- LOS ANGELES
A self-described Stephen King fanatic, director Greg Yaitanes was a victim of scheduling when he had to pass on an initial invite to take on episodic work for Castle Rock, Hulu’s psychological horror anthology series based on King’s work and set in Castle Rock, Maine, a fictional location familiar to the author’s devotees. Yaitanes was at the time immersed in Netflix’s Manhunt: Unabomber as its showrunner, EP and sole director of that show’s eight episodes.
When he wrapped that commitment, Yaitanes immediately asked if there were any possibilities remaining for him to be involved in Castle Rock. Not only did he have the good fortune that there was still an opportunity but that it entailed a particular episode with breakthrough potential. He helped realize that potential as “The Queen” became generally acknowledged as the best episode of the series’ first season--and beyond that gained recognition as one of the best TV episodes of 2018.
“The Queen” features Sissy Spacek as Ruth Deaver, a character with dementia who’s struggling to put together the pieces together of her present time while grappling with haunting recollections of the past.
“Things could have bounced a different way, with another episode altogether,” said Yaitanes who teamed with series co-creator, EP and writer Sam Shaw to craft “The Queen” and facilitate a tour de force performance by Spacek. Yaitanes related that in working with different high-profile actresses over the years such as Susan Sarandon, he learned the value of giving them “room to flourish, time to think and make choices.” He and Shaw involved Spacek in the scheduling, affording her a little extra time, not wanting to rush the process.
Yet even when directly challenged by time constraints, Spacek was more than up to the task at hand. Yaitanes recalled shooting a scene out of sequence, unexpectedly requiring that Spacek figure out how she should be feeling in the aftermath of action that hadn’t been lensed yet. “She summoned what she would be doing in that scene in a matter of minutes,” said Yaitanes. To witness it, he added, was “unbelievable,” underscoring how Spacek so thoroughly “knows her craft.”
Luck of the draw
In addition to Spacek, Yaitanes got to work with an ensemble of artisans who too were top drawer. “You parachute in as an episodic director and make the most of who’s been put in place to work with. In the case of Castle Rock, they built an incredible team,” said Yaitanes, citing such collaborators as DP Jeffrey Greeley and editor Trevor Baker. “Jeffrey had just transitioned from camera operator to cinematographer and was brilliant,” assessed Yaitanes.
At press time, Yaitanes was slated to direct two episodes for season 2 of Castle Rock, with all new stories, characters and performers. He also is set to serve as an EP, noting he will “help guide the different directors involved to their best work, something I’ve missed doing. The last few jobs I produced, I directed the entire season.” He’s now looking forward to facilitating other helmers on the show.
The critical acclaim Yaitanes received for “The Queen,” episode 7 in the first season, has fueled predictions that he will be in the running for an Emmy this year. Yaitanes is no stranger to the Emmy proceedings, having won back in 2008 for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series on the strength of the “House’s Head” episode of the hit FOX network series House.
Beyond House, Castle Rock and Manhunt: Unabomber, Yaitanes’ directorial credits span such shows as Alias, Ray Donovan, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, Damages, Heroes, Lost, Underground and Genius: Picasso. This season he also executive produced and directed The Twilight Zone with Jordan Peele hosting (CBS All Access).
This is the 10th installment in a 16-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, production design and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 14 and 15, and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 22.