Shondaland has always seemed like a beacon of what Hollywood could be. It’s ruled over by titular queen Shonda Rhimes and her tireless right hand woman, executive producer Betsy Beers. It's given us Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and the late, great Scandal and promises to explore everything from Anna Delvey’s infamous scammer tale to the apocalypse story we all deserve through Rhimes’ new partnership with Netflix.
Well, Shondaland took the next step in its evolution as one of entertainment’s leading matriarchies on Tuesday 25th September. “It’s incredible that we have three women directing three different episodes today,” Grey's showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff, who is one of those directors, told Refinery29 in between filming. “Two of us are women of colour, one of us is a first-time director, all three of us were given our opportunity to direct for the first time at Grey’s Anatomy.”
On top of the three women simultaneously directing their respective episodes of the ABC series' already historic upcoming 15th season — the milestone marks the ABC series as the longest-running primetime medical drama in TV history — three women wrote the episode scripts that those directors were shooting. When those three instalments wrap, two out of their three editors with also be women.
After chatting with the three women who helmed these start-of-season episodes, you realise how monumental this day was for television — and just how excited we should all be for Grey’s season 15, which premieres on Thursday, September 27.
While Vernoff, a first-time director, said the sheer level of women power on Tuesday was “incredible” as the team shot episodes 5, 6, and 7, it's even more important to realise the filming day wasn't a planned stunt. This is simply how the scheduled panned out.
“We certainly didn’t set out to design things this way,” Vernoff told Refinery29 during a filming break. “It just that we have a lot of women working on this show in very powerful positions. At any given time, the vast majority of the creatives, particularly in the senior positions, are women.”
Vernoff wasn’t kidding as she later rattled off the many women leading the ranks at Grey’s. All of the women who helmed episodes on Tuesday — Vernoff, star Chandra Wilson, and longtime crew member Nicole Rubio — were “birthed” as directors by the ABC staple, as producing director and legend Debbie Allen said. Everyone from the series’ unit production manager (Amy Schmidt) to the script supervisor (Lindsay Cohen) and line producer (Sara White) is a woman. Vernoff used her showrunning “power” to hire four entry-level, diverse women writers upon her season 14 return, only adding Shondaland's long bench of women scribes. Longtime Grey’s writer Elisabeth Finch penned Vernoff’s directorial debut, which will be the seventh episode of season 15.
Vernoff promises her soon-to-arrive instalment will be the “darkest” of the first seven episodes of season 15 and, like the other two episodes shot on Tuesday, will premiere somewhere in late October or early November. “It’s brooding and it’s emotional,” the EP-showrunner teased, “It focuses on Richard and his journey this season.” Dr. Webber (James Pickens Jr.) will be tackling his history of substance abuse, which will lead him into some “dangerous” territory, according to Vernoff, who chose to direct this specific instalment for her directorial coming out party.
Star Chandra Wilson, who wrapped helming episode 5 on Tuesday, is tackling some much lighter fare. “The name of my episode is ‘Everyday Angel,’” Miranda Bailey’s portrayer explained. “So I get to explore good things that happen to people. I’m the calm before the storm.”
While Wilson couldn’t spill much more about her relaxing episode, she did reveal exactly why having the kind of matriarchal environment that’s flourishing on the Grey’s Anatomy set is so vital. The actress-director announced her pregnancy towards the end of season 1, the first series regular to do so. “I specifically remember talking to Shonda and saying goodbye because I thought that my job was over. She said, ‘What are you talking about? Of course we’re going to figure this out,’” Wilson recalled. And, the team did figure it out; by season 2, Bailey ended up announcing her own pregnancy.
“I didn’t know that was possible, that you could start a job and have something natural happen, and that’s okay,” Wilson continued. That is the power of Shondaland. Now, Wilson declared, “I don’t know any other way than this.”
Fellow director Nicole Rubio, who was on set as a script supervisor when Grey’s filmed additional scenes for the pilot over a decade ago and has remained in the series’ orbit since, has similarly had her Hollywood perspective forever altered by her time on the medical series. The episode 6 helmer directed her first Grey’s instalment in 2013, and has gone on to shoot for Madam Secretary, The Resident, and four other Shondaland shows.
“I would go on some shows and Black women would come up to me and say, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time — I have never had a Black woman direct me,’” Rubio, who learned to direct by shadowing Wilson, recalled. “They’re like, ‘It just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen.’” Rubio, however, is proof that it does happen now, which is a far cry from what the actress-director noticed at the very beginning of her ABC series. Back then, before Shonda Rhimes was one of the most powerful forces in entertainment, “It was a majority of men directing,” Rubio explained.
While the multi-hyphenate was fairly secretive about her episode, Rubio could confirm she had spent her morning shooting with Justin Chambers and Camilla Luddington, who play newlyweds Alex Karev and Jo Wilson(-Karev?). “They are hysterical,” Rubio said with a laugh. “They were so cute together. They are happy to be here, happy to be married.”
Although Rubio be might excited for viewers to see Alex and Jo together, producing director Debbie Allen, who directed season 15 premiere “With a Wonder and a Wild Desire,” has a few tidbits to share about leading lady Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) romantic future. “I can only say we’re picking up right where we left off last season,” Allen teased, reminding us how many nuptials went down in the season 14 finale. “It’s the next day after the weddings. There’s a lot of fallout going on around that hospital. With Teddy (Kim Raver) coming back; oh my God, she’s having a baby. And what’s going on with Meredith? She had that innocent kiss in the finale.”
Speaking of Meredith’s portrayer, Allen has a response to the rumour Ellen Pompeo is leaving Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital come 2020. “Girl, I have no idea. Shonda Rhimes says it best. She’s written the end of this show three times. But we can’t get to the end because the show is so strong and our fanbase just seems to expand and explode every year,” Allen explained.
“So 2020, honey? I have no idea. That’s a rumour. That’s all I can tell you.”
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