Interview With Writer Sheryl J. Anderson, “Ties That Bind”

By Ruth on August 24, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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Almost by accident, I happened upon a show last year on the UP network–their first scripted series Ties That Bind. I was a little bit behind, but once I got into it, I was impressed with the depth of writing, the acting, and the family-friendly way in which real world issues were examined. It wasn’t long before I realized the creative genius behind this show–Sheryl J. Anderson. Even though the series was ultimately canceled by UP, I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sheryl about her emergence into the world of television and film, her various works within this medium, and some of the most electrifying news for Tiehards (fans of Ties That Bind) who long for the show to be granted a season two. 

Dion Johnson, Sheryl J. Anderson, Stan Spry

Dion Johnson, Sheryl J. Anderson, Stan Spry

RH: What inspired you to enter the entertainment industry as a career? What kind of training have you had?

SJA: My parents were both great storytellers and voracious readers, so my brother and I grew up doing both. We both inherited their love of the power of words. He’s a lawyer; I’m a writer. Our family went to the movies a lot and to live theatre, as well, so those forms of storytelling always appealed to me. (And I was a pretty melodramatic kid, I’ll admit.) I was a theatre/English double major at the College of William & Mary (in Virginia); my concentration was playwriting. But after graduation, several friends encouraged me to come out to Los Angeles and try film and TV rather than going to New York for theatre. And here I (still) am!

Tell us about your first official job in the business.

I was a development assistant at a television production company. The incomparable Grant Tinker ran the company, and my boss/mentor Rob Kaplan taught me so much. I spent a large part of the day reading scripts, which is an invaluable learning process for a writer. It taught me a lot about my own writing. And I learned about the whole scope of television production from really smart, talented people.

charmedPlease tell us about your experience producing Charmed. You were with the show for several years, so how has that been different than the shows where you do just a few episodes here and there?

I was a writer/producer on the first three seasons. It’s really thrilling to be part of a new show because you’re laying the foundation for all that’s to come. Especially with a supernatural show like Charmed, the writers are crafting mythology and setting up rules, as well as establishing relationships for the characters. I worked with some very talented people on that show, and will always value those people and the experience.

As for being on a show for multiple seasons, as opposed to freelancing or being on a show that only goes one season, it’s a taste of stability that is quite rare in our business. But you also get to grow and evolve with the characters, and that’s fascinating.

As the Hearties still remember you, please tell us about writing for When Calls the Heart. How did that happen? What was it like working with the crew and writing for that cast?

Brian Bird and I knew each other from a Christian writing workshop where we’ve both taught for years. He invited me to be part of the group that helped him and Michael {Landon, Jr.} break stories for Season one; I was delighted to contribute and to write an episode. I wasn’t involved in the production of the episode, so I unfortunately don’t know the crew or cast. (Other than Mitchell Kummen, of course.)

TiesThatBind_CA - Original__451210From there, you went on to create UP’s first scripted show Ties That Bind. Where did you get the idea for that show? How long did it take to pitch that show? 

My relationship with UP grew out of my writing a movie for them. After the movie, Barbara Fisher invited me to pitch a series. Barbara is an incredible executive, and I jumped on the chance to work with her again. Fortunately, I came up with a concept she and the rest of the execs liked, and I got that chance.

The show was inspired by my relationship with my brother: He’s a great man and my appreciation for what a blessing he is deepened after our mother passed away. (This was a year before I created the show. We lost our dad in 2007.) I’ve seen a lot of people wrestle painfully with their siblings as adults, and I wondered if there was anything my brother could ever do that I would not be able to forgive. That inspired Ties.

There are a lot of steps in the development process, but broad strokes – I pitched the show in the spring of 2014, and wrote the pilot in the summer. UP gave us an order for ten episodes, and we started writing those in the winter. We started shooting in the spring of 2015.

To break things down a little bit more, the first piece of the idea was probably March 2014, and then we were on the air in August 2015. That’s pretty fast.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it was magnificent. We were blessed that all the pieces came together in terms of UP being ready to get into series and their embracing the concept fairly quickly. And once we started going, it was like a rocket ship, and it was fantastic. UP knew when they wanted us to be on the air, and so we just did the math accordingly to make sure we could get there.

Ties+Bind+Red+Carpet+Premiere+Party+Dbj1SJBCgmLxSo how long did it actually take filming it?

We did all ten episodes in sixty-two days. (And that did include additional footage for the foreign version of the show.) We were on an incredibly accelerated schedule. We shot two episodes at a time–it’s called block shooting–so that we could maximize the time at various locations which minimizes company moves. And it’s the best way to squeeze every possible value out of your budget. I was very fortunate that we had incredible production executives, line producers, and everybody on the crew was able to handle the pace. And the cast was terrific because on any given day, they might be bouncing back and forth between two episodes. And tracking the emotions and tracking the story and everything–they were terrific about it. This is not unusual. I actually have a friend who was on a show where they were doing three and four episodes at a time. And that was a soap opera, and that is very tricky to track all the emotional ins and outs, you know, “Am I in love with him right now?” But for us, two at a time worked best. And as I said, it was just an incredible crew. And everybody brought their A-game.

That actually puts me more in awe of the show because I don’t think I realized the accelerated schedule. That is more accelerated than even most of the Hallmark productions I know about. And for it to be the caliber of show that it was. And I think what was really cool is the issues that were dealt with. You dealt with some pretty serious issues and still kept it a family-centered show. 

From the very beginning, certainly part of our design was we wanted to have a show that families could watch together. And as a parent myself and remembering back to when I was a kid, watching TV with my parents, I know the power of television to raise questions that then your family can discuss amongst themselves. We wanted to be able to present these issues we know families are grappling with and sort of open the door to–have you talked about this? Are you talking about this? Should you be talking about this? All depending on the age of your kids. But also I just feel a responsibility as a writer to reflect the issues that are on my heart and allow other people to look at it and what your takeaway is. How do you feel about it? And how do you feel about the characters based on the way they confronted the issue? It’s my hope that at the end of an episode that everybody lingers on the sofa a little while and says, “Well, gee, what would happen if this situation were to occur in our house?” and “Did they handle it right? Would we have handled this differently? Do you know anybody who’s going through this?” And those kinds of conversations.

sheryl 2I know I don’t know every single TV show out there–

Oh, it’s impossible.

–but just of the shows I am aware of–which is still quite a few–it doesn’t seem like there is really any show like Ties That Bind out there. There’s a lot of shows that deal with very serious issues, but all too often, they’re with adults or older teenagers in mind. And they’re not appropriate for family viewing. There are some shows I absolutely love, but I wouldn’t want my daughter exposed to them. I might talk with my daughter later about an issue raised by a certain show, but there is not a show where I can sit my daughter down and watch the show together and then talk about it. And so it seems to me that there would be a place for Ties to come back.

Thank you on all levels there. We were trying to address a need that we felt existed. Like you, I’m not up on absolutely everything out there, so I would never be bold enough to say  “only us.” But I know we’re in a rare space anyway–combining family and procedural. And we were scrupulous about making sure it was fifty-fifty, which is also unusual. I have a daughter who is twenty-one and a son who is seventeen, and something I missed when they were younger teens was being able to sit down and watch things with them. I mean, now that they’re older, it’s much easier. But I was painfully aware of that space in their lives where they went and watched one thing, and my husband and I watched something else. Because there wasn’t something that drew us all together. Lots of movies, but no series. So we–and when I say we, I mean everybody, the network included–it was important to the network that this be something that generations could watch together and be not only moved by but inspired and maybe even provoked by.

As I think through the episodes that stood out to me, there was one that dealt with domestic abuse, and I can remember being greatly moved by that one because although I was not a victim of it, I could have been. I always tell people that I got out of my marriage before anything could have happened. That episode moved me because I was reminded of what could have happened. And I cannot recall any other show that dealt with that issue in the way this episode did. And I also remember the one where the person tried to accuse the police of brutality–another episode that sticks with me to this day. In both instances, other shows have handled these topics, but not in a way that the whole family could watch.

I’m delighted because it means we achieved the objective we were going for.  We all wanted there to be a social consciousness on the show. In my family, we watch the news together. We discuss what we read in the newspaper. We go to church, and it comes up in a sermon or a Bible study. And I think it’s really important that we look at popular culture and entertainment because a lot of people don’t have other resources in which to look at these kinds of stories and develop any sort of context. But it’s also because Allison {one of the main characters played by Kelli Williams} is in law enforcement. These kinds of issues are on her plate every single day. The domestic abuse story–part of what we wanted to say was “Where’s the line between being a friend and being a detective?” And we get tremendous feedback, heartbreaking feedback on that episode. So many people saying, “This was my life. You know, I’ve been through this.” And what made us feel even better about putting it out there was that people said, “This helped me to see it.” And some people even said, ‘This helped me to discuss it with somebody.” I think particularly in television where you’re reaching so many, I believe the artist has a responsibility to use that time and that space in a meaningful way.

sheryl-anderson-on-set-inlineWhat was it like working on that show?  Any special memories from the set?

It was terrific. It was hard: We had a tight budget and a tight schedule. We had a tiny writing staff, but they wrote beautiful scripts. When we went into production, everyone worked hard, but we also had a lot of fun. I have tremendous respect – awe, actually – for what the cast and crew and directors were able to accomplish. My goal was to make sure we all had a great time while creating a great product: We worked too hard not to enjoy the process. And when you’re working with such talented, dedicated people, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the grind.

I have tons of special memories, and it’s hard to pick just one. I was grateful, excited, and impressed every day. I have tremendous respect for the people who contributed talent and heart every step of the way: The cast and crew literally moved me to tears with their work more than once. It’s hard to explain how it feels to watch over a hundred people working to make your dream come true.

When the show was canceled, it seemed to be a shock. Any idea as to why it was canceled?

The network decided to move in another direction with their programming. It’s part of the process. I’m grateful that I got to do their first original scripted series, and I’m anxious to see what they do next.

The Tiehards are still an incredible support for that show. Do you have any updates concerning the show that you can share?

Ties just started streaming on PureFlix. If we get enough people to watch it there, we might be able to do a second season. If PureFlix likes the response, they have an option to invest in season two. You can go to pureflix.com to sign up (and the first month is free!). PureFlix is a streaming service dedicated to faith-based programming. If you think about it, you can watch ten episodes multiple times in thirty days. And there is the chance that you may decide to keep the service. I have a number of friends who have written movies for PureFlix, so I’m confident in saying there are many other attractive options besides us. But, of course, we hope people will binge the show at least once while they’re experimenting with PureFlix.

I know there are still those who would like a second season and rightfully so–it would be great. So if it does work out for a second season, do you think you would be able to get the whole cast back together?

That is my prayer, but of course, it will come down to everybody’s schedules. But we will make all best efforts for a full reunion. Everybody involved still has a very special place in their hearts for the show. It’s just a matter of finding a space in everybody’s schedules. When we talked to everybody about this, we acknowledged that they are all incredibly talented and have jumped right away into other things. But it would be my prayer that we would be able to find a block of time where everybody was on hiatus from the things they went on to and that they wouldn’t mind giving up their vacation to come back and do another season with us.

TiesThatBind_CA - Original__451210I think the other thing that strikes me is that people may now say, “Well, we don’t want to watch this because it’s on PureFlix so we’re gonna class it as Christian.” But in that show, you knew the faith element was there guiding everything they did. You were handling things in the right way, but you were not preaching to people. And the characters never took the Bible out and tried to beat people over the head with it.

Right, that wasn’t how the show was designed. I think what PureFlix recognized in the show is we were dealing with important moral and social issues. I’m a practicing Lutheran. Several of the other writers are people of active and passionate faith. And that just comes through when you’re writing about what you care about, but it’s on a subtextual and emotional level in our show because the focus was to tell family stories. Unfortunately, as you’re pointing out, faith-based is a somewhat limiting tag for entertainment right now. But I’m actually hoping that by seeing Ties That Bind on PureFlix, people will understand that there are all kinds of writers of faith doing all kinds of projects in Hollywood. And that’s there’s a much, much broader range than people might assume from a handful of projects that are labeled faith-based.

I fully understand what you’re saying. My blog is faith-based, but it doesn’t mean that I only interview people who are people of faith. My focus is to be as positive and as uplifting as possible, and I am open to interviewing just about anyone.

And that definitely comes across, and I thank you for that because I think you are making people aware of the breadth of work people of faith are doing in the world of entertainment.

screenshot_2016-08-16-17-37-00-1.pngAnd I think sometimes people tend to think that faith-based means low quality. But in the case of Ties That Bind, you demonstrated that you could have high quality content that is produced by people of faith. 

Thank you. I appreciate your seeing that in what we were doing.

Any other upcoming works you can mention?

Nothing I can talk about. Yet. 😉

You seem like one who writes and produces shows for more than just entertainment or to make money.  If someone were to ask you why you write and produce shows or what your mission statement was, what would you say?

I borrow my mission statement from William Faulkner, at the end of his Noble Prize acceptance speech: “It is [the writer’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” (I love the whole speech; it’s definitely worth reading.)

God gave me a talent I cherish. It’s my responsibility to use it to make the world a better place, even if just by lifting the occasional heart.

sheryl

Just talking with Sheryl was almost like having a “lovefest” as we exchanged so many common themes and passions back and forth between us. Sheryl is one who completely immerses herself in whatever her current work is, but there is no doubt that Ties That Bind is a show that holds an integral place in her heart. As I intimated to her, she never gave up on a potential season two even when the powers that be informed her that they were going a different direction and her show was not a part of that. Sheryl continued to contend for her “baby,” and now it appears that the realization of those dreams may be coming closer to fruition. As one who has learned the secret of being tenacious myself, I can fully appreciate her willingness to not take “no” for an answer. I invite all of you to make sure that you follow her and the show via the social media links below. And if you want a real treat, consider sampling PureFlix for thirty days, and stream Ties That Bind during that time. If we all work together, season two may no longer be a fantasy. It may be an actualization!

FOLLOW SHERYL

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FOLLOW TIES THAT BIND

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TiesThatBind_CA - Original__451210STREAM TIES THAT BIND ON PUREFLIX

http://www.pureflix.com/series?name=Ties+that+Bind

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

2 Comments

  1. Deborah Cowdrey October 20, 2016 Reply

    I’ve just discovered that I am a big fan of your writing or at least what has been put on film. I love your work and I just found and binged “Ties That Bind”. I can’t find any information regarding future episodes. I hope the series is going to be continued. I truly enjoyed it.

    • Author
      Ruth October 21, 2016 Reply

      Deborah, if you want to ensure a s2, be sure to stream Ties That Bind at the link included in the interview

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