ATX Roundtable Interview with I. Marlene King, Lisa Cochran and Cameron Dale

Talk Nerdy had the chance to participate in a roundtable with Pretty Little Liars and Famous in Love executive producer, I. Marlene King, co-executive producer, Lisa Cochran, and costume designer, Cameron Dale, at this year’s ATX Television Festival. They talked about Pretty Little Liars coming to an end after seven seasons on the air, the transition to Famous in Love and more. Check out their responses below.

When your first started the show, were you expecting the response from fans all over the world? 

I. Marlene King: I think we were hoping for it. And we sort of had a sense on social media, even before the show aired, that it had gotten people’s attention. Young women especially. I don’t think we thought seven years later that we would be here and that fans all over the world would be excited about this finale we have coming up.

Lisa Cochran: When we started, it felt right, it felt like it had legs. We think it is going to entertain. But for some reason, it took off and for all the right reasons. Then Marlene decided that Twitter is this thing. She took my phone on set one day and [she] put me on Twitter. It blew up all over internationally and…because all of a sudden you start seeing all of the responses in several different languages. You also realize that TBH are referencing several different geographical regions, and you realize, “I think this is bigger than we know it to be.”

Marlene: I remember the first time…I think it was Shay [Mitchell] and Lucy [Hale] went to Brazil and we saw that footage and it was like The Beatles had arrived to town.

How long have you guys been planning this version of the finale?

Marlene: Originally the show was going to be five seasons, but I think it was during our third season, it was still such a big hit that the network and the studio called me after a premiere and said, “figure out how to make this 7 seasons.” So we had four years to plan for this basically. We didn’t know the real ending ending until this season began. I always know the ending of each season before I know the beginning. I think I called you, Lisa, and said, “I want to make this two hours. Let’s figure out how to do that.” And we did.

Lisa: And we start there and then go backwards to make sure she [Marlene] ties it all in together. And then we see it coming.

Marlene: And for me, I think because it’s two hours, if you ask me what you wish you could have done in a finale it’s always have more time. So this is really a movie, it’s a movie.

As we head into the finale, it seems like the girls keep digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole each week. And it kind of feels like you guys are running out of episodes to get them out of the hole. So we are we going to see them have any hope in the penultimate episode or is it going to be like they are in the dark until the finale? 

Marlene: They’re not in the dark. This is a unique season for us because the second to last episode, the penultimate episode, really feels like a finale. A lot gets wrapped up in that episode. So in the finale, there is a big chance for the characters to breathe and experience real life before the poop hits the fan.

Cameron Dale: The finale is like a movie, really.

Lisa: You had a lot on your plate for that.

Cameron: There’s a big a event that happens. I’m always on the phone like, “give me a heads up! Give me a heads up!” It’s really secretive even, when you work on the show, so I was always trying to get info from Marlene.

Marlene: We’ve said there are two weddings, at least, this season. Cameron was right away on that. Because something like a wedding dress needs to be really special. That’s something that takes a lot of planning in advance.

Based on that, how was it to dress these women, who you’ve worked with for seven years? Their styles have ever led, and now you’re planning their weddings practically. 

Cameron: I came on season six. So I came on, basically, when we jumped forward. Which was a really nice time for me to come on, because I can establish new looks. They’re adults now. They’re kind of in their careers and where they lived. So it was a really special.

Marlene: And it was really guided. We had conversations like we had with Mandi Line in the pilot, because it was really reestablishing, well, how would Aria look five years later as a young professional? Many discussions were had about that. Cameron did a great job.

Cameron: And Lucy had great input and obviously Marlene was the first person that I spoke to about it. It was really fun to see the girls jump forward. I think that was really special to see in a show with such loyal fans, getting to see —

Marlene: I’ll go out on a limb too [and say] my favorite age-up was Spencer. I just felt like her look was so Katherine Hepburn, it was out of some great, empowered, black-and-white, 1940s movie.

Cameron: And Troian is so thoughtful about everything she does, so she had a lot of input about it too.

Lisa: Well they’ve all grown, haven’t they? They’ve all grown into realize that, just because when they were younger they wanted to dress the way they were as individuals, but as characters, they grew into that. And I think they really wanted to protect that character and they really worked with you [Cameron] on that.

This question was originally about the series finale, but it now might be about the penultimate episode. It is very direct: how many people will die?

Marlene: Oh my god. [laughs] I have to think back, because my PLL brain has died. [pauses] I think that episode is more about answers than death.

Any deaths in the series finale?

Marlene: I’m keeping real mum about that, because I don’t want to mess anything up with this final moment. It’s exciting and big, I’ll say. Very big.

Since this is season seven and there have been so many episodes, I was curious whether or not you have encountered a specific instance, where you wanted to do a specific storyline, and you realized something [you did] earlier messed that up? Did you have to re-think things in these last few seasons?

Marlene: A lot of shows have this thing called a bible, where it is all of their episodes put into sort of this bible that they can go back and reference [what happens]. So much happens in every episode of PLL that our bible would be as big as this room [laughs]. So our bible was the people. The same people stayed in that writers room, assistants became writers, we promoted from within, which I’m very proud of. And I think the bible kept us safe, the bible meaning the people. We would all ask each other, in all of our collectiveness, we would all say, “We did that. We can’t do that again.” We would catch ourselves, because we the people were the checks and balances. And also the studio and network were very helpful because we all had PLL brain.

Lisa: I really think the people on our show are big fans of our show, because we are our own research source. I mean, I think because we have all been there for so long we will say, “Oh, no, no, no. Season three. We can’t do that or you at least have to address this conflict and then you can move on with that idea.”

Marlene: But in terms of answering your question, I think there were…it would be like Page and Emily, for example. Paige tried to drown Emily. But then we say to ourselves, “We kind of like their chemistry together.” And even though Paige tried to drown her, we redeem Paige so that these two can have some moments together. And I feel like that was something we were kind of good at. If we did somehow write ourselves into a corner with a character being a villain, then we would work really hard to redeem that character so they could have a different storyline.

Lisa: And moving forward in time helped us, because everyone’s life had moved on in the show. We were able to age people up, change them.

I’ve noticed a correlation between young women who are obsessed with true crime in real life, that their gateway was watching Pretty Little Liars. So maybe you can talk a little bit about making it okay for people?

Marlene: Well I’ve been obsessed with Serial. Serial was a great mystery and I think at the end of the day Pretty Little Liars works on many levels. But I think when we realized when we revealed Toby was on the ‘A’ team, it was our most shocking reveal on the series to date, and fans loved it, we were then like, “Okay. They want to be scared, they want romance, and they want to be surprised.” And I feel like that’s the true crime element of it all. You want to be surprised, you want to figure it out, you want to put the pieces of the puzzle together. So I get that those two things kind of go hand in hand.

Lisa: You train the brain to realize that anything is possible at that point. If Toby can be momentarily a bad boy, then anything is possible.

Marlene: And maybe it helps girls to realize possible bad boys not to date.

I’m curious about the transition from Pretty Little Liars to Famous in Love. Obviously, the last season of Pretty Little Liars is happening at the same time that the first season of Famous of Love is happening. So I’m curious to know what the transition between the two was like?

Marlene: Well it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. It was so sad to say goodbye to Pretty Little Liars. And although all three of us worked on both shows, the last ten episodes of PLL overlapped with the first ten episodes of Famous. It was very bittersweet. I think it saved us all from so much sadness, but we knew we had this thing that we were saying goodbye to. It was a tremendous amount of work because were were giving 100 percent to both shows. But, I don’t know how you guys feel in hindsight, even though it was a tremendous amount of work, it was good timing in the sense that we had something to look forward to.

Lisa: I mean, Cam, you are sort of putting to bed a show that these characters and everyone have grown into expecting and knowing where you were going with them. Then you have to understand that was Rosewood, that was our fantasy world. Then you moved everything into LA, Hollywood.

Marlene: A real world.

Lisa: That is different, in terms of your designing.

Cameron: It was wildly different, the two shows. Even just going onto set, it was kind of mournful on Pretty Little Liars, sad. I was pregnant [at the time] so I would go to that set and everyone would be crying and then I would just start crying even though I was new, relative to everyone. Then you go to Famous in Love and everyone is just brand new and the actors are so excited. They were next door to each other, so I would just hop over and it was wildly different energies, but both wonderful. We all did give 100 percent to both, but just hard.

Marlene: I think it was a true testament to how women can multi-task. I don’t think we get enough credit for it. As a working mom, you know how to have ten balls in the air and figure out how to get it done.

Lisa: I don’t think enough people understood that, for that amount of time, we had five sound stages at Warner Brothers, we had two full shooting companies that were working simultaneously every day. It was almost like a compound. Then, on random days, we would have double-booked days. There is a weird moment where there is clarity, where you sit there and you tune into the thing that needs the most. Then you make sure that’s fine and you go to the other. There also was a great difference between the two because one was concluding and one was starting. Therefore it’s not the same, so you really could absolutely define your feelings about them and you could move from one to the other and you knew how much you had to give this one. You would go [to PLL] and the girls would be like, “Where have you been? On that other stage?” [laughs]. We would laugh and say, “Yes, maybe, but I’m here now.” [laughs]. We knew what we were getting into, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Marlene: But the girls were mensches too.

Lisa: They were wonderful.

Marlene: I give them so much respect. When we were in New York for the season premiere of Pretty Little Liars and the series premiere of Famous in Love, we were going to do a Twitter party with the girls live at 8:00 and with the Famous cast at 9:00. The PLL girls stayed to help promote that show and not many people would do that. What a great cast. It was like this passing of the torch to this new show. It was their goodbye and then hello, saying they were moving on.

With working on a first season show again, is there anything you forgot about it?

Marlene: It’s hard. [laughs] It’s like birthing a baby. You forget it. Whether your seven seasons in or four seasons in, people know, the girls know their characters, the writers know the characters, Lisa knows how to get it done on our schedule. It’s birthing a brand new baby.

Lisa: Cause it’s different. There is no version of the shows being seen. We’re very happy about both shows. We couldn’t be happier about this new one, but we have to be sure it’s given every ounce that it’s given for the show that it is. It is it’s own show, so we want to make sure that the talent feels that, we want to make sure that they feel it coming from Cam, and from Marlene, and from us, from production. To keep them aware of it.

Marlene: And they were sweet, too. There was one night when I was directing the finale of PLL and I was starving. The other show got pizza and I had seen Carter Jenkins, who plays Rainer on the new show. I was like, “You got pizza?” and he was like, “Yeah.” Then five minutes later, he’s at my set with a pizza for me. So they were really sweet too, very generous.

Lisa: It was the best of an outcome that you could imagine being thrown into.

You guys did something very interesting with the Famous in Love premiere by launching it all at the same time. Is that something you wish you could have done with a season of Pretty Little Liars?

Marlene: That was seven years ago, so it was a different time. Twitter was new and creating this event, worldwide, even if you live in a country where you could watch PLL live, you were on Twitter, tweeting with your American friends or your friends wherever it was airi,ng.

Lisa: And you were finding it online. That was the crazy part.

Marlene: It was a giant, world-wide party we had every night and I think that’s the thing with binging that you don’t get. It’s people finding at their own time, that’s modern convience.

Lisa: It’s a different world today, too. I think what we did then felt right.

Marlene: Still now, with these last three episodes, more people are finding the show live again. My hope is that we get a lot of people to watch that finale, so we get that experience again of this giant community seeing something end, like we saw it come to life.

Right now revivals and reboots seem to be the big thing, like every five minutes. Do you guys see Pretty Little Liars one day coming back? Does the series finale leave room for that?

Marlene: I hope someday, because it’s really hard to say goodbye to these characters. So I think of Gilmore Girls or shows like that, where a long time goes by, people go away and find another passion, and then we find a way to come back together. That would be my ultimate goal.

Lisa: I think our girls, our cast, have sort of just started tapping into the fact that, “Oh my gosh. That was something that you don’t necessarily have all the time.” So if time goes by, and there is an interest in it, I would love to see those girls land together, sitting around with a cup of coffee, at a coffee shop, and take it for another brief ride. I think the girls would fall right into it.

Marlene: Eventually. Not right away. They deserve a break. They are all so wildly talented. Everybody who worked on the show…we felt as if we sent them off into the world and we’re all excited to see what they do next.

Lisa: I also think that. There is…note that I would love for it to get out there…when we scheduled the finale, I want everyone to understand that it was so important that the last shot, of the last day of the finale, the girls asked if it could be a scene where they were all together. To me it spoke volumes about the show in the end. Seven years later, the last shot was all the girls together. You [Marlene] were directing and we said, “That’s a wrap.” It was amazing. That video is on Instagram, it’s out there.

Marlene: We were a mess.

Lisa: It was a mess, but it was also the best night. It was really a great night. I think what you see in those videos is what that show was. You can see how the girls wanted to end. I give them credit for asking that in the end. Can this be the last thing? When you schedule a show, someone may finish on day 2, day 5, whatever day it is. This was important to them, and I thought it was important to Marlene, and I thought it was important to the cast, and the crew also wanted to be with the same group. So we all ended together.

Marlene: And it’s funny, because we have this thing called video village, and it’s where the director is, and you’ve got the monitors, and there is usually five people at video village, but it started out and the people there were there until the bitter end. People didn’t have to come, but word spread and people just started coming. It was 10 people, and then it was 20 people, and then it was 50 people. I don’t know how many it ultimately was, but by the time we wrapped it was a sea of people who came. Directors [from the past]. People just wanted to be a part of that moment because they knew it was something very iconic.

Lisa: It was the right way to do it.

Cameron: But it was rare. Shows aren’t like this. I came into it and I entered into a family. And it’s because of you two, really. You fostered it. I joined a family and I felt so welcome; and it wasn’t like I was just kind of stepping in and stepping out. It was really a family, and all the girls, it’s just so rare. No other project, television or movie, comes close to the feeling of family between the cast and crew.

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