No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up -- the writer. We're asking iconic shows' creators and writers to tell ET all about getting to see their most cherished moment on their series make it from script to screen.
For Oliver Goldstick, creator of Amazon’s new period drama, The Collection, it’s his work on an earlier show, Pretty Little Liars, which still haunts him to this day. The scene, from season two, plays on the fears that many of us have while serving as a template for the emotional and suspenseful moments to come in the five seasons to follow. While the story of five girls terrorized by a mysterious villain named “A” is very different from The Collection, which focuses on one Parisian family’s attempt to restore the city’s supremacy as the haute couture capital of the world, the two shows, Goldstick says, “deal with dark secrets and fear of exposure.”
“I tend to gravitate to stories where people are living some kind of lie, dreading the day when the truth will come out and expose them for who they are not,” Goldstick, who also produced Ugly Betty and Lipstick Jungle continues, adding that the fashion world is often ripe for skewering: “Yes, I’m the same guy who had Ugly Betty’s boss, Wilhelmina, soften her calloused feet with flesh-eating guppies.”
“My Name Is Trouble,” Episode 3, Season 2
Choosing a “favorite scene” is a slippery pursuit; the moment you isolate one, your mind ricochets to another, and then another. But I do recall filming a delicate, haunting scene, early in the PLL journey, that continues to resonate for me. When Aria finds herself in the same pottery class as her blind nemesis, Jenna Marshall, she has two options -- she can either flee or stick around and use the opportunity to glean insight into this treacherous figure. Choosing the latter, Aria alters her voice, introduces herself as “Anita,” and gains Jenna’s confidence. Later, when they’re alone, Jenna asks Aria to place a lit candle in the lantern she’s constructed and then… turn off the lights. Aria, disarmed by this odd request from a sightless girl, eventually complies. Jenna struggles to see the constellation of starbursts climbing the wall. But she can’t. And when a crumbling Jenna asks “Anita” to describe it, Aria falters, searching for her voice. Jenna fills in the painful silence with a vivid childhood memory of looking at the sky from underwater -- when she still had vision. Suddenly, this vengeful, malevolent figure -- the prime suspect for “A” -- is reduced to a vulnerable, frightened little girl. A fresh light is literally thrown on the “monster” and everything Aria thought she understood about Jenna is thrown into question. The scene manages to be spooky and moving and ironic.
The scene haunts me because it encapsulates a fear that we all carry with us: Have I caused irrevocable damage to another human being? Have I hurt someone so deeply that there’s nothing I can do to heal the wound? What can I do to erase the past? I don’t know, maybe because I’m also a visual person, the idea of robbing someone of their sight really hits me on a visceral level.
Naturally, when writing the episode, we hope that everything we write will snap, crackle, and pop -- but it’s truly alchemy, isn’t it? I had the good fortune of working with many gifted collaborators: in this case, Elodie Keene (director), Dana Gonzales (cinematographer) and Lucy Hale and Tammin Sursok (actors). When talented actors commit to material, they can reveal more truths than you ever anticipated. Much of this scene plays out in Lucy’s wide, tear-brimming eyes. And of course, just when a torn, guilt-ridden Aria is about to come clean, Jenna beats her to the punch. She knows exactly who she’s talking to. The poignant scene ends with a sucker-punch… and the audience, too, is left on shaky ground. Should we trust Jenna or not? Our job as writers was to always keep the viewer leaning in and guessing, and this episode was chock full of other reversals. In those early days, we had a lot of fun surprising ourselves.
Ultimately, the pottery scene provided a good template for creating scenes that could include emotional resonance and suspenseful plotting. They weren’t mutually exclusive. It gave us permission to dimensionalize our “villains” and question allegiances. I’d like to believe our most successful PLL episodes deployed a healthy mix of emotion, irony, and DREAD. Ultimately, this was a show about the fear of exposure – which isn’t exclusive to teenage girls. We have people sitting in very high offices who are driven by the same demons. You can fill in those blanks.
Pretty Little Liars returns with its seventh and final season April 18 on Freeform. The Collection is now streaming on Amazon Prime.