A short time ago, Awards Radar got the opportunity to chat with Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield, the directing duo responsible for Episode 4 of Season 5 of The Chi. The duo was brought on by Lena Waithe and Showtime for the pivotal episode following years of creative experience.
The episode features many of the season’s most significant plot points, such as the introduction of a new transgender character, an unplanned pregnancy, major shifts for two characters that helps them grow in ways audiences haven’t seen from them before, and the deepening of two of the show’s focal relationships.
In this interview, Deondray and Quincy dive into the creative journey that helped them land their job on The Chi, how they directed such an important episode for the series, and what’s next for them.
How did you get your start as directors?
DEONDRAY: We’ve always directed, though we didn’t always know that’s what we were doing. As a kid, I always had my little sister and the neighborhood kids acting out little skits I wrote, and then I recorded them on a tape recorder (laughs). I did it for no other reason than for fun and escapism. That carried on through my adult life up until I met Quincy. He was just like me–creating just for the joy of creating. We met as actors and discovered that we both had many other creative talents, like writing and directing. We created shorts during our down time from our acting hustle just to feed our imaginations. Eventually, we created a short film called Had U for $15 with a Sony 8 millimeter camcorder and entered Showtime’s Digital Media Festival. We ended up winning 1st place and $10,000 in the “Experimental Short” category. To me, that was the moment the fuse got lit. That was the catalyst that made us start taking directing and filmmaking more seriously.
How did you get involved with shooting the 4th episode of this season of The Chi?
DEONDRAY: It’s been a long, arduous journey. Quincy and I were the creators, directors, writers, and showrunners of a short-lived TV series about closeted men of color called The DL Chronicles. It won the GLAAD award in 2008 for Best TV Anthology, and Lena Waithe was a fan of the show. After the show didn’t go into production for its second season and we quit a directing/showrunning job for a show that was in development at Cinemax, we found ourselves unemployed and needing work badly. We started field producing for America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV, which led us down an 11-year career path of producing competition reality shows, as well as a talk show for Khloé Kardashian. We did a few indie shorts and web series in our down time that garnered a few awards, but time was limited to truly create a body of work that would grab Hollywood’s attention and get us back on the map. BET brought us to Atlanta in 2019 to produce a gospel competition show called Sunday Best. By 2021, we were burnt out with producing. We turned down an offer from HBO to return for the third season of Legendary to pursue our burning passion, which was directing. By chance, we came across an ad for Lena Waithe’s Rising Voices filmmakers program and entered with hopes that Lena might see our submission. She didn’t, but we got in anyway. Once we were accepted, she became our mentor. It was full circle. The short we made, Flames, was the result. She and the CEO of Hillman Grad Productions were so impressed with the final product that they offered us episode 4 of season 5 of The Chi.
What was the most challenging part about directing this episode?
DEONDRAY: We were finally given the opportunity again to show what we were made of. The stakes were huge. We hadn’t been in this seat in awhile. The glow of Flames was still on us, and Lena and Showtime had high expectations. If we failed at this, it might be the end of the road for our directing ambitions. For us, this was do or die. The pressure of having an almost flawless execution of the episode and making sure every “T” was crossed and every “I” was dotted weighed on us throughout production. The brilliance of the cast and crew eventually put us at ease. It truly was a team effort, and everyone worked tirelessly to help us achieve our vision. It ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of our directing careers.
QUINCY: I think the most challenging part of directing the episode was actually all self-imposed. As Deondray stated, there was a lot riding on it, and no matter how long you have been in this industry and done the work, you sometimes deal with moments of Imposter Syndrome. Am I ready? Was my prior success a fluke? Do I really know what I’m doing? There must be something I don’t know which has held me back, and will I learn it? These are all the fears and worries that were running through my mind as we were approaching our shoot.
In the end, you learn that these irrational fears are unfounded because you, in fact, do know what you’re doing. 20+ years of experience in front of and behind the camera has prepared you for this very moment. You rise to the occasion, a little over prepared some might say, but you’re ready to steer this big ship with 10,000 contingencies.
What was the directing process of bringing in so many pivotal arcs to the storyline? Ex. The unplanned pregnancy and the introduction of a new transgender character.
DEONDRAY: There were many great pivotal arcs in episode 4: Jemma finds out she’s pregnant with Jake’s baby, a new transgender character, Fatima is introduced, Roselyn takes control of The Rock Center, Emmet and Keisha graduate to a deeper level in their relationship, and Darnell takes Jada on their first real date in years, and Maisha raps in front of a real audience for the first time. With so many plots happening all at once, it’s easy to lose perspective if you don’t carefully construct each storyline as an individual short film with a beginning, middle, and end, and then find a way to meld all these stories together into one cohesive theme. We basically deconstructed the scenes that the writer, Kristiana Rae Colón, wrote to find out what the needs of each actor was and how they started and ended in the story. Had they been transformed or changed in any way? What were their fears and triumphs before and after? After we answered those kinds of questions and consulted with Kristiana on her intent, we then discussed how to tell these stories visually so that all of these nuances came across on the screen through blocking and deliberate camera movement. From our experience, when you painstakingly dissect a script this way for television, it helps you keep the individual stories clear and straight so that they each have their own life while contributing to the single cohesive, thematic story of the episode.
Do you have a favorite moment that you directed from this episode?
DEONDRAY: For me, it was the opening sequence. When I read it, I told Quincy, “we have to do something unexpected right at the start of the episode. Something signature that will draw the viewer in immediately.” We discussed a few ideas early on, but after discussing them with our director of photography, Nathan Salter, we settled on the continuous wipes. Though they were mostly visual, they did require quite a bit of acting, choreography, and precise timing. I was in love with the messages that were conveyed witnessing these private moments of Black women getting ready for their days. To see the montage come together so beautifully on set with the help of the cast and crew was so rewarding. I knew while shooting the sequences that he had done something special that was going to elevate the episode.
QUINCY: There were quite a few moments that really made my heart sing, so it’s hard for me to pick just one. Pulling off the opening sequence was rewarding. The simultaneous conversion between Alex and Lenae upstairs and their parents downstairs was amazing to see finished. One moment I love that may have escaped some viewers is the bookend shots. The opening of the episode begins with Jemma looking through her mirror into the camera, and it ends with her looking through the car windshield, into the camera. However, it is the emotional reverse of the beginning. I know it’s a little detail, but we put a lot of thought into the smallest details. We hope it contributes to what the viewer feels, even if they don’t notice why.
Tell us a little bit about your collaboration with the actors.
DEONDRAY: Being actors ourselves, Quincy and I know the shorthand of how to get to the root of performances: listening to your actors’ choices before the start of every scene. Let them live in their characters’ spaces that they’ve been cultivating sometimes years before you step foot on the set. The Chi is in its 5th season, so there isn’t much you have to do as director besides giving actors blocking that correlates with your planned camera movement and the emotions you’re visually trying to convey. However, Quincy and I are really good at bringing out even deeper performances based on the actors’ choices and feedback. We ask the actors questions like what they think their characters are wanting and needing, where they think they are going, and then try to adjust our ideas to accommodate that. When adding our own spices to the recipe, we make sure the actors are comfortable with those ingredients or if it makes sense to where their characters have been and are going. If the actors express some discomfort with a choice we give that we feel strongly about, we discuss until we arrive at a compromise. This cast is an incredible group of consummate professionals. It was paramount that we respected their process and gained their trust. They were open books once they got a taste of our directing style and deep sensibility for actors. After a while, they began to trust us enough to ask for guidance during the shooting process, which gave us a deep sense of accomplishment. Actors leaning on a trusted director can be the difference between a mediocre and Emmy-worthy performance.
QUINCY: I might add that we both are SAG-AFTRA actors. We spent the first half of our careers in front of the camera, so we understand the process on a more personal level than a director who has never been in front of a camera before. I think understanding actors as craftsmen and understanding what they seek, what they fear, what they like and dislike, and their individual processes and techniques really helps us be advocates for our actors.
Furthermore, when we both took a break from acting years ago, we went back to school and earned degrees in Psychology. We were moving forward in earning our Ph.D.’s, but the love for storytelling beckoned us back to the industry, now behind the camera. I think studying human behavior really pays off as a director.
What’s next for Deondray and Quincy?
DEONDRAY: The Chi season 6, if it’s renewed!
QUINCY: We will continue to build our resume in TV as episodic directors and get the street cred, as they say. However, we are also writing original material for TV and features that we are preparing to shop. The long term goal is to be creators of content because we have so many stories we want to tell. Imagination, art, and storytelling is what we breathe and is what brought us into this industry. It’s in our DNA. Every step in our careers will only serve that.