Filed in: Direction, Director Series, Featured, Interviews, Television

Director Series: Zach Braff brings Heart to Ted Lasso

June 18, 2021 07:00 | By
Zach Braff

Zach Braff on set

The unexpected phenomenon known as Ted Lasso took the 2020 pandemic-ridden year by storm as the feel good and must watch show of the year. The Apple TV+ series is created by the brilliant writing team of Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly, who put their trust in Scrubs star and director Zach Braff (Wish I Was Here, Garden State) to convey the element of heart to the show. Braff directed Episode 2 of Ted Lasso titled “Biscuits.” Jason Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso who leads the Wichita State Shockers to an American Collegiate Football Championship, soon after gets called up to coach soccer (AKA: football) in the UK Premier League for professional team AFC Richmond under owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham).

The “Biscuits” episode contains much character development and sets the tone for the whole season. Braff elaborated, “Pilots are always so hard because we have to introduce the tone, the characters, and we’ve got this whole new world of Jason going over to be the fish out of water. We are introducing the look, the world, and locations; it’s such a daunting task in a half hour and I thought this pilot was exceptional. The onus on me in Episode 2 was to develop the style of the camera moving, what’s the tone, and are we allowed to dip in the heart. My episode really showed people this wasn’t just a fish out of water comedy, but also going to have heart and really display human kindness. What’s heightened about Ted is that he’s just so kind and so loving. We all look at him like what is with this guy, but he’s coming from such an optimistic loving place, which in our 2020 world feels so out of place because there’s so much cynicism and skepticism about someone who’s like that or what are they’re after. That’s what was special about ‘Biscuits’ was it really continued to show the different layers that the show would be operating on, that it would aspire to not only make us laugh and fall in love with these characters, but also break our heart a little bit.”

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Braff establishes the look of the entire show with the camera movement and shots through the lens of his vision and style. “There’s not a lot of flashy camera movement in the show. When the camera does move, it really is special. Scrubs, for example, the camera was more fluid and showier — we used to joke that the camera was another character in the show. Whereas in Lasso, it’s more still and then when there is a move, even if it’s as simple as a dolly push in on someone, it really stands out and has a specific subconscious statement that we feel. The soccer field ‘football pitch’ is so sacred and special and these greensmen take care of it to be flawless. The rule was that we weren’t allowed to have any heavy equipment on the field. I worked together with the cinematographer and the key grip to come up with a unique idea to figure out how we were going to do action on the field. We came up with this contraption that is a hybrid of things that are sometimes used on the beach with these big balloon tires. We put a remote head on this balloon tire dolly, so that there wouldn’t be a lot of weight at all. When the greensman saw that, they said we could use that. We need to be able to sprint on the field which is too much for any Steadicam operator. I would have the key grip and another grip put on cleats and they would sprint down the field pulling this rig which was relatively light because there was no man or woman on it, it was a remote-control head. Then the cinematographer would operate the movement of the camera from the sidelines. It gave us and them for the rest of the season a tool to be able to get some cool action shots on the field and move fast in a clever way that we had to figure out. It became the go to device for the season,” the director described.

The biscuits signify a deeper meaning between Ted and Rebecca within the episode and the season. “He taps into her when he gets the care package from his kid with the army men and all the things. He says, “is there something that reminds you of your home or childhood.” She does a little subtle look to the biscuits. It reminds her of her childhood in a more innocent time when she wasn’t so caught up in emotional drama of her life. They signify comfort and innocence. Biscuits to them are like cookies to America, the cookie that our grandma made that we always remember. The biscuits thing was really special,” filmmaker explained.

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Braff continued, “She sends her right-hand man Higgins (Jeremy Swift) on a mission to find and bring in the finest biscuits from all over the city to see where they are from. They weren’t right because she was trying to control even something as small as finding the most delicious biscuits. He obviously can’t find them because then we reveal the fun thing at the end that Ted’s learned how to make the best biscuit in London. It really sets up how Ted is going to bring love, compassion, and empathy into Rebecca’s life. She’s so shut down from the pain of her ex-husband, and all his exploits and the infidelity. She’s protected herself by becoming so cold and closed off and miraculously, Ted is going to be the person to bring her out of her shell and warm her up.”

Jamie (Phil Dunster) is that character whom the audience likes, but with mixed feelings. The director illuminated, “The truth with Jamie is to make him likable, but have him be cocky. We all have people in our lives that are cocky, great looking, and talented. They can be too much, but we want the audience to laugh with Jamie and to like him despite who he is. The direction was making sure we saw him wrestling, particularly in that scene with the reporter outside. He wants to do the right thing, doesn’t want to disappoint Ted, but then he just can’t help it. He’s fighting his own arrogance. With that scene, I wanted to hone in on saying the audience has to be rooting for you to make the right decision. They’ve all made wrong decisions too, so they’ll forgive you, but let’s make sure in that moment before the bad choice, that they’re really rooting for you to make the right choice.”

The interaction between Ted and the high school girl bookends Episode 2 at the beginning and the end as it holds some importance on a few layers. “When Ted first sees her, he is really taking in how important the sport is to the country. No matter who you are, kids are playing and adults are wearing the jerseys. It’s such a big part of the culture there and in a way, he is still digesting in my episode. He loves the fact that it’s a young girl and not a boy and she’s out playing him in the park. We see at the end that he’s a good person and a great dad. All those little moments are flavors of him showing the audience what a good man he is,” the filmmaker revealed.

The “Biscuits” episode is different from the other episodes in that it is the one that introduces heart to the show. Braff shared, “We wanted to show the audience that we’re going to break your heart, you’re going laugh your butt off, but we’re also going to tap into to your emotions. A lot of episodes did that going forward in a really beautiful way. Particularly the finale, which I thought was beautifully done as well. In the pilot, there isn’t almost enough room for it because we didn’t have the burden of having to do so much.”

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Jason Sudeikis and Braff on set

The heart introduced by Braff in the “Biscuits” episode and the tone of the series and the development of the multiple players were set in motion to lead up to the season finale. The relationship between Ted and Rebecca is a fascinating dynamic that displays how it begins to progress throughout. Most importantly, Braff determines the look of the show and builds a creative contraption in collaboration with the cinematographer as that becomes the essential go to device for all the soccer action on the field for every episode in the season.

“It’s been so wonderful seeing the reaction to it. The genius of Jason and Bill’s writing is that it appeals to people of all ages. My episode was the first one that was going to have stuff on the field and figure out the look of how soccer would be portrayed in the show. In Episode 2, we have another thing we’re going to do is break your heart. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something that’s been so universally loved. Everybody needed the heartwarming tone of Ted Lasso.” 

Season 2 of Ted Lasso will launch on Apple TV + on July 23, 2021. Season 1 is still available to stream.

All photos courtesy Apple.