraordinarily fast and talented and able to achieve a high level of cinematic production value from week to week. There is very little time to rehearse in television before the day of filming, so in most cases, we rehearse for just 5-10 minutes right before shooting. The good news is that this process keeps all of us fresh and spontaneous and stops us from overthinking performances. We just go with our gut. The Malec scene was shot in less than 2 hours, if you can believe that. While the crew and I can certainly take credit for our efficiency, the real heroes are Matt and Harry, who brought such an awesome degree of emotion and intensity to set that day.
What was your impression when you met Harry and Matthew for the first time?
Joshua: Both Harry and Matt are very sweet and kind people, plus they’re both very serious about their craft. They want to make everything they do the best it can be, and that attitude is shared by the entire SHADOWHUNTERS cast. I hope this show goes on for several more years because the fanboy in me is excited to see what all of them can accomplish.
How would you describe Matt and Harry’s approach to taking direction? Was it a collaborative process? Do they bring a lot of their own ideas into the scene?
Joshua: It is a very collaborative process working with Matt and Harry. They have a lot of ideas when we start to rehearse and it is my job to discuss and refine and set a strategy for how we approach their scenes. The best part of making film and television is that we are allowed to play and experiment during shooting—as long as we are time-conscious—and if we find some unexpected magic on set, we can preserve it forever in the editing room.
It has been widely speculated Matt and Harry use their scripts as a guide but prefer to improvise dialogue and make creative decisions during their scenes together. Would you agree with that statement? And if so, how did it affect your directing choices?
Joshua: In my experience, Todd and Darren’s script contained such great dialogue that Matt and Harry and I didn’t feel the need to improvise. The creative decisions we made had to do with what Magnus and Alec were feeling from moment to moment and how to best convey that on film.
We know that you’ve worked on a lot of TV shows like The Following, The Vampire Diaries or The Magicians with many other talented actors. How do Harry and Matthew differentiate themselves from other actors you’ve directed?
Joshua: I’ve been blessed and lucky to work with so many talented actors in my career thus far, and Harry and Matt are two of the best out there. They differentiate themselves by the bravery and boldness of their portrayal of Malec. They really do justice to an epic interracial gay romance that is breaking down barriers in film and television and will—mark my words—be remembered as historic and world-changing.
The Shadowhunters fandom has officially adopted you into the fold! Countless tweets have been clamoring for you to come back and direct again as soon as possible. Can we hold out hope you will return? And if yes, would that be for season 2B or for a potential season 3?
Joshua: I am truly honored to have been adopted by the SHADOWHUNTERS fandom! And I would absolutely love to direct the show again. If a Season 3 happens, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.
Also there seems to be a growing trend to have directors move between shows each week. Do you find that works well? Or do you think a show could benefit from having someone behind the helm on a more permanent basis?
Joshua: There are two reasons for rotating episodic directors from show to show. The first is practical: You need 3-4 directors all working at the same time to make a TV schedule function. One director is prepping while another is shooting while another is in the editing room. So if a director wanted to, say, direct every episode of a season, the shooting schedule would have to be completely reworked. In rare cases—like Season 1 of HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE or Season 2 of USA’s MR. ROBOT—this can happen, but 99% of the time, it is logistically and fiscally impossible for a studio. The second reason for rotating directors is that studios and networks like to have filmmakers put an individual stamp on their episodes. While working within the parameters of the established style and tone of a series, I am always excited about how I can bring my own artistic sensibilities to the story I’m telling.
If you had the opportunity to direct any Alec / Magnus / Malec scene in the future, what would be your dream scene to film with them?
Joshua: I don’t know if a wedding is in Magnus and Alec’s future, but it sure would be a dream to direct it.
Thank you so much Joshua for taking the time to answer our questions, and we look forward to see you work on Shadowhunters again in the near future!