Thursday, April 12, 2018

#FemalesInEntertainment: Exclusive Interview with Days of Our Lives Director and Tainted Dreams Creator Sonia Blangiardo on Her Evolution as a Female in the Changing World of Daytime Drama

Interview by Suzanne Ordas Curry

Sonia Blangiardo has been a female forging through the entertainment world since the 80's. She's been a writer, producer and director among other positions in the soap world on Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, All My Children and As The World Turns, being widely-respected for that talent on both coasts. Currently, she is a Director on NBC's Days of Our Lives that won a 2018 Daytime Emmy for Best Directing Team. 

She's also the creator of the online drama on Amazon, Tainted Dreams, which has just received another two Daytime Emmy nominations including for the second year in a row Best Daytime Digital Drama Series. In her spare time, she helps out those she knows by lending her talents directing other shows, like Ladies of The Lake and plays, like the My Big Gay Italian Wedding series which had a run in Atlantic City. She is the owner of The Usual BS Productions. Recently married, she's got a body of work to be proud of and is looking towards the future. In this interview she talks about how she succeeded in the male-dominated world of entertainment, what's going on today and what she sees as the future of serialized drama.
 Tell me how you got your start in television. What was your first job?

Sonia Blangiardo: I always knew I wanted to work for soaps but I had no idea how I would achieve that. When I learned that the ABC soaps had an internship program, I was beside myself.  A good friend of mine to this day urged me to apply.  I started as an intern at All My Children and left 11 1/2 years later as an associate producer.

Is this something you studied for?

Sonia Blangiardo:  I studied Communications at St. John's University.  It concerned me declaring that as a major because it seemed too covered TV, film, news, print, advertising...but I had a great counselor who said if you know what you want, it doesn't matter what your degree says...just go after it.  It seemed very vague at the time, but now I see what he meant and thankfully it all worked out.

What were your jobs in soaps? What were the days like? How hard was the work? Were you one of the lone females doing what you were doing behind the cameras?

Sonia Biangiardo:  As I stated earlier, I started as an intern, then got a production associate job answering phones and had office responsibilities.  I then became a PA for several years and one of my bigger responsibilities was to assist the director, prepping his script, making sure all necessary departments had the information they needed for the next day, writing notes that were given during dress rehearsal etc.  I did that for 7 years and it was the best learning experience for ultimately directing myself.  I soaked up everything like a sponge!  As far as females in that world go, I was very lucky in not being alone.  Women were the majority in production.  However, most directors (if not all at certain points) and our technical crew were men.

Suzee: You have had a successful career in a male-dominated world for almost three decades. What do you attribute to your success?

Sonia Biangiardo:  I feel very blessed to have been part of the soap world that traditionally is very female oriented.  My peers were mostly female at any given time.  There was a simple formula - you worked hard and you were rewarded and moved up to the next level.  The soap world is so much more difficult and work intensive than most other entertainment media, so at times it felt like the progress to the next promotion was taking an unusually long time, but the reality of it is that there are so many moving pieces to create that much content in one day.  It is something that is very difficult to teach.  You really have to absorb, do, make mistakes and learn from them.  The ironic part is that I didn't feel discriminated against being woman as much as I felt being discriminated against being in daytime.  That is a stereotype I would love to change...I am not a soap director, I am simply a director who does soaps.

Did you ever face some challenge or challenges when you said, OMG, I think this is the end of the rope for me?

Sonia Biangiardo:  Personally that time came when "As the World Turns" was cancelled.  It came at a a very difficult time in my life.  I had lost my younger brother to pancreatic cancer after a 3 year battle on November 11 and on December 8, my first day back directing, it was announced that the show was canceled.  In that moment, I realized that everything I knew about my life was gone.  It was a dark time, and work didn't cross my path very quickly afterwards because there were so few shows left and for a work horse like me, it was truly a very devastating time.  

Have you seen a change in the industry as of late? Do you find that females are more welcome behind the scenes?

Sonia Blangiardo: I think soaps are not any different from prime time or any other medium.  It's all about the relationships that are made and the desire for people to work with whom they know so they know what to expect.  Because men traditionally were directors and women were mostly producers, that really hasn't changed.  Currently, I am one of 2 female directors on Days and I truly think it's because traditionally, females didn't gravitate towards directing.  From the moment I walked into the "All My Children" studios as an intern, directing was always my end goal.  

 What advice would you give to an aspiring director?

Sonia Blangiardo: Learn as much as you can.  It is your job as a director to understand what everyone around you who work tirelessly to help you do your job actually do. Directing is truly collaborative, not autonomous.  I know that for whatever reason, directors sometimes tend to have an ego - like without them, none of this would be possible and I view it as the exact opposite.  Without my support team, I cannot do my job.

Tell me about what it is like on the set of Days (what you can spill anyway), for instance, how long the days are, how often you work, if shooting some scenes were or are more difficult than others.  Are there people that are hard to work with, and if so, how do you get around it?

Sonia Blangiardo:  Days of Our Lives is a dream!!!  Everyone there is lovely and easy to work with.  There is so much respect, love and admiration that everyone has for each other and that makes all the difference in the world.  There's no denying, the days are intense.  We do over 100 pages a day and we are out usually no later than 4 or 5, BUT when you're having fun, it makes all the difference.  Group scenes, stunts, love scenes...those tend to obviously take up more time both to prep and to shoot, but in the end, it is very rewarding.

Not only do you have a demanding job, but like so many in entertainment, you are bi-coastal. What do you do to destress?

Sonia Blangiardo:  Lately I don't have much time to destress!  However, my second passion is cooking.  It relaxes me, while being an amazing creative outlet.  No matter how busy life is, I make it a point to cook dinner for my husband and I every night and have that special time with him, even if it's getting briefer and briefer lately! 

Why did you create Tainted Dreams? Are the storylines really based on real situations you have observed or encountered?

Sonia Blangiardo: They say write what you know so that's what I did.  As I think most know at this point, originally my good friend Michael Lowry (Jordan Bradford) and I wrote a script based on the different experiences we both shared from the different prospectives, him as a actor and myself as a producer/director several years before we shot Tainted Dreams. 

"The true reason why Tainted was resurrected, restructured and shot was because the devastation surrounding the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live left us all numb and empty. " - Sonia Blangiardo

I was introduced to a group of people who wanted to try to save the shows.  We had several conversations & meetings trying to do this.  When it was announced that Prospect Park had the rights to the shows, we realized that we were done.  A member of the team had read the first draft of Tainted Dreams and at that point, the conversations kept getting bigger and bigger and thanks to Candy Straight who funded both seasons, we were able to do it.  Some situations are different due to context, but I can honestly say that every scenario is based on a real life event.  Most of Tainted is comprised of stories that happened to myself personally or others involved in daytime.  We had an outrageous time for sure!

Streaming Now on Amazon
Tainted Dreams is about a soap within a soap. For those new to soaps or not familiar with them, soaps have been on the cutting edge. For instance, the first bi-racial kiss was on a soap - in fact it was done by one of the actors currently on TD - tell me about how TD addresses relevant social issues and gives them a pulpit. 

Sonia Blangiardo:  My primary goal when I was writing Tainted Dreams was to bring what made soaps relevant from the beginning.  They tackled social issues while entertaining and to me that was important.  We tackle texting and driving, addiction, autism, suicide, but I think the story that is very important to me is the anti-bullying/gay hate crime story line with Anthony.  Anthony in real life is like my brother.  He is the most happy-go-lucky person, and when I first met him at One Life to Live, we struck an immediate friendship.  It wasn't until years later that I learned what he endured as a teen.  His life was very dark for a while and he even attempted to take his own life.  I wanted to tell that story.  I wanted to put out there, like so many others have and continue to do that bullying is unacceptable and has detrimental consequences.  I hope in a small way we are able to do that.  He tells his real life story under the vise of the character so there is an unmistakable authenticity.

Related: Tainted Dreams at the Emmys:

What do you see for the future of soaps?

Sonia Blangiardo: Sadly, I think we can't dispute with the facts- fewer and fewer people are home during the day and the younger generation hasn't been groomed to come home and watch the soaps because mom and grandma aren't home watching them...however, there is still a loyal audience out there.  I truly don't believe there is any type of daytime programming that brings back an audience like a soap.  We are invested in the characters, their journeys and stories.  At the end of the day, it's a business and money talks.  I hope the networks still see that with the 4 shows they have.  I do believe however more and more high quality content is gravitating on-line.  People just have to be willing to change their viewing patterns.  One criticism of season 1 of Tainted Dreams was that this WAS NOT "All My Children".  I laughed when I saw that because of course it's not AMC!  I would never presume to be the genius that the late great Agnes Nixon was and I do not have network money backing me up.

And now on a current topic, have you ever been sexually harassed on any of your jobs?

Sonia Blangiardo: I can honestly say I have not, but as I stated before, most of my bosses were women and gay men, so I was safe.  I did however have one of my EP's, who was a woman say to me that I could make a lot more money posing for Playboy than working for production.  I was in my 20's and I was extremely hurt that another woman would want me to doubt my sense of worth.  I had someone else tell me upon finding out I received a promotion that he was happy that people saw that I had a brain.  It was a little more detailed, but I'll leave it at that.  My response was to just prove everyone wrong.  If you want to judge a book by the cover, shame on you. 

Do you have any comments on the Times Up or # MeToo movements?

Sonia Blangiardo: I am very proud of women as a whole who are courageous enough to speak out against men who wronged them.  Sexual harassment in my opinion is about abuse of power, and it's about time men who have abused their power are held accountable.  However I do sincerely hope and pray that women out there who are seeking their 15 seconds of fame understand the seriousness of their allegations.  No one's career, man or woman should be ruined with false accusations.  I just hope the lines aren't blurred so the real victims get vindication and justice is served and a real change is finally seen.

For more on Tainted Dreams:

Enter the Tainted Dreams Soap Opera Contest: