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When Lake Bell was putting together Bless This Mess, her ABC comedy about a couple of Manhattanites (Bell and Dax Shepard) who relocate to Nebraska, the 40-year-old actress and producer made sure to be as inclusive as possible; three of the six episodes shot so far have been directed by women.
But there was one underrepresented minority that Bell took extra steps to include.
“Our writers room is 90 percent Midwesterners,” she says. “It was really important to us to infuse a very authentic, real Midwestern flavor and have that part of the country represented in a way that did those states proud.” Added bonus: Shepard hails from Michigan (like co-creator Liz Meriwether) and castmember David Koechner is from Missouri. “We found all the Hollywood comedy writers who are born and raised in the Midwest, from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio and a multitude of other locations.”
The move seems to have worked; the April 6 premiere won its time slot, giving ABC its best Tuesday night ratings since October.
But that’s not the only division of her set that Bell has been keeping a close eye on.
“This is the first time where I’m working for a corporation, but I am a decision-maker in whom we hire for what, and I share that with Liz — two female creators. What I found is that there are just defaults. It’s almost just a little bit of laziness and a little bit of, ‘This is just how it works, this is just the system, we got no time, we can’t interview three more people,’ ” explains the Women in Film board member of how she and Meriwether sought to have a set filled with more women. “For instance, when you’re looking for a production designer or something like that it’s like, ‘It’s easy. We know these three guys,’ or whatever, ‘They’re great and they’re learned and they’ve done network.’ So as a part of the ethos of ReFrame” — the WIF initiative that seeks to address gender imbalances in all areas of film and TV production — “you say, ‘OK, if you’re going to meet with three guys for this job, just meet with three women who are also 100 percent eligible and appropriate for this job. Somebody that’s done network television and is ready to go, and then maybe throw one person in there who’s been doing indies for a long time, but they’re primed and ready [as well].’ ”
Bell says the hardest title to book are directors of photography.
“The female DPs that are out there working are working, so when you procure a list of the people who would be ripe and ready to go, the good news is they’re working. That actually encouraged me. I was like, ‘Well, couldn’t get a female DP. The ladies we loved were already working.’ DP is great. I think if you’re an editor or a DP, if you have a storytelling brain, you can always end up being a director with that skillset.”
A version of this story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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