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Sharon Horgan Discusses "Catastrophe," "Divorce" And Branded Content
Sharon Horgan

The Amazon series Catastrophe has received its share of critical acclaim, among the most notable honors being “Episode 1” earning show creators, co-writers and co-stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
Horgan portrays a London schoolteacher and Delaney a Boston advertising executive who spend a romantic week together, resulting in her pregnancy. He moves to the U.K. to help figure things out as we see that neither knows much about the other, making for a clash of cultures, individuals, personalities and values.

Catastrophe is but one of Horgan’s recent notable professional pursuits. She’s also created, co-writes and exec produces Divorce, the highly anticipated HBO series marking the return of Sarah Jessica Parker to HBO. 

Additionally Horgan has spread her creative wings into branded entertainment as co-creator, writer and executive producer of Glued, Comcast XFINITY’s first ever original online series. Droga5 New York approached Horgan with the entertainment project as a means to help further brand Comcast XFINITY. The webisodes, which began running in June, represent a humorous take on how people’s favorite television shows change the way they act and interact with each other. 

Starring John Ross Bowie (Big Bang Theory) and Jamie Denbo (Orange is the New Black), Glued takes viewers on a comedic journey in the life of a married couple who discover a new hit television show. From overcoming frustrating barriers to watching it, dealing with the guilt of “TV cheating” on your spouse and navigating the murky world of spoiler threats, Glued highlights different realities about how our favorite shows impact our lives. Throughout the web series, the couple’s relationship grows and evolves just as their relationship with the show deepens. John Riggi, whose credits include 30 Rock, directed all six Glued webisodes.

Droga5 partnered on Glued with Merman X Pulse, the venture created in 2015 when scripted TV comedy specialty house Merman came together with advertising and branded content production company Pulse Films.

Horgan is a co-founder of Merman for which Jeremy Rainbird, her husband, is exec producer. When Merman connected with Pulse, each shop’s respective EP, Rainbird and Kira Carstensen, teamed to run the combined Merman X Pulse which specializes in branded fare, tapping into TV talent for ad projects. Merman X Pulse has bases of operation in L.A. and London. Rainbird has a background in the advertising industry, having been chief executive at agency Addiction Worldwide before later moving onto Merman.

In the edited conversation below, Horgan discusses Catastrophe, Divorce and Glued.

SHOOT: Reflect on what your first Emmy nomination means to you personally and professionally.

Horgan: It’s a huge honor and a lovely surprise. Catastrophe is a small British show that has found life on Amazon. You never know if these things are going to break through. The fact that people are watching it, that Academy members voted for it is enormous for us. We genuinely have a true feeling of excitement over the recognition.

SHOOT: What was the biggest creative challenge that Catastrophe posed to you as an actor? An executive producer? A writer?

Horgan: The biggest challenge is not to wear all those hats at one time. When writing, it can be very hard to separate the fact that you know what the budget is and what the limitations are. But when writing, I try to just be free and not think about cost, logistical difficulties and other factors. The difficulty is remaining as creatively free as possible while wearing the producer hat as well.

In terms of acting, one issue is to switch off so you can focus on your performance. When everything’s done, written and prepped, you still have to give yourself time as an actor to properly get ready to play your character.

SHOOT: You share the Emmy nomination with Rob Delaney. Shed some light on your collaborative process/relationship as writers.

Horgan: We knew each other but hadn’t worked together before Catastrophe. Luckily we’re now in the same room, spend a lot of time talking, sort of working freestyle and seeing what comes out of that. We write as we go. Off the back of the stories we come up with, we decide which route to take. We create fairly detailed outlines--not quite scene by scene but not far off. We know where our story is going. We might not know the endpoint but decide on that as we let the story guide us.

When Rob and I started writing, we weren’t in the same room so we had to go back and forth when comparing notes. I’d be in London, he would be in L.A. I’d be in New York. He’d be in London. But when we were apart, pretty much we let each other know where we each were at in terms of the story--like we do now when we’re in the same room and that's served us well. 

SHOOT: How did Merman X Pulse come about and what was the allure of the branded content/advertising business?

Horgan: My husband [Rainbird] had worked in the past with Thomas Benski [co-founder of Pulse]. When I was setting up Merman with my partner [producer Clelia Mountford], Thomas said, “What can I do to help?” He gave us office space. Pulse was looking to move more into the narrative and TV world. My husband’s background being in advertising, he was interested in setting up a branch of the company that could make branded content and maybe farm our TV talent out as people who were experts in comedy--directors, writers, showrunners. It was a natural fit.

SHOOT: Share some backstory on Glued for Comcast XFINITY and Droga5. How did you land that web series and what attracted you to the project? 

Horgan: Droga5 got in touch with us about the XFINITY job. We chatted with then on the phone. They had a great handle on what they were after. The series already had a funny tone. They wanted a Catastrophe kind of feel--a slice of life, fly-on-the-wall kind of feeling. We put a team together to develop six thoughtful episodes. We did some writers’ room workshops with the Droga5 guys who came over to London. I brought in John Riggi [a director whose credits include 30 Rock] who I knew from the comedy world. For me, it’s all about my just loving to make stuff. TV is such a long haul--like Catastrophe or any other show I’ve been involved with in the past. It takes years from the inception to seeing something on the screen. With Glued, we got to work hard and make something with a quick turnaround--more of an instant gratification.

I was able to use my television eye, using actors who have worked in TV, a director like John Riggi, and putting the word first--the comedy and the characters. It was a great experience. We used our editor from Catastrophe [Steve Ackroyd of Final Cut] who has a great style.  

SHOOT: Was this your first foray into the advertising/branded content arena and what lessons did you learn from this experience?

Horgan: This wasn’t Merman X  Pulse’s first foray--but it was mine. It was a great challenge containing something within three minutes [for each webisode]. I hadn’t done anything like that since my sketch writing days. Sketches are about, though, getting to the joke at the end. This [Glued] instead was about developing a story over a short space of time. We were very lucky to work with Droga5. It’s not always as easy as this. We instantly bonded with the guys at Droga5. They were funny and up for it. XFINITY trusted us. This was a special, supportive situation.

SHOOT: How did you become involved in Divorce for HBO?

Horgan: I had worked with HBO in the past but just in development until Divorce. We wanted to work together and then when Sarah Jessica Parker was looking for a project, HBO had scripts I had written back in the day. They gave them to her and she liked them, thank goodness. HBO set up a meeting for us to see what would develop. We shared the same interests in terms of subject matter, telling a story. So I went away to think of something. I came back, pitching the idea of long-term divorce. With Sarah Jessica Parker, the idea moved quickly. The series got made and will debut the beginning of October.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Client Comcast XFINITY Agency Droga5 NY David Droga, creative chairman; Ted Royer, chief creative officer; Tim Gordon, group creative director; Lauren Costa, Denise Zurilgen, creative directors; Jim Curtis, sr. copywriter; Ryan Fitzgerald, sr. art director; Dan Litzow, jr. copywriter; Max Friedman, jr. art director; Rob Trostie, executive design director; Nate Moore, sr. designer; Dan Kane, designer; Sally-Ann Dale, chief creation officer; Ben Davies, head of broadcast production; Bill Berg, Andrew Slough, sr. broadcast producers; Niklas Lindstrom, head of interactive production; Madison Goldberg, interactive media producer; Bethany Lyons, associate media producer; Alice Tam, social producer; Cliff Lewis, head of art production; Paul McGeiver, photographer; Robert Ohman, associate photographer; Jonny Bauer, global chief strategy officer; Ramon Jimenez, group strategy director; Emily Mulvey, sr. strategist; Elsa Stahura, sr. communications strategist; Lily Ng, data strategy director; Abiola Adeniyi, sr. data strategist. Production Merman x Pulse Sharon Horgan, co-creator and writer; John Riggi, director; John Inwood, DP; Cielia Mountford, Kira Carstensen, Jeremy Rainbird, exec producers; Steven Ast, producer; Gilana Lobel, production supervisor; Christine Rose, Shaun Pye, Mark Chappell, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Georgia Pritchett, Katy Brand, Holly Walsh, writers; Krissie Ducker, writing assistant. Editorial Final Cut Steve Ackroyd, editor; Spencer Campbell, cutting assistant; Daniel Walker, assistant; Jen Sienkwicz, head of production; Sarah Roebuck, exec producer; Stephanie Apt, managing director. Postproduction Significant Others Alik Rost, finishing producer; T Terressa Tate, mixer; Chas Langston, audio assistant; Betty Cameron, Flame assist; Philip Brooks, motion graphics designer. Color Color Collective Mike Howell, colorist; Natacha Ikoli, assistant; Claudia Guevara, exec producer. Music Daniel Koren, Benjamin Balcom, composers.

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