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HomeCraftsShowrunner Series-Ghost Whisperer-Producer John Gray-Ian Sander-Kim Moses

Showrunner Series-Ghost Whisperer-Producer John Gray-Ian Sander-Kim Moses

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You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the message that Ghost Whisperer is a smash hit for CBS.The show has consistently won Friday nights for the network, delivering supernatural scares and a good old-fashioned cry, thanks to star Jennifer Love Hewitt and the crew led by exec producers and showrunners John Gray, Ian Sander and Kim Moses.The trio has a long history together. Sander produced Gray’s first TV movie, 1989’s When He’s Not a Stranger. Around the same time, Sander met Moses, who worked across the hall at Don Ohlmeyer Productions, and was “instantly smitten,” he says. They married and launched the Sander-Moses shingle, producing telefilms such as How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale and series like Profiler.Ghost Whisperer was the chance they’d all been looking for to work together. The New York-based Gray took the idea to Sander-Moses, which has a deal at Touchstone Television, and CBS scooped up the show.The show has grown steadily into a ratings powerhouse for CBS. This season, its second, the show has consistently drawn around 11 million viewers an episode, frequently winning its time slot and the night while posting gains in key demos. The show was nominated for one Emmy its first season, for best opening title sequence.Sander and Moses also have been at the forefront of pushing the show in new directions. They’ve spearheaded a strong branding strategy that includes a hefty online presence, webisodes, CDs of ghost noises, music videos and a graphic novel. They also have successfully recruited guest appearances by the likes of Mary J. Blige, J.C. Chasez from ‘N Sync and Jamie Bamber of Battlestar Galactica.Below The Line: What was the inspiration for the show and how did you go about setting it up? John Gray: CBS had become aware of a woman in Cleveland named Mary Ann Winkowski, who is the real-life Melinda. They called and said, “Had you ever thought about doing a series?” And I really hadn’t. But I was kind of intrigued and they let me go meet Mary Ann. Just sitting with her for 10 minutes, I got so many story ideas and I got really, really excited about it. Kim and Ian are among my oldest friends, so I went to them and just sort of laid this out to them. [Well-known psychic] James Van Praagh was added as a consultant and we sold it rather quickly.BTL: What do you have to think about as you’re creating a series that’s going to use visual effects and other complicated elements?Gray: It’s always an interesting balance between the budget, the schedule and your ambition. Luckily, we’re in this era now where everybody expects series television to look pretty good and the effects to look pretty good. For me, it was a really steep learning curve. I was glad I had Kim and Ian with me because they’re really seasoned pros.BTL: Talk about executing the look and feel of the show and how involved you were in choosing the crew.Gray: It was really important to us that the show looks as good as possible. We brought in a bunch of people I worked with and a lot of people Kim and Ian have worked with over the years. Our DP, Jim Chressanthis, and I had done a movie together that really turned out great. Roy Forge Smith is our production designer, and I think Roy’s done seven or eight movies for me. And my composer, who’s done eight or nine movies for me, is Mark Snow. So a lot of it is bringing in people who you know can really deliver and yet are still fresh and looking to do new and different things.Ian Sander: This year, we have two DPs, Chressanthis and Crescenzo Notarile. It enables the directors to prep not just with a first AD, but with a DP, too. They are not walking on a set that they are shooting for the first time.BTL: What’s the schedule for an episode?Gray: We do seven days of prep and eight days of shooting, and then we have one sort of pre-prep day.BTL: How do you bring your crew into the creative process?Kim Moses: We have an art-concept meeting, and that’s where we go in with the art department and the DP and the writer and Ian and myself. We walk in with feature films and stills and books and things, and we talk about the journey we want viewers to take visually, emotionally and creatively.Sander: Of course, each individual department meets with the director and us to discuss each individual part. Then you also have the tone meeting. We sit with the writer and John Gray, and the director, and the DP now is in there. If the editor is available, we’ll have the editor there. We’ll usually have a first AD there. And we talk about tone. What is the tone of each scene?Moses: It’s a creative think-tank room at that point.BTL: Does that help keep the crew invested in the success of the show?Sander: Absolutely. I think that most people got into this business because they really didn’t want to make widgets. The trick is keeping that going to some extent. We’ll do things like bringing out kids from the inner city or the school for the deaf to show them that there are real people who work here. It lets people know that you can be an electrician and be in the movie business. And you’d be surprised, when a prop guy is asked, “Well, how did you make that clock?” And all of a sudden, somebody else thinks it’s really cool.BTL: John, what is it like working with a writing staff?Gray: It was a huge adjustment, and what I learned very quickly is I don’t really like the writers’ room. I think it’s probably just 20 years of working as a solitary writer. We have a room, and the writers regularly work in the room, and when the season begins we all spend time in the room. But for me, I do better working one-on-one with the writers, with the written material.BTL: Do you have a key visual-effects supervisor?Sander: We have two. We use a company called Eden Effects and Art Codron works with them. The other fellow is named Armen Kevorkian. One’s on Eden’s payroll, one’s on ours.Moses: As this show has evolved, our appetite and the appetite of the audience and our network for visual effects is getting bigger and bigger.Sander: When we started the show, we were budgeted for $12,000 to $15,000 and now we’ve quadrupled that. And we’re hard pressed to do it for that.BTL: Do you do a digital intermediate? Who does your post?Sander: No. We shoot 35mm film.Moses: Juanita Diana is our postproduction producer. After we met her, I said to Ian, “If we don’t get her, I’m quitting.” She’s very impressive, and it was worth it because she’s great. Our line producer is Barbara Black, who Ian and I have known and worked with a couple times over the years. She’s doing a fantastic job.BTL: How important is it to be on the Universal lot? Could you do this show off-lot?Sander: Well, we could. The pilot we did on all practical locations. It wouldn’t be as good; it wouldn’t be as easy. I think it’s creatively better because you are less limited. Saying that, it’s very expensive. But we’re all in this building; we have the whole ground floor.Gray: You can be sitting here in the office and if you want to ask somebody something, you just go down to the town square. It’s great having everything right here.BTL: What are the advantages of branding the show through the internet and other tools and why do you personally take such a strong role in those efforts?Sander: Networks have 22 hours a week that they’re programming, and they’re going to fill those 22 hours a week with or without your show. So, while it is important to them that you succeed, it’s more important to you. You either can accept that, you can complain about that or you can do something about it. And we’ve chosen, on this show, to do something about it. We do it all in collaboration with the network, but we do the work. We have to take the lead in that because it’s our show and that’s part of showrunning.Moses: When you look at all the stuff we’ve done, you can see that we’re tying these things all together. I think it’s very effective because we do have the heartbeat of those projects from the concept of it all the way through, so it has a pure sensibility about it.Sander: You’re always looking for those things that w
ill hit the tipping point. We see this as entertainment. You’ve got the television show, you’ve got the internet, you’ve got the music videos, you’ve got the graphic novel. All those things, we are part of.BTL: How do you keep up with all this?Moses: It’s always been very organic and just kind of goes in a natural flow because it all starts with the show and builds up from there.BTL: What’s the difference between directing and showrunning?Moses: A good analogy is as a producer you’re throwing up plates and you’re keeping them spinning, and with directing it’s one ball on the tip of your finger and you have to keep that spinning. So it’s so different, but both of them are so creatively fulfilling. And then the other part of it is working with a cast and a crew who, when you have 45 minutes to get your last shot of coverage and everybody’s tired, and you tell them what you need and everybody just kicks in and gets what you need. That’s very joyful.Sander: Another thing that’s very fulfilling is the cast. Jennifer Love Hewitt is a joy. When we first talked about her for the show, someone said to us, “You’re going to call her Love.” And you not only end up calling her Love, but it is so appropriate it’s remarkable. The feeling on the set comes from her. Other actors who come on the show, when they leave what we hear back is that this is the most fun show they’ve ever done. And we take some pride in that.BTL: What’s going to happen in the season finale and what are your goals for the future of the show?Gray: I’m writing and directing the season finale and we’re going to try to tie up a lot of our mythology that we’ve built up throughout the season. And we’ll try to take it to the next level with where we’re going next season with the mythology. And we always try to come up with a really twisty, cliffhanger-type ending.Sander: We are very clear that there is a core audience that wants to cry in the fifth act of our show, and we still want them to. The getting there, we hope that it will become creatively more and more exciting.Moses: And then the other thing is to continue doing stunt casting, with which we’ve gotten very good, very high-profile actors. And then the final thing that we want to keep doing is blazing that trail on the internet, to be the most prolific producers who are intersecting television with the internet.

Written by Tom McLean

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