Between the first and second seasons of Frankie Shaw’s single mom Showtime series, “SMILF,” the writers’ offices moved from the Sunset Gower lot in Hollywood to the Paramount lot, a mere mile away. Shaw made it a point to bring with her items that represented not only the inspiration for her show, but also all the hard work that went into making the series so far. “We really did all band together,” she says of her writing staff. “It felt almost like an athletic team — at least that’s how I can relate to it.”
This Isn’t Just Horse Play
An avid rider when she was growing up, Shaw was gifted this photograph taken by Laura Porzak. She hung it behind her desk when she moved into her new office not only because of her longtime love of the animal, but also because of the “dark horse metaphor,” which will be infused in the second season. “Bridgette is faced with her shadow self, and what does that mean if you try to repress the darker parts of yourself?” Shaw reveals.
Designed by Discourse
“SMILF” takes on a lot of social and cultural issues that range from sexual assault to mental illness to race and modern masculinity. Although Shaw admits that her politics are oftentimes “the ones that come through” on the show, she wants to include a lot of different perspectives and voices in her writers’ room to help flesh out the supporting characters. “Our room is really diverse and our stories are very anecdotal from our writers and then also people who maybe think deeper than we do,” she says. Shaw relies on a number of books from writers including Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, whom she not only reads but also encourages her writers to read.
Color Palette Collage
On the wall adjacent to Shaw’s desk is a collage that she draws from tonally and visually. Photos of Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” inspired an early fantasy sequence on “SMILF,” a photo of the WNBA “dream team,” who were her heroes growing up, paved the way for Bridgette’s own hoop dreams, and shots from “A Woman Under the Influence, “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love” inform the show’s lighting style. “As we write season two we realize some of this means even more. This season’s all about identity and we actually have an homage to ‘In the Mood for Love,’” Shaw says. A quote about how “language can represent us or not” from Bell Hooks and a key prop from Shaw’s short film “Too Legit” flesh out the space.
Drawing the Male Gaze
Production designer Michael Grasley sketches ideas for the sets he pitches Shaw. A one-off scene in a department store dressing room became a bit more complicated by the fact that the camera had to be able to pan up to see a man hiding in rafters above, spying on and “jerking off to” women as they changed, Shaw recalls. Grasley presented her this sketch, in which the juxtaposition of light, airy movement below and dark cramped quarters above she found beautiful. “I said, ‘I want that framed,’ sort of as a joke, but when we wrapped, this came in the mail,” Shaw says. Now the prized possession hangs in a prime spot right behind her couch.
In the first season of “SMILF,” Bridgette looked back fondly on her youthful passion of playing basketball and decided she was going to go for it professionally. “For a young, single mom to have dreams, aspirations to play basketball, it’s such a far reach — it’s the farthest reach one can have maybe,” Shaw acknowledges. She may not have made the cut, but the plot point informed the framed basketball Showtime senior vice president of original programming Amy Israel gave her when the show wrapped. “You crushed it!” wrote Israel.
Page One Rewrite
The very first line Bridgette was ever supposed to speak was “I need to get undressed,” Shaw says. It was the opening to the television pilot she was working on in 2012 — well before she created the short film version that ended up winning a Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. She keeps this doodle from co-producer Emily Brecht to remind her how far she — and the idea — evolved through the years and how important those first creative instincts can be.