HBO Max’s ‘Gossip Girl’ Creator on That 16-Person ‘Maximum Drama’ Thanksgiving Dinner Scene

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(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Part 2 premiere of “Gossip Girl” Season 1.)

HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” creator Joshua Safran worked on every Thanksgiving episode of the OG series, with the exception of its final season. So he knows a thing or two about how Blair Waldorf’s favorite holiday works within the show’s universe, and set out to make the Turkey Day celebrated on his reboot to be “the mother of all Thanksgiving episodes.”

In order to do that, Safran decided to direct Episode 7 himself and seat 16 characters around a Thanksgiving table for an eight-minute dinner scene in which about a million secrets come out.

“I knew that the fun of ‘Gossip Girl’ is the stuff that goes down at the table. So I was like, how do we get all of our characters to that table?” Safran told TheWrap ahead of the Thursday, Thanksgiving Day launch of Part 2 of “Gossip Girl” Season 1. “First, in the writers’ room, it was really fun constructing that and coming up with that. And then, once the script was completed, it was really fun to walk through the script and make sure that it was maximum drama. And then shooting it, people were like, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t do 16 people around the table in one day.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I can.’ Because my previous show, ‘Soundtrack’ for Netflix, we did a nine-page dinner scene with seven people around a table in a day. Because I always like to push boundaries — how far can I go in terms of what to be able to shoot or do? And so I was like, ‘Yes, I can.’ And I used that previous episode, that ‘Soundtrack’ episode, as an example of what I was able to accomplish. And and they said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot. But we understand if it doesn’t work.’ And it worked.”

Somehow, it actually did, in a scene that devolves into “truths” being told by teens Julien (Jordan Alexander), Zoya (Whitney Peak), Obie (Eli Brown), Max (Thomas Doherty), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and Aki (Evan Mock), parents Kiki (Laura Benanti), Nick (Johnathan Fernandez), Davis (Luke Kirby), Gideon (Todd Almond), Roy (John Benjamin Hickey) and Jodi (Hettienne Park), plus Davis’ now-fiancee Lola (and Max’s birth mother Saskia (played by guest star Lucy Punch) and teachers (and secretly Gossip Girl) Kate (Tavi Gevinson) and Jordan (Adam Chanler-Berat).

HBO Max
HBO Max

Among the bombshells dropped at Julien and Obie revealing to Zoya they slept together; Davis and Nick telling their daughters that Davis prevent Nick from seeing Zoya being boring and being at his wife’s side when she died; Max, Aki and Audrey had a threesome; Max slept with his teacher Rafa; and Lola and Davis are engaged. Because that’s a lot to get out (and take in) in eight minutes, Safran and his cast and crew did an entire run through a few weeks before shooting the episode.

“And the fun of it is that people never realize, in terms of these long scenes around a table, what we did was, the art department constructed basically the table with all of the dishes and the turkey,” Safran said. “There were fake turkeys and a real turkey, depending on where the turkey was in the shot. And then they also bisected the table and built two halves, long ways. So if the camera was on one side, you could shoot up at people without having to reset the table. So we had two half tables, fully decorated, which was pretty amazing. And then we had a special camera that was hung from a crane from the ceiling that could go up and down the length of the table, getting those shots. And then on top of that, we shot it in three ways: from outside the table, from inside the table and from deep inside the table, which is that half table, from underneath.”

Pretty much the only secret that wasn’t revealed, to the audience at least, during “Gossip Girl’s” wild Thanksgiving dinner was the one Lola confessed to Kate in the bathroom after becoming upset no one was excited about her engagement to Davis. Lola tells Kate she’s not even sure if Davis really wants to marry her, or if he just wants to make sure she won’t “testify against him.” While the audience doesn’t know what the heck Lola is referring to, Kate (a.k.a. Gossip Girl) now does and she refuses to send the info out into the world in order to protect Julien.

Well, best laid plans and all that, because Safran says by the end of the next episode, not only will viewers and the other characters know the secret, but it’s going to impact them so heavily as to “reverberate” throughout the series of the series.

HBO Max
HBO Max

“The audience will learn the secret that Kate learned from Lola,” Safran said. “That secret will reverberate through all the characters. I’d say that battle lines are drawn in terms of who believes the secret versus who doesn’t believe it. And it’s sort of what Julien and Obie did to Zoya, that this sort of exacerbates that. And by the end of Episode 8, then you really learn the truth, which will reverberate through the rest of the season, if not, actually, the series. It’s such a big thing that we’re still grappling with it in Season 2, which we’re in the writers’ room for right now.”

Check back with TheWrap for more of our “Gossip Girl” Part 2 premiere coverage throughout the holiday weekend.

Episodes 7-9 of “Gossip Girl” are streaming now on HBO Max. The remaining three episodes of the season will drop next Thursday.

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