The “Pose” writers’ room is small — only five people — and consists of hybrid writer-producers and writer-producer-directors. Pivotal among them are co-creator and showrunner Steven Canals, who made his directorial debut in the second season, and Janet Mock, who writes, executive produces and directs across the board.
“The process of wearing all three hats, specifically on this show, forces us to constantly be in conversation with one another,” Canals says. “There are tone meetings, and those conversations are critically important if someone is just coming into the show for the first time, but obviously if you have Janet behind the lens, we already understand the tone and intention and the look. We’ve been breaking that story together and putting it on the page. It creates a freedom and also a shorthand to communication.”
The freedom to evolve ideas from script to screen was especially essential in the second season finale episode, titled “In My Heels.” The episode pushes the narrative forward into 1991, more than half a year from when Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) and Pray Tell (Billy Porter) had an argument that saw them temporarily sever their friendship. The opening scenes of the episode were designed to be their reunion.
Originally, Mock says, the way those scenes were written were, “Pray Tell sits in a chair against the wall. The old dining table is gone. He’s the only one here. He leafs through an old magazine. Blanca walks out of the bedroom with another girl.” But from Mock’s perspective, the scene really needed to be about Blanca and the changes to her over this time period — from her declining health to her empty house. So she started there, with a wide look at the House of Evangelista and Blanca sitting in the middle of it, and then had Pray Tell come in.
The episode also elevated the ballroom scenes beyond how they had been depicted before. “The last two acts of that script all took place in the ball,” Canals recalls. “We’d popped into balls before, but never given them that much real estate.”
In the writers’ room, there is a lot of time spent talking about “the categories for the particular ball and how it connects to the tone and the emotional narrative for the characters in that scene.” That also means, at times, getting very specific on the page with details such as where in the scene characters are physically.
But on set, Canals and Mock weren’t shy about huddling together to further tweak lines of dialogue to hit those emotional moments in a more succinct or profound way.
In the third-act ballroom scene, for example, Mock knew that the characters of Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) and Angel (Indya Moore) couldn’t “be on the main floor or they would see Blanca come in,” so she asked for those logistical notes to be added onto the page as the writer’s draft of the script moved to the production draft of the script.
Once those details were planned out, Mock was able to add her “flavor” to certain key moments, such as directing the kids of the House of Evangelista to “take a knee” as Blanca lip-syncs “The Star Spangled Banner,” to add “a silent nod to our current-day controversy around that song.”
The ability to be collaborative and playful, she notes, is what has brought “greatness to the show — because it feels alive.”