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“Fleabag” team presents a master class in building a scene

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, some cast members and creative leads of her show “Fleabag” had a video chat with BAFTA. They discussed many aspects of the show’s second season.

One compelling and informative section took us on a masterclass in how to construct a scene.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge: where you know her

Waller-Bridge had performed in theater and film since 2007. Her one-woman play version of “Fleabag” in 2013 got her the notoriety that led to more creative control.

The material from the play transformed into the award-winning first season of the show.

The playwright stepped out of her comedy comfort zone in the “Star Wars” movie “Solo” as the voice of Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot L3-37.

Waller-Bridge also created the show “Killing Eve,” a spy thriller that has also garnered critical and award-show love.

James Bond’s personal scripter

Daniel Craig as James Bond with help from Phoebe Waller-Bridge of "Fleabag"
Daniel Craig as James Bond, (C) Danjaq LLC 

Her work in the spy genre earned her a personal request from James Bond himself: Daniel Craig.

He brought Waller-Bridge on to do a draft of his latest film, “No Time to Die.”

A reporter questioned her involvement with the franchise, insinuating that she was little more than a diversity hire.

Craig fired back that he brought Waller-Bridge on board, “Because she’s a damned good writer.”

Picking up where “Fleabag” Season One left them

the visual inspiration for Phoebe Waller-Bridge and "Fleabag" Season 2
Fleabag’s bloody nose (C) Two Brothers Pictures

“Fleabag’s” second season had no pre-existing creative material on which to base itself.

Waller-Bridge says Season Two’s inception began with a single image: Fleabag with a bloody nose.

The challenge was how to develop the story as to how it happened and beyond.

The strategy became a dinner scene that would reunite the characters and introduce their situations since the end of season one.

The scene established the seven characters in stationary positions at the dinner table.

What could quickly turn into a static scene of talking heads turned into a masterclass of acting, directing, and editing.

Director Harry Bradbeer said, “The first thing you do with the actors is make sure they understand the pace.”

Like the classic movie “His Girl Friday,” the answer to fighting the talking head dilemma was to keep the dialogue and action moving. Often Bradbeer would give the actors the note, “Hurry up.”

Waller-Bridge, creator, producer, writer, and lead actress on “Fleabag,” suggested her fellow actors not hesitate to speak over one another.

The technique added a level of realism to the conversation.

Listen to your real-world conversations. How often do you wait for the other person to finish speaking before you offer your input?

Framing the shot to reinforce character relationships

Director Bradbeer set up his shots by combining allies in the frame and isolating Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.

The technique visualizes the contrast of the snuggling, paired characters like Dad and Godmother versus the socially isolated Fleabag.

Bradbeer’s framing also reinforced character. He saw the Priest as a mysterious character. As such, Bradbeer never let him share equal space in the frame with Fleabag.

Instead, Priest always leaned into her frame, infringing. Or Priest would be out of focus while Fleabag was in focus.

“This gave the idea that he was moving into her life but wasn’t quite there,” Bradbeer explained.

He relied on two-shot framing to create a visual mix.

Occasionally, Bradbeer and editor Gary Dollner would insert a wide shot to keep things theatrical and allow the audience a chance to breathe from the intensity of the scene.

The “Goodfellas” influence

Goodfellas "How am I funny" Martin Scorsese Joe Pesci influenced "Fleabag"

Waller-Bridge revealed that Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mobster movie “Goodfellas” influenced the Season Two dinner scene.

“The idea was here is this family that smiles at one another but will stab each other in the back,” she said, equating Fleabag’s family to Scorsese’s gangsters.

Bradbeer and Waller-Bridge agreed that Fleabag’s attitude reflected the Joe Pesci character, Tommy.

Working with the “Fleabag” editor

Editor Gary Dollner said, “[The dinner scene] was all in one location, static. Yet there were so many dynamics, so many interesting looks in the rushes, non-dialogue stuff.”

Dollner said his happy problem was how to get all those side looks and the dialogue together into a cohesive whole.

His solution was to cut the scene together as fast as he could. Using this fast cutting technique set the tone for taking the static situation and seeing how far they could go.

Learn more about Phoebe Waller-Bridge and making “Fleabag”

You can watch the entire hour and fifteen-minute discussion on the BAFTA Guru YouTube channel.

It’s well worth the watch for the wealth of info they team shares about the process of creating an Emmy and BAFTA-winning show.

You can catch the two seasons of “Fleabag” on Amazon Prime. It’s only twelve thirty-minute episodes with each a masterclass in scripting, acting, direction, and editing.

Even if you’re not a fan of comedy, it’s well worth the watch.

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