Adrian Greensmith as Arthur Spoon Spindell, Jaden Michael as Mickey Bolitar and Abby Corrigan as Ema Winslow in Harlan Coben's Shelter
Missi Pyle as Hannah and Constance Zimmer as Shira Bolitar
Edward Ornelas (right) with Harlan Coben (left) and DP Petr Hlinomaz (center)
Director Edward Ornelas loves a riveting TV binge. As he puts it, "If a show is really good, I need to consume multiple episodes. It's like, How can I go to sleep?!"
But when it comes to Harlan Coben's Shelter, Prime Video's YA drama series premiering August 18, he admits that viewers may want to take it one installment at a time. "I'm not a fan of putting people in a box," he says. "But I think it's smart to have to wait a week. You get to the end of a show and you wonder what's going to happen next. I like the anticipation. I think it's all part of the ride of enjoying the medium."
Shelter certainly doesn't skimp on suspenseful intrigue. Based on Coben's bestselling trilogy, it chronicles the journey of high school junior Mickey Bolitar (Jaden Michael) as he uproots to suburban New Jersey in the aftermath of his father's death. He befriends a student on the first day of school, only for her to go missing. As Mickey searches for her, he learns that everything she told him was a lie — and that he's in grave danger.
"Her disappearance thrusts Mickey and his new friends, who are all kind of outsiders, on this adventure to figure out what happened to her," he says. "In the process, he learns a lot about the secrets of this town and the things happening to his family."
Ornelas began his career as a picture editor — a profession he was immersed in as a Television Academy Foundation intern in 1996 — and got his break as a director while working on Grey’s Anatomy. His recent credits include Madam Secretary, Jane the Virgin, The Blacklist, Fear the Walking Dead and Locke & Key. On Shelter, he was behind the camera for three of the eight episodes and served as an executive producer. He says the project appealed to him because of its mix of tones. "It's got the mystery component, it's about friendship, it's about loss, it's about pain, it's about resilience, and there are so many emotional things going on," he explains. "My job was to keep it flowing seamlessly so there's a truth to all that."
During production, Ornelas says he didn't have time to watch much TV. But he's passionate about his seven shows — which, he adds, "are all meaningful for me." He reveals his picks for Emmys.com.
• Merrie Melodies (1931–69, various channels)
These were the seven-minute animated shorts that aired on TV. Back then you couldn't record them, so I was at the mercy of programmers. I'd watch them over and over and just fall in love. I always thought Bugs Bunny was the best of the Looney Tunes group. How could this hand-drawn character have the wit and the humor and the charm and the personality? And the animation was so imaginative and untethered from reality yet entirely accessible! I have a few specific favorites: "The Rabbit of Seville" is so ludicrous, and yet I still laugh to this day; "What's Opera, Doc?" is funny and genius. As an adult, I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into each one.
• The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–92, NBC)
My mom was a pianist who played clubs in the evenings. My grandmother would inherit the night shift watching me, and she let me stay up late to watch Johnny. I don't know why, but I'm eternally grateful. This was in the mid-'70s, when Johnny was at the top of his game. The guests were phenomenal — Buddy Hackett, Sammy Davis Jr., Eva Gabor, Don Rickles and Cloris Leachman. He's popping off one-liners and throwing glances to Ed McMahon. He's breaking the fourth wall. He's the master of comedy! And here was this grandmother and six-year-old boy watching together, laughing and laughing, each getting something out of the show.
• All in the Family (1971–79, CBS)
I was young when it was on, but it didn't matter. Seeing a show like that really struck a chord as I was trying to process the world. It was smart, funny and revolutionary. The family was truthful. It's a show of tremendous weight tackling huge social and political issues — and doing it all in thirty-minute multi-camera comedy format, which seems impossible. And it was hilarious! I think the show planted the idea in my mind that television could push boundaries and be entertaining, challenging and illuminating simultaneously.
• Miami Vice (1984–89, NBC)
I was in high school when Miami Vice broke, and I thought it was incredible. The style, the grit, the fashion, the music ... I'd never seen anything like it on TV. It was so cinematic and visceral. I also love main title sequences, and this one — with a score from Jan Hammer — had one of the greatest of all time. I would take my little portable Walkman and record it from the TV and play it around the house. Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were so cool. I loved their outfits. One year for my birthday, my mom got me a teal shirt and white pants and a white jacket and white shoes. I have tried to bury those photos! And from a personal aspect, it was amazing to see Edward James Olmos and Saundra Santiago playing strong characters in a big-budget popular show. It showed that there was a place for Latinos on TV, and that had a big impact on me.
• Grey's Anatomy (2005–, ABC)
I worked on it starting in season one as an editor. That was a big break for me. I approached it as a comedy and family drama and action film and horror film and sometimes a music video — which called on Miami Vice! Then in season five, it meant a lot to me that I got to direct the McDreamy [Patrick Dempsey] proposal to Meredith [Ellen Pompeo] in the elevator. We [covered the elevator walls with] MRI scans and X-rays from all the different cases they'd worked on together. It was very romantic. This was a show that we weren't sure was even going to finish out its first season. To see it become a touchstone is really special.
• Chernobyl (2019, HBO/Sky Atlantic)
At this point, I had worked in the business as an editor for many years and a director for about ten years. So, I could really appreciate the filmmaking. When that accident happened, it was devastating for the planet. This series gave us some sense of the truth about what happened and why and how it affects what's going on in the world with global warming and nuclear energy. To see the story told in such detail was so moving and shocking. It's just a powerful and spectacular and incredible use of television.
• The Offer (2022, Paramount+)
This was my last binge! I'm a big fan of The Godfather, which is one of the most seminal movies of all time. I also don't think I'd ever seen a story about a producer — so this was a different, interesting and fun take because it effectively showed the ingenuity behind filmmaking. The whole cast was fantastic, from Burn Gorman to Matthew Goode to Juno Temple. Miles Teller did an incredible job conveying Albert Ruddy. Here's the funny thing: I worked with Justin Chambers on Grey's fifteen years ago, and I always felt like he had a bit of [Marlon] Brando in him. There was just something about him. And there he was! I was like, Oh my God!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.