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Writing and Directing: Stuart Feldman edition

Chelsea Sherlock, Writer

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Stuart Feldman (Medill ‘88) isn’t like most directors — his true passion is writing.

Feldman is a recent assistant director for “The Carrie Diaries,” a current assistant director for “Smash” and a writer for “Law & Order: SVU.” By writing and directing, Feldman said he becomes better at both: Directing helps him write more effectively and understand how words can be brought to the screen, while writing helps him understand the script and direction to take as an assistant director.

“I prefer writing,” Feldman said. “For me, I get the best of both (writing and directing) because when I write an episode, I’ll write it, which is a whole lot of fun, but then, for me, the most fun is being there on set every day when we’re actually filming the episode.”

Writing episodes, especially for police procedurals, requires extensive research. Because the cases used for episodes are based on real-life events, Feldman has to look up the cases they’re based on, along with proper police and legal procedure. He said the research and interviewing skills he learned at Northwestern help him write scripts and write on deadline.

The first episode Feldman wrote professionally was an episode of “Law and Order” about the murder of a private investigator. He has also written for “Royal Pains” and is  currently writing for “Law & Order: SVU.”

Though the majority of Feldman’s credits are for assistant directing, he said he’s transitioning into full-time writing. Although becoming an established television writer may be a difficult process, “Justice Denied,” an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” which TV Guide named one of the 25 best episodes of 2012, suggests Feldman is on the right track.

For “Justice Denied,” Feldman will also receive the “Justice for All” media award at a March ceremony hosted by the Northern California Innocence Project.

Feldman said he was inspired to write the episode based on his experience in a Medill investigative journalism class taught by the professor who began the Chicago Innocence Project, David Protess. The epsiode entails a past SVU case in which a suspect is wrongly convicted of a crime after giving a false confession.

“They gave the award to this episode because they felt it was a good reflection of something they do every day in the real world,” Feldman said. “It was just kind of cool to see that this episode was actually making an impression outside of people sitting in their living rooms, eating potato chips and watching TV.”

As someone who sees Feldman’s work from a closer perspective, Luis Nieves, who’s worked with Feldman for 15 years, said he recognized Feldman’s talent when working with him on “Law & Order” and, later, the NBC show “Smash.”

“He knows his job. You need someone who’s going to quietly have control,” Nieves said. “For the most (part), he just knows what’s going on all the time.”

On several shows, particularly “Law and Order,” Feldman has worked with NU alumni. “Law & Order” producer Kati Johnston is the NU alumna he has worked with the most.

Johnston calls Feldman her favorite person to work with. Not only does he treat the people he works with well, Johnston said, he shows understanding and flexibility uncommon in the television industry.

“He’s got a great sense of humor, so he’s often able to turn tense situations into ones that are not so tense, whether it’s making people laugh or making them see it’s not really as desperately urgent as they think it is,” Johnston said.

As an experienced assistant director, Feldman is able to work for a variety of television shows, ranging from drama to comedy.

His most recent completed work was as first assistant director for the third episode of “The Carrie Diaries,” CW’s prequel series to “Sex and the City.”

A “Sex and the City” fan, he said he enjoyed working on the show’s prequel, especially because “The Carrie Diaries” is set in the same year he graduated from high school: 1984.

This past year, Feldman worked on “30 Rock,” one of his favorite TV shows, as first assistant director for the episode “There’s No I in America.”

“The coolest part was the first day there, when I go in and get a tour of the stages they work on,” said Feldman about his experience working on “30 Rock.” “You get to see Liz Lemon’s office and Jack’s office, these places that you’re familiar with.”

Feldman still retains the passion for writing he developed at NU, using his directing experience to further his involvement with writing. Currently, he’s writing a new episode for “Law & Order: SVU” and promoting several pilots he has written, adding another credit to an already extensive list and continuing the career he’s wanted since college.