Wendey Stanzler has a wealth of directing credits spanning decades in the TV industry.
You've seen her work, even if you don't know it. She's directed Sex and the City, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Arrow, and myriad others throughout her storied career.
We had the chance to chat with her about her career and her current project, directing the pivotal final two episodes of HBO Max's Made For Love Season 2.
We bonded quickly over working in a business that can sometimes make middle-aged people feel like senior citizens, and our conversation was easy and pleasant.
While many people imagine those who work in Hollywood to be in a class by themselves, most everyone I speak with proves otherwise.
Wendey is down-to-earth and engaging, which helps to understand why she is so good at her job.
As Wendey puts it, she came into directing in a "really circuitous way." Growing up far from Hollywood in Flint, Michigan, she grew up with a passion for movies and TV. She couldn't get enough of the pure entertainment and fantasy it offered.
While in college, Wendey had a professor whose parents worked for Desilu productions, and she felt the thrill of finding her two degrees of separation from the industry she admired.
Although there were no film classes at her university, she decided to begin her pursuit with some classes at the local community college. That's where a flying caught her eye.
"One day, I look up, and there's a Xerox about a horror film being made in Detroit, with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapper, and so I was like, 'I'm going to do that.'"
She spent that summer working in the sound department of a "pretty brutal horror film" that had Bruce Campbell as the sound editor. It wasn't exactly her genre, but it was a lot of fun, and she was hooked.
While in high school, she had worked with Michael Moore through her volunteer work, and when he started filming Roger and Me, she was a part of it.
"I did sound recording, assistant camera; I did everything through Roger and me and ultimately ended up being one of the main editors. And that was it. I realized that the power it had over me was not unique, that stories that are well told resonate. It's an incredibly powerful medium. It's what I love, and I kind of found my way into the business through those odd little steps."
Wendey feels very lucky. Once she dipped her toes into the water, her work in editing, documentary, and narrative storytelling led her to Sex and the City as one of its two main editors, all of which led to her love for directing.
"Talking about inspiration, it was minus the shoes, my story. I was their age; I was growing up; I was in New York, and I was single. And it was incredibly inspiring and meaningful to me, and I became enamored with the process.
"I was given the opportunity to direct the last season of that show, after sitting on set whenever I could to watch geniuses like Michael Patrick King direct. Ultimately, I had an offer to do a film. And in New York, if you were an editor at that point, there was not a lot of television, mostly film.
And this was a bigger film with Al Pacino. And I thought, 'jeez, I wonder if I can drum up the courage to ask them if they'll let me direct.' You know, it's so obvious. I'm hanging out on set; I'm taking directing courses at the Barrow Group Theatre on the recommendation of one of the directors.
She knew it was time to take the leap into film, but instead, she told the Sex and the City team that there was nothing more that she wanted than to direct on the show.
"And they let me. It was pretty amazing. It was me and Mike Spiller who has gone on to have an incredible directing career. He was a DP. So, the two of us were the two folks that they gave those opportunities to and changed my life."
She was seven and a half months pregnant when she got her break and realized that her window of opportunity was open now because "if you have the good fortune of directing a series like that, you have a window where people will meet with you."
That window opened to Grey's Anatomy. Like Meredith Grey, Wendey's mother was a doctor, the only woman in her class. Reading the pilot, she knew she could tell this story. Passing by Shonda Rhimes was like a minor miracle, Wendey said, and working on Grey's propelled her forward because it was such a bit hit.
As a young mom hoping to impress her son, she spent a good portion of her career taking jobs that would give her the cool factor in his eyes, but as he's gotten older, she's gravitated toward programming that she would want to watch.
She navigated through all kinds of content during her career. "It's comedy, and it's drama, and it's action, and it's big stuff and small stuff, just because it's fun and it's who you get to work with; it’s the actors, the writers.
"You know, you're spending a lot of time away from your family. And you want to be with people who are a joy to be around, love what they do as much as you do, and are excited about producing whatever we're doing."
One of her favorite projects to have worked on is Made for Love. "I love the first season of that show. I just thought it was so original and so much fun. And Cristin Milioti, Ray Romano, and Billy Magnussen are an incredible cast for a half-hour television show."
When congratulating her friend, Nathanial Goodman, for his nomination for an Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour) Emmy for Made for Love Season 1, he thought she should join them.
Wendey met with series creators Christina Lee and Alissa Nutting "and just fell in love with them."
She thinks their creative direction is what makes the show so good, and she loved being a part of it.
Wendey's approach to directing Made for Love Season 2 Episodes 7 and 8 were to be true to the world. She wanted a deep understanding of that world, including its rules and what characters can and cannot do.
"As a visiting director, as a guest, you actually rely a lot on the writers for what's allowed in this space because certain portions of the world is so fictionalized. This season that kind of mushed together -- what's real, what's not real."
Preparing for that journey required her to try to "crawl into Alissa’s brain, which is quite fascinating," Wendey said. "She's amazing. And her partner in crime, Christina, the two of them just had this incredible creative connection."
Communicating with them was top on the list, and she also tried "to create an environment where it's really fertile ground for great performance. And for all those contributing, whether it be Jordan Ferreira, the production designer, who is brilliant and one of the hardest working young people I've ever met, or Nate Goodman, the DP where you're sort of collaborating and trying to realize this thing on the page that none of us have ever seen before."
The finale, in particular, required them all to work together to determine the best way to tell the story, but it was an incredibly fun challenge for Wendey. That's not always the case, she said, but here, everyone was incredibly devoted to holding up what Alissa and Christina wanted to deliver.
Once she was on set, Wendey continued to be impressed with the craftsmanship that goes into Made for Love. "I mean, Cristin Milioti is possibly the most talented person. She has such a deep understanding of her character, and her character is so layered that to watch her make certain choices is to be blown away by it."
"A lot of actors don't have that depth of understanding of their character or of the process, and being as young as she is, she really, really gets it, and I loved working with her.
"I know that her background is in theatre, and I felt that. I felt like this is somebody who is not afraid of the work, works incredibly hard, comes to set looking at the crew as people that are working hard like she is, and has a deep appreciation for them. It's just rare. She's phenomenal.
Although she's not much of a sitcom watcher, after watching Men of a Certain Age and Parenthood, Wendey realized that Ray Romano is one of the great make actors around right now. "He is breathtaking."
When you see the emotion Romano has with a blow-up doll, you know you're looking at the real deal. "I think he plays these, kind of, offbeat every-men, you know, and this was kind of the ultimate version of that.
"He's aware of his flaws, just sort of doing his best. And he made me cry. I knew it was great, but I didn't really understand, sitting on a set with him and watching him behind the monitor professing his love to Diane, a blow-up doll. Yeah, you're just crying."
Wendey was very impressed with Romano's understanding of the gravitas of the moment in Made for Love Season 2 Episode 7 when Herbert makes his final decision.
"It's a comedy, but he understood what it might be like to have to make such a decision and to do it, not just for himself but for his daughter, like, knowing what the inevitable was and why, and understanding human dignity in that way. The two of them are Olympic gold. It's a rare set that has two leads that are that good and work that hard."
"Oftentimes, people are super talented; they just don't necessarily have the same work ethic. But they're so matched to each other. They have a deep respect, and they're so there for each other. It's incredible," she said of Milioti and Romano.
Since Hazel found out that her dad was ill, she has done everything to keep him alive, even partnering with Bryon to get him treatment without Herbert's knowledge.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that other Hazel would be the one to set her father free, but it was a surprising choice, nonetheless.
Wendey came into the picture when the two Hazels had been pretty well fleshed out, and it was easy to determine which was which, but for Episode 7, they blurred the lines between the two.
Wendey commented that it was "incredibly effective," which is a bit of an understatement. She was most impressed with how Milioti allowed the smallest, subtle cracks in her performance to remind viewers of which Hazel was which.
"Cristin had such a deep understanding of it that it was really just measuring the ideas that she had of being the other and how she evolved. Like, that line is blurring, and how human is she? How human does she want to be."
We both agreed that Hazel would have eventually come around to understanding Herbert's needs. "But when would she have made the right decision? Who knows when she would have been able to do that and at what cost?
"I think there was a humanity to other Hazel that was real, you know, it's a very, very interesting and complicated plot point. And they did a brilliant job. Because it's a very one-dimensional idea that could go incredibly wrong in the hands of the wrong people, but they were able to find the nuance, and the complexity was there.
She said there was a lot of discussion about how much the audience should know and how much Herbert should know. "It was really fun to find that measured balance for the viewers, for the fans."
The finale was kind of like a fever dream that found Hazel and Herbert, in the upload, working together for Hazel to get control of her life again and stop other Hazel, which included puzzle-like stops to various stages of her life.
"It was something that came to everybody late. Obviously, it had to be something of that magnitude to blow the world open, in a way, and to have her fight for her life, basically. And then, it was just an opportunity to find visuals to hold that up and to allow this fantastical, slightly unbelievable crescendo to exist."
Wendey said it was unlike anything anybody on set had ever done before and reminded her a bit of the action and comic series she's directed. They weren't sure if the visuals would hold up and be as epic as the story they were trying to tell.
"It was a real struggle trying to figure out where to shoot it, how to gauge the trajectory of her journey, and presenting her life to herself in a way that would ultimately force her to make some choices that'll pay off in Season 3 in a way that'll be incredible. And I can't wait because I'm one of the bigger fans for sure."
Made for Love hasn't been renewed for Season 3 as of yet, but the ending sure merits it, and if she was asked, Wendey would be thrilled to be a part of it in any way. In a world of reboots, Made for Love is original, and Wendey credits Alissa and Christina for making it happen.
"These two women are new and fresh. And to be able to be a part of something that's original with that kind of intelligence and creativity and humor is such a joy."
Coming up next, you can find Wendey's work on For All Mankind Season 3 and Five Days at Memorial, a limited series based on Pulitzer Prize-winning article by Sherry Fine. Written by Carlton Cuse and John Ridley, it's about a hospital left without power for five days in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, both on Apple TV+.
She's also recently finished shooting the Party Down revival, a cult favorite coming to Starz.
Wendey's resume is like a historical journey through television over the last 24 years, and if she keeps working on shows of this caliber, her future will be stellar.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.