“Find your light; take your leap.”
It was snowing in New York when my agent called to ask if I would be interested in reading the pilot for TINY PRETTY THINGS, a series Netflix had just ordered. “It’s BLACK SWAN meets GOSSIP GIRL.” Now, in all honesty, I walked out halfway through BLACK SWAN and GOSSIP GIRL exhausted my attention by the third episode (sorry, guys).
But I loved Michael MacLennan’s pilot script. I also had a close-up view of segments of the ballet world in the 1970s and 80s through friends who were dancers. Michael and I met over Skype, since I was snowbound in Manhattan and he was in Los Angeles. Our rapport was immediate. Among Michael’s many credits was a show I loved, QUEER AS FOLK. Our worlds intersected in countless places.
With my flight back to L.A. delayed due to the storm, a follow-up with the executive producers was over Skype the next day. Afterward, my husband Ted and I toddled through falling snow one block over to The Algonquin for a cocktail. As a round of Manhattans was being served, my phone rang with an offer to work on the show. We ordered a second round to celebrate.
Deals closed and back in L.A., I met Michael in person and with the other writers dove into a crash course on ballet, ballet training, and dancers’ lives.
Michael had a distinct (and admirable) vision for the world of the show and placed a priority on authentic representation of characters from multiple backgrounds and identities. We were blessed to have the generous participation of dancer/choreographer Jennifer Nichols as our dance consultant, a gift that kept on giving throughout production and post-production.
As we delivered scripts, casting was underway internationally and production started setting up in Toronto, where the series would be filmed, doubling for Chicago. Before I knew it, I was filling out my work visa application to spend the five months of production in Toronto (my first time there).
The production experience wasn’t easy — dance always, always exacts a high price — but it was sublime. The cast were all inspiringly talented, from the principals, new and experienced (Lauren Holly, I will love you forever), to the supporting players and our wonderful corps de ballet. Everyone had something to learn and much to give. Stunning Toronto summer gave way to windy autumn and before we knew it, our special effects crew had to make mounds of snow disappear to match exteriors shot on warmer days just a few weeks before.
Dance itself gave the experience a consistent note of grace, from rehearsals through filming. Several leading choreographers, including Jennifer Nichols, challenged the dancers, who delivered time and again, often mirroring the journeys of their characters. To be a fly on the wall — or a fly off-camera — was a joy.
The series premiered December 14, 2020 on Netflix at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Its beauty and delicious drama proved to be just what the world needed at that dark time and the show rocketed to the global number one spot on Netflix, where it remained for several weeks.
Alas, Netflix declined to give us a second season. There are always multiple factors that influence those decisions. The top leadership at Netflix changed three times during the development, production and airing of the show, so that may have been a factor. The mostly young cast took the news especially hard. For several, it was their first series and hopes were deservedly very high.
For the record, I want to give credit to the extraordinary talents who contributed so much to the rich, romantic, often gritty look of the series: production designer Matthew Davies, costume designer Debra Hanson, and director of photography Luc Montpelier. It was a particular joy to work with each of them and I would welcome any opportunity to do so again.