When Major Crimes head hairstylist Stacey K. Black first decided she wanted a career in the entertainment industry, she came up with what she thought would be a fool-proof plan for reaching her goal. “I thought, I’ll do hair and then I’ll get close to the people I need to get close to, and they’ll be my shortcut to directing and producing and writing and all that. And of course it’s not a shortcut to any of that–there’s a ceiling on hairdressers, of how far you can climb which is department head and I’ve been department head for 17 years.”
It may not have been a shortcut, but with time, perseverance, and the support of the people she works with, Black managed to make the unprecedented jump from hairstylist to director. MajorCrimesTV.net spoke to Black just as she finished putting together the director’s cut of her latest episode of Major Crimes, airing tonight on TNT, and she talked to us about how storytelling–through everything from directing, writing, and producing to hair-styling and song-writing–is the common thread amongst all her passions.
Styling For the Story
Black grew up in Port Huron, MI, and got her first taste of moviemaking in high school, when her family moved to Florida and she began working at Universal Studios Florida. A job with the show The Adventures of Superboy followed and Black never looked back. She moved to Los Angeles in 1996, working as department head hairstylist for the TV show Providence and other films and series before getting a job on the pilot for Nip/Tuck. It was there that she met producers Mike Robin and Greer Shephard and she followed The Shephard/Robin Company to James Duff’s short-lived series The D.A. The following year, when Shephard/Robin produced a new series from Duff, Black was also on board; she became department head hairstylist for that show, The Closer, and after seven seasons, she stayed on with most of the cast and crew to its transformation into Major Crimes.
Black says that when it comes to styling hair for TV and film, she comes at it from a different approach than most. “Because it was a shortcut for me, and because it was supposed to be a means to an end, I came at it as a storyteller, so whenever I do an actor’s hair, I’m looking for the story. I always come at it with what did the character feel like getting out of the shower this morning on this day, in this script, and that’s how I do the hair.” On The Closer, this meant that when Black first met Kyra Sedgwick, “I told her, I’m not doing Brenda’s hair, Brenda is doing Brenda’s hair. So we have to figure out what Brenda would do with her hair on this day, depending on what is happening in the script. I like the behavior and circumstances of what the character is going through has to be what the hair looks like, not that she just walked out of a salon.”
This year Black took over styling Mary McDonnell’s hair on the show, and though McDonnell’s iconic hair rarely changes, Black argues that is also a behaviorally-motivated character choice: “In my mind, Raydor has her regimen; she’s got her routine in the morning that is very much the character. She puts on her suit, does her hair the same way every day, she does her lipstick and that’s her uniform to go to work in the morning as a cop.”
Of course, there are times when things change a little. “The day we had it pulled up in the front [for the second season episode “The Deep End”], in my mind, it was that Raydor knew she was going to mention to Flynn that she’d go to the wedding with him, so she did a little tiny thing in the front. So for me, that was the motivation.” Though the hair choices as they pertain to the story don’t usually get discussed with anyone aside from herself and the actor involved, Black says she enjoys seeing her touches noticed when the show airs. “If it’s translated and understood by the people that watch the show, that makes me happy.”
While the day-to-day of the hair department on Major Crimes functions on routine, Black says that there have been several “big hair” episodes that have taken extra effort and planning to pull off this season. ‘“Poster Boy” was not a typical episode for the hair department. When I read the script and it said he [the serial killer played by Chris Wood] bleaches his hair and cuts it on camera, I about had a heart attack.” Black talked with Mike Robin, the director of that episode, to come up with a plan for bleaching the actor’s normally brunette hair for the bulk of the episode he spends as a blonde, and using a wig for the time he spends on-screen as a brunette. “So it was back and forth the whole shoot between his own blonde hair and the brunette wig. That was time-consuming and you had to be on the ball every second of every scene that he was in to make sure he was in the right place and the right hair at the right time. That was the most fun I’ve had so far.“
The tight production schedule of Major Crimes means that Black must also be creative when coming up with last-minute hair solutions. When the wig they had on hand proved too big for the young actor playing Michelle in the episode “Boys Will Be Boys,” Black was left with few options: “Getting a wig custom-made takes about three weeks, and we only had three days between when he was cast and when he was working on camera, so I had to use to use extensions.” Wigs figured into another creative solution when the script for the second season premiere called for four actresses with matching looks–except they wouldn’t be cast until the day before shooting. “I decided to preempt everyone, and so I went out and got a bunch of different wigs in different colors, so that once we decided, I had it already, and it worked. At that point you have to say I’m spending money, and that’s what I’m doing, because we have to be ready to shoot.”
Black says that the hair department relishes the challenges that come its way. “Makeup has fun stuff to do all the time, because they have all the bodies and the wounds and tattoos that they get to do all the time. They get to do fun stuff every episode, that’s different every day. We’ve had some really interesting, challenging episodes for hair this year. And it’s a lot of fun when the hair episodes do come up because it gives us creative things to do.”
A Long Road to the Shortcut
Though it may not have been a shortcut in time, Black’s original plan to use her position as hairstylist to the stars did work out, in that it put her into contact with the people she would need to know to help make her dreams of writing and directing a reality. Realizing that she would need an example of her work to show as she pursued her goal, Black set out to make her first short film, Blue Moon, which she wrote and directed in 2007. A few years later, she wrote, directed, and edited another short, The Truth is Underrated, starring her Major Crimes co-worker Phillip P. Keene. The experience was enlightening. “I wanted to be a writer more than anything else, but once I directed my two short films I fell in love with directing. I was just doing the short films to have something produced that I wrote, but what ended up happening was I fell in love with directing and realized oh yes, this is what I want to do now.”
With two shorts under her belt, she approached Executive Producer Mike Robin during season three of The Closer with her unusual request. “I said, I know it’s not done all the time, but if you ever start promoting from within the company I’d like you to consider me, even though it’s never been done before, never has a hairdresser been promoted to a director on a TV series they were working on.” Her gamble paid off. “Season six they called me in and I met with Mike Robin, Greer Shepherd, James Duff, Rick Wallace and Kyra Sedgwick, and they told me I was directing that year. I cried for a while, I was so happy. And every year since then they’ve let me direct an episode–two for The Closer, and two for Major Crimes.
After years of writing the on-set blogs for the show for TNT, Black took on another directorial role when she decided to switch up the format and produce video blogs for the second season of Major Crimes, continuing her passion of showcasing the crew that works so tirelessly behind the scenes. Though she enjoyed making them, Black says the eleven that were produced for the summer run of the show are all that there are going to be. “It turned out to be a really good idea and a really bad idea, because it was so much work,” she says, laughing. For the current winter run, Black is paying her good fortune forward and helping some of her crew-members get exposure. “So many on the crew want to be writers, so I’ve tapped eight of them to write a story about what it’s like for them behind the scenes, so I can give them an opportunity to have their work read by the fans. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities given to me by this company, I want to give that back.” As for next season, that’s still up in the air. “Next year, I might have to give up the blog and give it to someone else. How many things can I do that are amazing before I start to feel a little greedy?”
Music is Black’s other passion, and while she has never pursued a career as a professional musician, she has been making music and writing songs for years, with several solo albums and as lead singer with the band Nobody’s Station. Her professional life and hobby collided in Season 5 of The Closer, when a script called for a song that was described as being “kind of girly and you can’t dance to it, but it’s kind of cool.” “I called David McWhirter [the director of the episode] and said ‘I have a ton of girly songs that you can’t dance to that are cool, so if you want one I’ll give you a CD.’ David decided to put one in as a temporary track [a placeholder till the final music for the episode is selected], and it made it through editing and stayed in.”
Two years later, when prepping for her second outing as a director on The Closer, Black got another surprise. “I got an email from James Duff that said, ‘We’re breaking your episode, and there’s going to be a music video in it done by a young girl, and we want you to write the song.’ And I couldn’t believe it. I thought, did he wake up this morning and say I’m going to make all her dreams come true today? Leo Geter was the writer of the episode and all they had was the title, ‘Daddy Say Yes.’ When we hired the actress to play the part we had her sing in her audition as well because I wanted to have a singer play the part. So we used my track that I laid for the music, then we had the actress, Skyler Day, sing the vocals.”
When the episode she directed last year for Major Crimes “Cheaters Never Prosper” called for club music in the opening scene, Black once again payed her good fortune forward, tapping another fellow crewmate to showcase his talents. “One of our boom operators last year, Damon Harris, writes cool, house/trance beats. And so I said give me two minutes of something for our opening montage, and maybe they’ll use it, you never know. So he got it to me and it made it through temp and it stayed in and so he got to have his music used for the opening.”
Her passion for music has played a big part in another project she’s been working on for several years, inspired by a trip she took to Nashville, TN. “I met a really great group of songwriters who moved there to chase the dream of songwriting and performing and singing. And when I came back, I was talking about it with Mike Robin, and I said I want to do something with these people I met in Nashville and film it. And he said, ‘Then, buy yourself a couple of cameras and go make a documentary.’ So I bought a couple cameras and I went and made a documentary.”
Send My Mail to Nashville has been a labor of love for Black and it will be making its premiere this January at a cast and crew screening in Nashville. Black is also submitting it for consideration into multiple film festivals and hopes to share the stories of people who have moved to Nashville chasing their dream.
Black directed tonight’s episode of Major Crimes, entitled “Risk Assessment”. Though it takes place around Christmas, she cautions that it’s not really a Christmas episode. “It’s a dark episode. One of the darkest of the season, and really emotional and really layered. I cry when I watch it. The main cast brought everything to it, and our guest cast was ridiculous, so talented. It was logistically hard to shoot at times, because there were a lot of actors per scene, but it was so beautifully written by Duppy Demetrius that it all came together the way it was supposed to. It was an actor’s piece, and there are some really cool dynamic scenes. I’m really proud of it.”
Looking forward, Black is mum about what the end of the season brings, but teases “I’m jokingly calling it Major Crimes: The Feature Film because it is massive. It is huge. It’s very exciting, lots of action and excitement and I think people will be happy with it.”
Black credits the popularity of the characters that have become beloved over the years for helping Major Crimes become such a success, but she reserves highest praise for its leading lady. “What Mary McDonnell pulled off was extraordinary. She was hired as an adversary, she was hired as a foil to a beloved character–she was hired to be her nemesis. And then TNT said not only is there going to be a spinoff, but now we have to make everybody like you. And Mary pulled off the impossible. She got in there, and she’s completely the lead and the protagonist and made everybody love her. She’s amazing. And she did it with dignity. She didn’t do it with anything else than just being Raydor. Because Raydor’s strengths are the things that drove Brenda crazy. And now Raydor’s strengths are the things that have garnered the respect of the squad on Major Crimes. She didn’t change anything about Raydor, she just pulled off the impossible. An amazing arc.”
When it comes to being a hairstylist/writer/director/singer/producer and more, Black credits the people she works with for helping make her dreams come true. “I am more grateful to the people that I’ve met than I can ever say. There were times that people tried to lure me away to other projects, and I just knew I was around people I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave Mike Robin and Greer Shephard. And James Duff is my playmate, we have so much fun. I didn’t know they would be the ones to give me a shot, but I knew I didn’t want to leave. I used to say to them, ‘I’m not going anywhere; you’ll have to scrape me off like a barnacle.’ They are just so lovely to work for. I love working with these people.”
Follow Stacey on twitter @StaceyKBlack and check out her website at www.staceykblack.com. For more information and trailers from her upcoming documentary Send My Mail to Nashville, check out the facebook page.