Denny Dugally is an Emmy nominated production designer whose credits include "The Kominsky Method", the upcoming feature "The Secret", "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life", and "Brothers and Sisters".
Please describe a challenging political situation you found yourself in on the job, and why it was challenging.
I was designing the third season of a high profile network series headed by a major producer. There was a very macho group of guys running the show, and I always did my best as a woman to fit in with the guys.
How did that work out? Was it awkward?
I pay attention to sports scores and play golf, so on that basis I was usually accepted into the typical “Boys Club” vibe which was the norm in network TV then. I understood how to play that game and I played it well.
What was the situation that arose?
A show runner with a less than stellar reputation was hired for the season, and the first two episodes he directed were not at all well received by the producer. The runner blamed his crew, myself included, and promised the producer he would "whip us into shape.” But by his 3rd ineffective episode his job was clearly on the line. To save himself he coerced the DP, also a man, to join him in an effort to throw me under the bus as the source of their problems.
Was there a specific incident or dynamic that caused the show runner and DP to turn on you beyond the desire to save the runner’s own skin?
Though the DP and I didn’t get along particularly well, the inciting issue was solely the show runner’s lack of directorial skill, which was obvious. It was that straightforward.
And what happened?
The chief producer called me into his office to fire me in the presence of his line producer. I stated clearly to them that I was being made a scapegoat for another person’s shortcomings, but it made no difference to either of the men in the room.
It sounds as though you were unprepared for this. What was your initial reaction?
I was completely taken by surprise. I had good relationships with everyone on the crew except the show runner and the DP, and my firing was shocking to everyone…except to my art director. She had previously told me that she didn’t trust the show runner and was expecting some sort of trouble to appear as a result of his bad blood with us and the increasing precariousness of his own position.
Did your art director stay with the show after you were fired?
No, our department was fired with me. And here’s another distasteful aspect to the event: my agent was in on the situation from the beginning, waiting on the sidelines to insert another of his clients into my spot as soon as me and my department left. He did so very efficiently, having arranged meetings and stage visits for the incoming production designer a week beforehand behind without me or my department’s knowledge. Needless to say that’s the opposite of the kind of support a person expects from their agency. I fired them as soon as I learned what had happened.
What was the aftermath for you? Was your career impacted by this episode?
Well, the show runner vividly proved his limited intelligence and utter lack of imagination by quickly threatening me that if I ever repeated this story to anyone he would ruin my career. If he did speak badly about me afterwards, it’s had no impact on my career that I can discern. I haven’t worked for that producer since. Not too surprisingly in this episodic TV arena, the show runner and I were on jobs together twice since however, and he was quite cordial to me each time. We are not friends.
What was your take-away from this situation?
To become very picky about the shows I do and who I work with. Life is too short to work with mean people!