As “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” comes to an untimely end, Variety Artisans presented by HBO celebrates what went into the show’s signature musical numbers.
For choreographer Mandy Moore, dance is something that can live in many different ways in people’s minds when it’s on a script page. However, the most magical thing she says dance can do is be “a vehicle for storytelling.”
And that is exactly how the art form was used on the two-season NBC musical comedy on which Moore was the mastermind of the dance numbers. (In Season 2 she also stepped behind the camera to make her directorial debut.)
“One of the most exciting parts about being able to direct and choreograph is that it’s so nice to be able to envision something and create something,” she says.
Moore directed the 11th episode of Season 2, entitled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Double Date.” In it, there was a recreation of the Bay to Breakers race. Before the race began, though, the dozens of extras and day players broke into song and dance to express how they really felt about the event, while Zoey (Jane Levy) and Max (Skylar Astin) were significantly less enthused. Moore wanted to keep the visual language in those moments the same as previous episodes because “I wanted to be in the race with Zoey and Max and all the people that were racing,” she says.
While Moore had to, of course, consider the steps in this number, she also had to take into account the camera movements in unique ways. “I had to figure out how to get [Zoey] up a level. I thought, ‘The old shoulder.’ It would motivate the camera coming up and we could see that there are hundreds and hundreds of people dancing,” she says, explaining why Zoey’s then-boyfriend Simon (John Clarence Stewart) hoisted Zoey on his shoulders in the middle of a heart song.
The challenge for the first-time director was making it feel like there were hundreds of racers there when she could only have 100 people on set due to COVID protocols. “We ended up mapping out the day and maximizing a minimum amount of bodies in a space,” she reveals.
People were moved around throughout the different setups to enable her to capture the shots she needed. Once that was accomplished, “the beauty of post-production allows us to have more people that were there,” she says.
When it came to the big indoor dance numbers, having even fewer people on set was something with which Moore had to contend. In the eighth episode of Season 2, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Birthday,” Moore had to choreograph a party sequence for the titular event. Series creator and showrunner Austin Winsberg wanted cast members to have drinks in their hands, but she remembers saying, “They can’t dance with drinks. … How am I going to get rid of these drinks?”
Ultimately, what is at-first seen as a challenge can end up providing “real creative license to try some things,” she says. In this case, “I actually created this moment where Mo takes his arm back with a drink. And so, he takes the drink out of the hand and then Harry does the same thing and then Zoey has both the drinks and true to form she was just like, ‘Cheers to me,’ and I loved that moment.”
Watch the full video above.