Exclusive Interview: Mark Schwahn, Creator/Head Writer of One Tree Hill (Part 2)

November 26, 2006

Last year you had to weather the separation of stars Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush. Did that affect the onset morale? How is it now?

You know what, they were really professional about it. Last year, I didn’t want to talk about it because it wasn’t any of my business and it really didn’t have anything to do with the show. We never, ever catered a story line to them, and we just can’t. I actually told them, and I have said this publicly, I told them when they were dating and when they were engaged that I hope you guys are happy forever, but if you’re not and something goes wrong, this is a business. We’re making a TV show and I can’t cater the story lines to your romances. We just can’t. We have this huge ensemble cast and once they had their troubles they were very professional about it. I know it was rumored that they didn’t want to work together and whatever, but they never approached me, their people never approached me, everybody just did their job. Now, I’m not in Wilmington everyday. I’m in L.A. most of the time, so I’m sure they had their moments on set. You have your moments anywhere in any workplace environment where you’re going through a breakup with somebody.

This year it’s so funny, I talked to Chad before the season started and he talked about wanting it to be very stress-free and I think what happens is when you get to the fourth season of a show it’s real. It’s not going anywhere. The first season you wonder if it’s going to find its way and if you’re going to be back. Then, second season the kids are buying houses and settling into Wilmington, and once you get to fourth season, this is what you do and you’re going to be doing it everyday and you need to find a way to make it fun and enjoy your work. I think people get a little restless, and even actors and producers and writers like myself…it’s kind of a nomadic existence where you go from project to project, especially in features, it’s like you go to summer camp and you’re with this group of people for a year and then you go to the next camp. With TV it’s more of a marathon than a sprint, and I think all of the actors have realized that this is what they do and Wilmington is their home now and, at least for now, they should learn to have fun with it because hit shows are so rare. So, when I’m there, it seems we have a lot of fun. We have our daily dramas, every show does, and if someone tells you they don’t, they’re lying. It’s an emotional craft; there aren’t any wrong or right answers. It’s not medicine, it’s not law. You can’t look in a book and say this is the answer. They’ll have their opinions, and I’ll have my opinions, and sometimes it gets a little heated, but I love them for the passion, even when I disagree with someone about something. And I hope that they respect me because I’m here 80 hours a week making One Tree Hill, it’s all I do now. It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been great for me.

You have an interesting time slot. You have a great lead-in with America’s Next Top Model, but you’re up against a couple of big dogs like Lost and Criminal Minds. What was your reaction when CW announced their schedule?

Yeah, you know what, it’s a great question and I was thrilled to be included anywhere they were going to put us on the schedule. I would have been really disappointed if we didn’t get to complete the senior year of high school and finish some stories. I directed last season’s finale and we left with huge cliffhangers and it really would have disappointed me to not finish at least those storylines. I always said that if they gave us a fourth season, they’d want a fifth, and I still think that’s true. You can look at the numbers and spin them any way that you want. I can spin the numbers and tell you what’s really great about them and you can spin them and tell me what’s really bad about them and we’ll both be right. I wish our household number was better, it’s been better, it was better second season. Our demos are really good, but they could be better, and our retention of Top Model: nobody has ever retained more of that audience than we do.

I never worry about Lost or Criminal Minds or any of those shows. When I was on the WB, I worried about UPN because it felt equitable to me. Lost doesn’t feel equitable to me. I’m never going to win the battle. We’ll beat them in a demo or two, we’ll get more teen girls than they will, but in terms of households and stuff, everybody’s got it tough. Fans like to think that there’s competition between us and Veronica Mars, but it used to be us and The OC, then it was us and somebody else. I think that’s fodder for the fans, but I have nothing but love and praise for the guys that make their shows because I know how hard it is. No matter where they put us, we were going to run into somebody. At least I’m not against a Grey’s Anatomy or a show that’s really skewing to girls and women in a big way. I love Top Model as a lead in. I think they’re the biggest and the best in terms of what The CW has to offer. When they go down, we go down. That’s how it works, so I was happy to be included and I was happy with Top Model.

Paul Johansson (who plays Dan Scott on One Tree Hill) has begun to direct some episodes. Is it different having a cast member behind the camera?

Moira Kelly is directing this next one, she starts tomorrow, and she’s directed one other for us. Paul’s really good. He really understands the craft in terms of acting and he’s a really good director. Moira is just finding her way and she will always put the actor craft first. Like for her, she’ll go to the actors first and ask “What are you trying to do in this scene?”, “What do you want to feel in this scene?”, and that will dictate how she directs the scene. I think Paul will approach it more as a director saying “Here’s what I need from you in this scene,” even though he’s an actor. I’ve written and directed, and now acted a little bit. I did a small cameo in episode 10, so in a couple weeks will be the first time I’ve been on camera. But, as a director, it’s funny because I’m coming to it having written the episode first, so I try to envision everything from a directorial standpoint when I’m writing. Then I’ll go to the actors and try not to be too rigid while also conveying exactly what I saw in my head. I think when actors direct, they’re a little more free form and they’re a little more respective of the acting craft.

TV’s a weird beast in the fact that we have so many freelance directors come in. Out of 21 episodes this year, we’ll probably have 15 different directors, so what’s weird is you’re dealing with actors who are on their 80th episode of the show who inhabit those characters in a great way and know those characters really well, and then you’re bringing in a director whose going to direct them whose maybe done one before, maybe a couple before, maybe none. And there has to be a trust factor between the two of them. So I think having the actors direct, the ones that aspire to do it and will obviously be good at it, I always felt Moira would be good at it, I think that shorthand and that trust factor between them and the cast is a little stronger than it might be even with someone like me.