A Day in the Life: This Is What It’s Like to Direct a TV Show in the Middle of a Pandemic

Ahead of her May 2 directorial debut, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist producer and choreographer Mandy Moore (nope, not that one) shares her whole song-and-dance routine with E! News.

By Sarah Grossbart Apr 29, 2021 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Jane Levy on Why She Took "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" Role

Some people have jobs so cool we'd actually enjoy attending their marathon Zoom meetings. Even the ones that could totally have been an email. 

Not to say we don't cherish our all-important responsibility of bringing you every last piece of need-to-know information about the casts of Bridgerton and The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, but we don't have our own glam squad or a Rolodex filled with famous names, now do we? 

But the impossibly cool people we'll be profiling in E! News' latest series totally do. Plus access to things like private drivers, designer garb and the type of professional titles we'd drop with wild abandon at parties, dinner dates or while chatting with the barista at Starbucks. Welcome to A Day in the Life...

Once you've collected your third Emmy, it's not often you're faced with situations of mistaken identity. And yet more than a decade and a half into the type of Hollywood career that earns you a spot on many a VIP guest list, Mandy Moore still finds herself explaining that she's not that Mandy Moore. Or, @nopenother as she's titled her social media handles lest anyone click on her Instagram profile in the hopes of finding selfies of the This Is Us star. 

The Cast of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist on Their Favorite Musical Numbers

Because while she hasn't served as matriarch of the Pearson crew for five seasons or ever sang about missing someone like candy, Moore has choreographed basically every song-and-dance number that you've enjoyed onscreen in the past 15 years. 

Starting with her fame-making gig on So You Think You Can Dance, through episodes of Glee and Modern Family and Oscar winners like Silver Linings Playbook and La La Land, Moore has become the person producers rely on to make movie and television magic. 

And now she's trying out some new footwork. Producer and choreographer on NBC charmer Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist since its January 2020 debut (the titular Zoey hears people's inner desires in the form of pop songs, thus the need for Moore's specific set of skills), she finally decided to listen to the colleagues that had told her choreographers make the best directors. 

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock; E! Illustration

"Now having been through the process of directing, I would agree with that," she tells E! News of helming the drama's May 2 return. "Because so many of the things in my skill set, you know, things like decision-making and coaching and leading a team and being communicative in a space and staging and kind of intuitive emotional movement, all that stuff is what I do as a choreographer."

Her new routine required an ability to think on her feet ("You really feel like you're shot out of a cannon," she said of the jam-packed 12-hour shoots on their Vancouver set), multitask like a pro and use a lot of highlighters. (More on that later.) She walks E! through every step. 

5:30 a.m. Moore knows the importance of a good opener. On this, the third day of an eight-day shoot, she was up with the birds to "have a moment to myself and just get ready for what the day is going to be," she explains.

Following the shower that helps her "pull my life together," she takes care selecting her pink blouse ("I was like, 'I want to have a fun, funky feel!''), black North Face vest (thanks to the COVID-necessary HEPA filters "you really have to have a whole situation of keeping yourself warm, but if it gets too hot, making sure you can take your stuff off") and sensible thick-soled rag & bone boots that will power her through 14 hours of standing on concrete. Jokes Moore, "I've heard directors say, 'If you have the wrong shoes, you're going down in flames.'"

Homemade Nespresso iced latte in hand (director of photography Shasta Spahn had one during their joint quarantine, she raves, "and it changed my life!"), she's in her car for the half-hour drive to set by 6:30 a.m. 

7:00 a.m. Arriving an hour and a half before the call time gives her a moment "to kind of walk through the set and just be by myself for a second and visualize what I want to do." So after she drops what feels like "100 bags and backpacks" in her office, she meets up with her assistant director on the shoot, Pascal Ellissalde. "He's my partner in crime along with my DP Mike [Spragg]," she explains. "We talk about how we're going to move through the day and kind of a game plan. We've prepped a ton prior to this, but on the day, things shift."

After receiving a COVID swab (they get tested every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and grabbing a protein bar and kombucha ("You don't want Mandy to be hangry. That is not cute"), she finds a quiet corner where she can be alone with her highlighters. "I feel like I'm in kindergarten," she admits of marking up her sides of the script. "But I highlight, like super old-school, all the lines in different colors for different characters."

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate; E! Illustration

9:00 a.m. Aaaaaand...scene! Blocking the first scene of the day, inside a therapist's office, "is where you realize if you've done your prep or not," she explains. With the actors, including Jane Levy as Zoey, in various states of hair and makeup, "it's so fast," Moore marvels. "You have no time to really, like, hem and haw about it. You know, they read the scene and you say, 'Okay, Jane, you're entering from there. John [Clarence Stewart], you're going to be sitting here. Skylar [Astin], you're going to be here.'"

As the cast scurries off to finish their glam, she chats with camera operator Bradley Crosbie and focus puller Harold Bernard about setting up the shot and "how many seconds we want it to be or if there's a certain dance move that I want to make sure I'm at my tightest point," she notes. "So that's just fun to be talking to people that aren't dancers and trying to explain timing and how you want to see something."

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate; E! Illustration

11:30 a.m. Having captured the first scene in two-and-a-half hours ("You've got to move as quick as you can and be as clear as you can so you can get all the coverage," she notes), Moore takes advantage of a break as the crew moves cameras into Zoey's apartment.

She, Ellisssalde and creator Austin Winsberg "run to the greenhouse set and talk through how we wanted to attack shooting 'Rich Girls,' which was going to be later in the day," she said of a Mary Steenburgen and Bernadette Peters-led number to the 2004 Gwen Stefani and Eve track. "So you're multi-purposing always on set, too. As soon as there's one break, you're talking about the next thing. There's very rarely a time where you're just sitting and chatting about current events."

2:30 p.m. So, there's no such thing as a free lunch. The apartment-set shoot wrapped just ahead of midday production break, Moore finally consumes her protein bar, kombucha and "like three bites" of the salad her assistant got her as she and her team plan out rehearsals for the upcoming finale shoot. 

Then it was back to the greenhouse set to key in on how exactly Steenburgen's Maggie would have stacked her cash on the table. It became "a whole thing," she admits. "Because then, in the number they throw money. So it's having to get it all back to its first position each time. I was like, 'Man, shouldn't have made up that idea of throwing money, Mandy. Dangit!'"

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate; E! Illustration

3:30 p.m. All the riches, baby, won't mean anything if they can't get that final shot. The day's last scene in the greenhouse was a oner (as in one-er), says Moore, meaning "there's no cuts in it." So "from the dialogue all the way through the number," she continues, Peters, Steenburgen and Levy "have to be perfect." 

With one tricky move near the end of the "Rich Girl" performance, "one of them would mess up and they were just so, in a good way, angry at themselves," recalls Moore. "And when they finally did it, it's just so cute, because everyone's cheering and just so excited that they got the move."

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate; E! Illustration

7:00 p.m. With just one dialogue-focused shot left, she and Winsberg sneak inside the house as the crew sets up outside to work through plans for the upcoming finale's big opening number so the music producer can get to work on the song. Says Moore, "It's never just that moment that you're working on."


Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate; E! Illustration

8:30 p.m. That's a wrap! Finishing within the 12-hour limit, "which makes the line producer very happy!" she and her team give a quick rundown of the next day's shoot "and people scatter like cockroaches," Moore jokes.

She heads straight to her car "and I rip that mask off so fast" before finding the perfect Spotify playlist to help decompress. "That drive home, I think, is really important," she says, "because you're kind of at a pretty high adrenaline vibe through the whole day having to deal with everything."

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9:00 p.m. Though she abstains from a glass of red, on the advice of fellow director Richard Lewis, who swears going without helps him to feel more alert for an early call, Moore has found a pretty bomb alternative. "I always do a bubble bath," she says. "Because by the end of the day, your feet hurt and you're just kind of like adrenalized. So I find for me, just like a nice warm bath with one of those Lush bath bombs, it's over. I sleep really well."

Lord knows she needs the roughly seven hours of rest she squeezes in. "We always laugh about it, my team, because it feels a bit like a circus," she says of her many roles on the series. "You've got different hats on and every couple minutes you're like, 'Okay, that's a producer hat, that's a director hat, that's a choreographer hat, that's a therapist hat, that's a coaching hat, that's a teaching hat, that's an oh-I-need-to-be-a-human hat and actually pay my bills.'"

But operating a whole millinery is a small price to pay for such an, um, extraordinary gig. "When you've got dance and music involved," Moore raves, "there's nothing like it." 

(E! and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist are both part of NBCUniversal).