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The Mindy Project – Ten Minutes With: Executive Producer Michael Spiller

Creating a safe haven that encourages full dramatic range is key on "The Mindy Project" - featured Adam Pally, Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Ike Barinholtz and Mindy Kaling (photo credit: 20th Century Fox Television)

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Critical acclaim is building for “The Mindy Project.” The series landed an Outstanding Achievement in Comedy nomination from the Televisions Critics Association. Lead actors Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina also received recognition from the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Awards, respectively. For executive producer/director Michael Spiller, no award is as great as having kept the show alive beyond its first season.

“It’s always tough to launch a new show. You’re working on six to eight episodes in a vacuum before they hit the air. You never know what will pop and stick with the public,” said Spiller. “Going into the second season we knew what worked and we felt more settled. I’m thankful for all the support we received from the studio and the network.”

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Spiller got his start in the industry as a camera operator. He spent many years as a cinematographer working primarily on features (The House of Yes, Walking and Talking). While working as a DP on “Sex and the City,” Spiller transitioned into directing episodes. Since then he’s directed episodes on hit series including “Ugly Betty”, “Big Love”, “Scrubs” and “Modern Family” for which he won a directing Emmy. He met Mindy Kaling while directing episodes of “The Office” and enjoyed working with the writer/actress. Upon discovering they shared the same agent, Spiller was able to connect with Kaling. The two met during an upfront in New York and developed a partnership that is anchored in respect.

“Mindy was an ‘Office’ writer who started acting, and I think she’s really blossomed as an actor,” said Spiller. “It’s complicated being a writer and actor; it’s harder for them because they always have to be in the moment. She’s nuanced, open to trying things. It’s been so much fun watching her evolve.”

Spiller points to the cast that supports Kaling as a critical ingredient contributing to the show’s success. If the personalities don’t blend it “throws the whole show out of whack.” His goal as a director is to present a safe environment where the actors feel equally comfortable shifting between heavily comic scenes and pratfalls to intensely emotional and dramatic scenes involving heartache and tears. This safe haven is extended to all supporting actors and day players as well. Effort is placed in ensuring guest actors that appear on “The Mindy Project” transcend “stunt casting” and balance the cohesive bond between the principles.

“Seth Rogan appeared in an episode and he really fit in with the cast,” said Spiller. “He was on time, he knew people’s names and understood the difficulty of the role. We created a safe place for him to take a risk.”

Spiller sees the crew as the lifeblood behind “The Mindy Project.” He suggests they see themselves as co-owners of the show, and has worked hard to create an environment that encourages sharing ideas and visions. While he’s adamant they recognize their input matters to the show’s success, he also carefully reviews their work. Being a native New Yorker, he makes sure the LA-based sets that stand in for New York City locals pass his “New York bull***t detector.” A first time executive producer, his involvement on “The Mindy Show” runs from pre to post production. The added responsibilities are a welcomed addition to Spiller.

“The scope of responsibilities are much greater than shows I’ve been on in the past,” said Spiller. “Being able to contribute as I have, I’ve learned so much, each day is a new adventure.”

To learn more about “The Mindy Project” please visit:
http://www.fox.com/the-mindy-project/