Soap Opera Digest: Tell me what the genesis of this project was.
Finola Hughes: Literally the day [GH] shut down, I texted Matt [Boren, her friend and a screenwriter] and I said, “Let’s do something. I am going to figure out some camera stuff. What do you want to do?” I started to think about, “If you were in lockdown, how could you do a narrative where you could act in a vacuum, basically?” I started to think about what my character would be and I was like, “Okay, I’m a retired agent, and there’s some big reason why I’m retired.” And then I just started to think about camera angles and what I could do with an iPhone. I started to think about stationary shots and walking into your close-up and all those kinds of things. Matt and I have done stuff together before, but we’ve always wanted to work more together and I wanted him to write something. So I left it with him. I was basically like, “Whatever he writes, we’ll do,” and I just concentrated on how we could feasibly do it. But then I took a writing course with one of my heroes, Joan Scheckel of Joan Scheckel Filmmaking Lab. It was all done on Zoom, and everything just clicked and we were off and running. We used Zoom as our communication base. Initially, we were using Zoom as a way to record, as well, but that didn’t pan out the way that we wanted. It just really started to move from there. We wanted to make [the episodes] very short, because we know people’s attention spans are quite light, so we came up with two-to-three-minute scenarios. [The concept] was born out of a New Yorker article that I was fascinated with. That was something I threw in [Boren’s] ear and he ran with that, and we just kind of dealt with this idea of an agent who’s become a hippie, she lives on a farm now and wants nothing to do with the business, but something happens to drag her back into the game. Ian [Buchanan, ex-Duke, GH, et al] plays my former partner, and Brooklyn [Rae Silzer, ex-Emma, GH], I wanted to do something for her that was sort of transitional, because she is turning into such a young woman, and then I reached out to Marc [Anthony Samuel, Felix, GH], I texted him and I was like, “This is the sort of character we want to create, are you interested?” and he just replied, “Yes.” Then I reached out to Norma [Maldonado-Buha], whose character comes in later and is quite a catalyst for the show, over Twitter, and just explained what we were doing and said, “Would you like to come on board?” and she said, “Yeah!” We shot 11 episodes and initially, it took us a long time, because we were dealing with a lot of technical issues. But then we started to be able to shoot them in a couple of hours, and then they go to the editor and he puts them together for us. And then after that, they go to this musician friend of mine, who did a brilliant job [scoring the show].
Digest: What did you think of the finished product?
Hughes: It turned out so much better than I could have imagined! We shot it on iPhones with no lenses, we don’t have great sound, and I haven’t done what I want to do with the camerawork yet; I think the only person that [mastered] the camera is Brooklyn, because she is of that generation and she just knows how to use her damn iPhone. And then there’s poor Ian and me going, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” Brooklyn had saved everything she’d done to Dropbox and sent it [to the editor], and Ian I were still going, “Hello, does this thing work?” She was like, “Okay, bye, see ya!” and leaving Ian and I in the complete dust. The first two or three episodes, it was pathetic. Ian and I were like, “That girl is rolling her eyes at us!” She was so amazing. And Chris, our editor, was like, “Yeah, I got everything from Brooklyn, can you please download your shots to Dropbox?” Ian was like, “Can I just text them to you?” It was really funny.
Digest: How did you find the experience of trying to be in character and performing over the phone?
Hughes: Okay, so I’ve always said, “I will never act and direct.” And there’s a good reason to not do it, but what occurred is that I didn’t have a second to think about my performance at all. What I have in my favor is that everybody around me is really good — I mean, Ian was just spectacular. I was like, “Holy s–t, his nuances are just so great!” And Brooklyn was just magic. I was being sent all the rough cuts and then I would say [to the editor], “Can you save me on this, Chris? My acting is really s–t. Can you just find something else [to splice in]?” So, all the editing was just to make my performance better, basically [laughs].
Digest: How did you use Zoom to pull this off?
Hughes: Well, when we first started to shoot this, it would take an hour to set everything up, which is normal for setting shoots up, but you’re doing it all remotely. It was really exciting and really fun to be using Zoom to say, “Okay, put the camera there.” What we asked people to do is basically to set up a secondary camera — and my secondary camera was [operated by] my daughter [Sadie], so I was super-lucky. She was the ancillary shooter for me. It was fun and it was interesting just to see what you could do. And I think for the next season, we’re going to get some more professional bits and pieces so that we can shoot the way we want a little more [easily]. I can’t believe we shot it, but we did it!
Digest: Tell me about working with Marc.
Hughes: It’s a very different character for him, but Ian and I are such big fans of his. When he first joined the show, Ian and I were like, “Oh, my God, here he is!” Because Ian has known him for a long time, and I’ve seen him in a bunch of stuff. There’s a quietness to him that people don’t know [about]. Marc and I talk a lot in the hallways and at dinner with Vinessa [Antoine, ex-Jordan, GH] and Michelle Stafford [Phyllis, Y&R], and he’s just very grounded as a person, and I really needed that. My character is Hannah and Ian plays Hugo — I wanted something that was very British and catchy — and I needed somebody who would anchor the two of us. I knew that Marc would be perfect for it.
Digest: And what about working with Brooklyn?
Hughes: She really is the key to this because I was thinking, “What would get someone who is retired off their ass? It would be a girl, or a young teenager, in a predicament.” So that’s what we went with and obviously, it was a no- brainer to ask Brooklyn. Actually, what we saw was her confidence — her technical confidence and just her confidence in general. We had a conversation and I sort of said, “I just want you to really be in charge of yourself.” There are two facets to her character, and each facet is different from how she actually is. It was really fun to work with her that way. She’s so good.
Digest: Are there things that stick out to you as interesting challenges to conquer, given the way you were shooting this?
Hughes: Oh, yes. I think that the challenges are pushing me because I know I have further to go with it. I’m not finished with this style of shooting, this vertical kind of cinema, in a way, and I’m excited to go further in pushing myself because I think what happened is that I would be so grateful and so relieved when we got through the technical issues that sometimes, I just didn’t continue to push myself as much as I want. But I will get there! I think it goes so fast and it is tricky, because nothing is in your control. It is every man for themselves! They are shooting themselves, they are in charge of their own camera, their own lights and their own performance, and as a director, all I was sort of doing is, “Yes, take that further.” “Move that camera a bit to your right.” “See what else you can come up with.” Literally, that would be my go-to, “What else can you come up with?” I would say that a lot, both camera-wise and performance-wise. It was very liberating, because there was no adult to tell us what to do. There were no adults in the room! And it was really fun. Also, you have to remember, everybody was starved for any kind of contact, so when we got on the Zoom call, it was great fun because, you know, we were talking to other people! This was right in the middle of lockdown that we started it; we were in month two. It took me a while to pull the trigger because it was … There were so many things that were going on. People were worried about the country, health, “Are we doing the right things?” There was just so much going on that was bigger than us that when we just started to shoot this, it was like, “It doesn’t matter if it works or doesn’t work, we’re just doing something!” I think this is very much everybody’s show. It is something that we made in lockdown for everyone. It’s just us and the audience, whoever wants to watch it. We’re going to tell a story and we hope you will come along for the ride! It’s so collaborative and the audience is a part of the collaboration because the instigator of this was, “I need to tell more story. I just want us all to be in this together.” That was really why it started. Telling stories is just a way of communicating, and when all physical communication is cut off, as artists, you just want to continue communicating. We would have done it sitting around a fire centuries ago! And now our fireplace is the iPhone.
ENTER EXIT’s writer, Matt Boren, was a diehard Duke and Anna fan who later befriended Buchanan and Hughes. “Finola and Ian were everything to me growing up in Framingham, MA,” he shares. “I started watching GH the very day Finola premiered as Anna Devane. My imagination and life were forever changed from that moment — Devane scar and all. Finola and Ian as Anna and Duke truly lit my creative spirit and while there is so much that falls between me meeting them at a fan club luncheon in New York City and now, I will say they are two of my dearest friends and we have all wanted to collaborate for a long time. The pandemic — brutal as it’s been — carved out space and time for us to just jump in.” The series’ premise was inspired by classic GH. Boren notes, “ENTER EXIT is, in a sense, a local detective thriller that starts out small — and understandably so, as season 1 takes place during the pandemic. However, what we seed throughout these first 11 mini-episodes hints at a show that longs to be on a much larger, more global scale. We were absolutely inspired by ’80s GH — the WSB, the espionage and larger-than-life stories that were so thrilling, and through Devane/Scorpio/Lavery/ Donely/Jones, so grounded.”