Directorial Insights Into "Succession," "Only Murders in the Building"
"Succession" director Cathy Yan (photo by Stephanie Diani/courtesy of HBO)
A DP's perspective on "Ozark"; editor discusses "Hacks"; production designer POV on "Schmigadoon!"; composer scores with "Lucy and Desi"

Back in February, Succession (HBO) earned the unique distinction of sweeping the DGA Awards’ dramatic series category nominations--Kevin Bray for the “Retired Janitors of Idaho” episode; Mark Mylod for “All the Bells Say”; Andrij Parekh for “What It Takes”; Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman for “Lion in the Meadow”; and Lorene Scafaria for “Too Much Birthday.” Mylod, who also serves as series executive producer, wound up winning the DGA honor. 

But amid the rejoicing over the Guild recognition, Mylod--soon after the nominations were announced--told SHOOT that he also felt “huge relief” and a tinge of “regret.” The sense of relief was rooted in the built-in pressure of living up to lofty expectations for season 3 after lauded first and second seasons. The DGA nods certainly underscored that the third season too was a shining achievement.

As for what Mylod cited as his “only regret,” it was that Cathy Yan didn’t garner a DGA nomination for her direction of the third episode in season 3, “The Disruption.” That installment, he said, contained scenes that required considerable scale--when that was hard to achieve during the COVID pandemic. Mylod assessed that Yan and cinematographer Christoper Norr did “a fantastic job” of realizing that scale in an episode with a high degree of difficulty. Mylod described Yan as “a true artist” whose work was “at least as good as anybody else’s on the show.”

Fast forward to July with the unveiling of the Emmy nominations and Mylod’s regret was addressed. Yan was one of three Succession Emmy nominees in the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series category. It came for her work on “The Disruption.” Meanwhile Mylod received a nod for “All the Bells Say” and Scafaria for “Too Much Birthday.”

Yan said that the Emmy nomination is most gratifying given that Succession has long been her favorite show. As a genuine fan of Succession, she felt privileged to work in that series’ world, to collaborate with its actors, delve into their characters. This episode of Succession also marked Yan’s TV directorial debut. “I come from the feature world,” she shared, noting that Succession gave her a deeper understanding of television, including how well run the series is under the aegis of its creator and showrunner, Jesse Armstrong. “He commands so much respect and is so respectful of everyone,” observed Yan, adding, “It takes a great manager of people to make Succession work--and I think Jesse is just that. He knows how to work with, collaborate with and respect everyone around him.” 

Yan’s prior accomplishments in the feature realm included a Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema-Dramatic competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival for Dead Pigs, which she wrote and directed. Dead Pigs garnered assorted accolades, including a Sutherland Award nomination in the First Feature Competition at the 2018 London Film Festival and an Audience Award nod in the New Auteurs category at AFI Fest.

The success of Dead Pigs translated into Yan getting the directing gig on Warner Bros.’ Birds of Prey starring Margot Robbie as DC comic book villain Harley Quinn. In turn Yan became the first woman of Asian descent to direct a superhero film.

Yan then via her agents reached out to television--specifically Succession due to her longstanding admiration of the show. Yan got a meeting with Armstrong and Mylod. They struck up a rapport, Yan recalling that Armstrong was interested in Dead Pigs. In a sense Yan was a natural fit for Succession. For one, Dead Pigs was a film she described as being “very much pulled from the headlines.” Furthermore, Yan had earlier been a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York, Hong Kong and Beijing. She had an approach to film storytelling that showed a talent and penchant for being able to adapt to, fictionalize and satirize current events and what’s happening around us. These sensibilities and capacities coincided well with Succession.

Also helping Yan was being paired for the first time with DP Norr, a Succession mainstay. Yan said that Norr was “a joy to work with,” well versed in the show but open to new wrinkles. Yan noted that she pinpointed select shots, perhaps a bit more designed than usual for the series, that allowed Norr to “play around a bit more.” She was also drawn to the idea of letting certain moments slow down, feel cinematic, reflect a beautiful world--yet it’s a beauty that the characters largely ignore since they are used to such opulence. The lingering a bit on certain scenes also brought a different dimension to the characters themselves, at times lending a feel of melancholy and introspection, juxtaposed with the heightened humor and twisted backstabbing of this particular episode.

Yan additionally felt fortunate that the series secured Nirvana’s song “Rape Me” for a key scene in the episode. Kendall has his assistants play a rendition of the song on a loudspeaker to sabotage Shiv’s company town hall event. Courtney Love, the widow of songwriter Kurt Cobain, granted approval for the song to be used. Yan said it’s rare for Love to give such a green light.

The alluded to large scope of the episode included two major events--for the town hall meeting as well as Kendall’s gala for the fictional Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists.

Succession topped this year’s Emmy tally with 25 nominations, including for Outstanding Drama Series.

Meanwhile next up for Yan is a return to writing a feature that she will direct, The Freshening, which she described as a mix of varied genres---sci-fi elements, drama, satire but at its core, a love story.

Cherien Dabis
Also picking up her first career Emmy nomination was director Cherien Dabis for “The Boy From 6B” episode of Only Murders in the Building (Hulu). 

Shortly after receiving the nod for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, Dabis said, “I’m speechless! Which I guess is appropriate because I’ve been nominated for a silent episode! Seriously though, I’m beyond thrilled. This is particularly special because this episode is so unique, inventive and ambitious. I’m incredibly grateful to the writers and showrunner/co-creator John Hoffman and Hulu for boldly taking a risk on a dialogue-free episode of a half hour comedy and for inviting me on to do such meaningful work. I’m grateful to [Deaf] actor James Caverly who challenged me to think deeply about visually crafting the episode with a Deaf audience in mind.”

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) centers on three neighbors--Charles (portrayed by series co-creator Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez)--who each have an apartment in the Arconia, a fictional upper West Side building in NYC. Charles, Oliver and Mabel also share an obsession with crime and unexpectedly find themselves caught up in one. 

Helping Dabis get the multi-episode gig on Only Murders in the Building was director/EP Jamie Babbitt who also garnered a helming nomination in the same Emmy directorial category for the series pilot. Dabis has known Babbitt for 20 years, describing her as a mentor dating back to film school (a Masters from Columbia University)--as well as for a short film Dabis wrote early on in her career. The two kept in touch over the years, with Babbitt aware of Dabis’ work which included directing episodes of Ozark as well as serving as a director/co-EP on Ramy. Babbitt and Hoffman reached out to Dabis and they, along with EP Jess Rosenthal, connected via Zoom. Prior to the Zoom call, Dabis was already “all in” on the show, just on the basis of getting the chance to work with comedy legends Martin and Short. But her interest further intensified when she got pitched on Zoom about doing a virtually silent episode. 

Dabis became enamored with the challenge, noting that a tricky aspect involved the fact that the hearing characters were for the most part silent. She had to justify the silence on the part of these hearing characters, making sure it was “grounded and earned, felt organic and natural.” Otherwise, there was the risk of the main characters being undermined in the context of this episode. “It had to feel real,” stressed Dabis. “Sometimes actors needed to be given permission to laugh or grunt or whatever.”

Of course, continued Dabis, “there was no other choice but to communicate the story visually--not typical of a comedy these days.” This heightened the directing process, making sure to do justice to a script that had considerable action, choreographing actors to facilitate physical comedy as well have them in position for select lip reading. Ambient noise and music were also deployed, as was American Sign Language (ASL).

An early sequence in the episode has Deaf character Theo Dimas (portrayed by Caverly) spying on Mabel, Oliver and Charles through binoculars. Blocking of the threesome had to make it appear they were moving naturally through the space while also turning toward the window at judicious times so that Theo could read their lips. 

Dabis had to take a crash course in ASL as did Nathan Lane who portrays Teddy Dimas, Theo’s father. There’s a scene where Teddy comes home and performs a seemingly mundane action--taking off his coat and gloves, holding the mail, putting jewelry away--all the while looking at Theo; the eye contact is needed so they can communicate in ASL. Actors talking and moving about routinely is anything but routine under these circumstances. 

For Dabis, perhaps the biggest takeaway from her experience on “The Boy From 6B” was that “risks really do pay off. I love seeing people take risks in television--from all sides including the network side, the writing side, directing. Creating a silent episode from the point of view of a Deaf character was seen as a risk. But from the network to the writers, everyone took that risk. Some people had to fight for that to happen. When I came on board, I wanted to commit to shooting Theo’s material completely from his point of view, what he sees, focusing on his lip reading, details, what he’s looking at in order to understand the world around him, to see his distress at times. I’m really grateful to John Hoffman for allowing me to take that risk, for being on board with that choice. If we hadn’t been that bold, I’m not sure the episode would have been as strong. Other choices could have been made that might have made it a little less committed to being in Theo’s shoes.”

The episode “turned the tables on our lead trio,” noted Dabis. “Theo was spying on them. We are seeing a radically different point of view on our three main characters from the world we had been in previously. We yanked the audience out of that regular point of view and put them in a really different one. It’s interesting and it paid off. I think that inclusion is everything. The fact that we’re seeing the point of view of a character we don’t get to see often on television is so important. It’s one of the reasons people respond to this episode. I hope this is one of the takeaways for everyone--it paid off to show new perspectives we’re not used to.”

The directing nominations for Dabis and Babbitt are but two of 17 garnered by Only Murders in the Building.

Dabis’ career spans TV and features. Right out of film school, she started as a jr. writer on the TV series The L Word, moved up to writer and became co-producer. She then made a major splash directing, producing and writing her first feature, Amreeka, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that same year, was nominated for a Best Picture Gotham Award as well as three Film Independent Spirit Awards (including Best Picture), and was named one of the top 10 indie films of the year by the National Board of Review.

Serving as writer-director-producer-actor, Dabis returned to Sundance with May in the Summer--which opened that festival in 2013 and later that year screened at the Venice Film Festival.

Additional subsequent TV credits include producing and directing for the series Quantico, serving as director and supervising producer on Empire, and episodic directing for The Sinner.

Eric Koretz
Being brought in to shoot multiple episodes of Ozark for the second half of its final season was honor enough for cinematographer Eric Koretz. But it didn’t stop there. He wound up getting to lens the series finale, “A Hard Way To Go,” directed by Jason Bateman. And then came the honor of an Emmy nomination, the first for Koretz, on the strength of his work on that episode. 

Ozark cinematographer Shawn Kim reached out to Koretz for the final stretch run of the series. Kim and Koretz knew of each other but had never met before. Koretz felt that he got the gig for his ability to adapt in almost “chameleon”-like fashion, enabling him to step in sync into the rhythm of an already established show while still bringing his own signature to the proceedings. Also helping Koretz dovetail seamlessly into a season in which seven episodes had already been wrapped was getting to reunite with camera operator Ari Issler whom he had worked with numerous times over the years. 

Koretz also was well versed in the Sony VENICE which Kim deployed on Ozark. In fact, Koretz owns a Sony VENICE which made for an easy transition into the flow of the series.

Beyond getting acclimated to Ozark on the fly, a prime challenge for Koretz was working with three different directors, adjusting to each one’s style and vision while achieving a uniform look for the show in season 4. Koretz shot episodes 8 and 9 directed by Amanda Marsalis, episode 10 helmed by Melissa Hickey, and episode 14, the finale, directed by Bateman.

Koretz observed that his work on episodes 8, 9 and 10  prepared him well for collaborating with director Bateman on episode 14. That’s due to the fact that he got to work with Bateman the actor and executive producer on those first three episodes. “As an actor, he’s in nearly every shot,” related Koretz. And as an exec producer, Bateman is deeply involved. “Jason would pop into the tent, always talk to the directors, sort out reasons for why things were happening with the characters, the choices that were made. So I sort of experienced in that sense Jason as a director before the finale.”

Koretz said of director Bateman, “He’s so precise, knows exactly what he wants. He has years of being in this business to back up and inform his decisions. He’s an incredible technician. It’s great working with a director like that. There’s no uncertainty. You talk about things, he seeks out ideas but when the decision is made, you know what you’re trying to achieve.”

The DP shared a joke about Ozark, which sheds some light on the show--no pun intended. “There’s no sun in Ozark,” he quipped. “That’s what we say.” Taking out the sun and being left with a dark show, observed Koretz gives cinematographers a canvas on which to in a sense paint with hints of light. Characters play through the shadows at times, giving a DP the opportunity for his or her own kind of lighting approaches, techniques and tricks. “You control the light and what you want,” explained Koretz, contributing to the show’s “sculpted look.”

Everything evolves around how to best tell the story, observed Koretz. “Lighting should inform the mood, the feeling that the director is trying to convey, the mood of the characters, the soul of everything.”

He added, “You always want to make it look like Ozark.” But at the same time, there’s room to bring your own perspective. “It feels like me but also like Ozark.”

Koretz’s nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera One-Hour Series was but one of 13 garnered by Ozark, including Outstanding Drama Series and a directorial nod for Bateman on the strength of his work on “A Hard Way To Go.”

Koretz’s filmography includes Frank & Lola directed by Matthew Ross and The Last Word helmed by Mark Pellington, which both made the Sundance Film Festival cut; director Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State which won the Bisato D’Oro Award for Best Cinematography at the 2020 Venice Film Festival; and director Tristan Patterson’s Dragonslayer which won Best Documentary Feature at SXSW, and a Cinema Eye Honors Award for Best Cinematography.

Jessica Brunetto
For the second straight year Jessica Brunetto’s work on Hacks (HBO Max) has received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series. In 2021, the nod was for the series pilot. This year Brunetto was nominated for the first episode of season two, “There Will Be Blood.” 

Brunetto’s current nomination was one of 17 for Hacks this Emmy season--prominent in the mix is series co-creator Lucia Aniello who’s up for Outstanding Comedy Series, directing (for “There Will Be Blood”) and writing (with show co-creators Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky) for “The One, The Only” episode. Aniello, who won Emmys in the directing and writing categories last year for Hacks, brought Brunetto into the series fold from the outset. Aniello naturally gravitated to Brunetto, having worked with the editor on such shows as Broad City, Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens and Time Traveling Bong. “It’s been great to grow together as collaborators,” said Brunetto.

The editor recalled being blown away by the script authored by Aniello, Downs and Statsky for “There Will Be Blood,” which picks up where the first season left off, digging into every character and key relationships. “I remember kind of joking with Lucia, Paul and Jen that this episode was kind of like doing the pilot again” in that so much was being covered with the foundation being laid for the rest of the season. There were also some trial-and-error test screenings along the way, the audience feedback sparking some restructuring and fine tuning by Brunetto.

Hacks stars Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, and Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels. The latter character is a Gen Z comedy writer whose career in L.A. is put in jeopardy over an insensitive off-the-cuff tweet. Desperate for an industry job, she finds an unlikely gig through her agent--writing contemporary, youth appeal material for Vance, a legendary Las Vegas vet and stand-up comedy diva. The chemistry between the protagonists is a driving force behind the show. Their wide-ranging performances take us from the comedic to the dramatic and places in-between. This acumen for naturally blending laughs and pathos while generating empathy for the characters is a testament to Smart and Einbinder who have been nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress and Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, respectively, each of the past two seasons. (Smart won the Emmy last year.) Other relationships come into prominence as well, including the complicated one between Vance and her daughter, Deborah “DJ” Vance Jr., in “There Will Be Blood.” In fact Kaitlin Olson’s portrayal of DJ in that episode earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.

Brunetto is appreciative of the opportunity Hacks affords her to balance comedy and drama, exploring the layers in characters and relationships--pure nirvana for an editor. Brunetto added that she’s perhaps most inspired by Deborah Vance, an older woman. “Not too many television shows portray a woman as the lead in her 70s. She is fighting just as hard as the other co-lead [Ava Daniels] who’s in her mid-20s. That resonated with me.” 

While she has her sights set on season 3 of Hacks, Brunetto’s endeavors are not confined to that hit show. She cut two episodes of A League of Their Own, a series which premieres next week on Amazon Prime Video. Based on the beloved feature about the World War II-era all-American professional women’s baseball league, the show reunited Brunetto with Abbi Jacobson whom she worked with on Broad City. Jacobson is a co-creator of the A League of Their Own series.

Additionally, Brunetto is looking to advance her directorial career, having made major inroads with Sisters, a short which she wrote, produced and directed. Sisters premiered at last year’s SXSW Festival. Brunetto noted that Aniello has been an advocate of her diversifying into directing. “Along the way as an editor, I’ve tried to gravitate toward people like Lucia who are writers-directors. I learn from them. Lucia has been a longtime mentor of mine as my directing career has been blossoming slowly but surely. I shadowed her on Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens and she was so supportive of my making Sisters.”

Brunetto is also looking to hone her directing chops in commercials and branded content, having recently joined the roster of Chromista, the commercial production house which was co-founded by Darren Aronofsky. Brunetto also connected with The Den as a roost for her to edit commercials. Brunetto’s plan is to start to build herself in the comedy commercialmaking world while also raising funds for a feature she’s developing. 

As reflected in her TV editing exploits and her directing turn on Sisters, Brunetto’s self-described “common thread” has been women protagonists, “female-led comedy plain and simple” as reflected on the likes of Broad City, Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens and even The Last O.G. in which Tiffany Haddish starred. Brunetto is looking to continue this women-driven comedy bent in the commercialmaking space, hopefully often with female creatives. Brunetto also sees her directing in the ad market dovetailing with comedy celebrity fare, noting that Sisters reflects that genre in that it starred Sarah Burns and Mary Holland whose credits include, respectively, HBO’s Barry and Netflix’s Senior Year starring Rebel Wilson.  

Whether its TV, feature or branded projects/commercials, Brunetto affirmed that she will do “whatever I can to push female comedy out into the world.”

Bo Welch
Production designer Bo Welch is a four-time Oscar nominee and just last month picked up his second career Emmy nomination. One of the four Academy Awards nods--for Men in Black--and both Emmy noms were for collaborations with director Barry Sonnenfeld: A Series of Unfortunate Events in 2019, and now Schmigadoon! (Apple TV+), a parody of 1940s-era musicals, created by Ken Duario and Cinco Paul--in which backpacking couple Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) find themselves trapped in Schmigadoon, a magical community inhabited by singing and dancing townspeople. Melissa and Josh discover they can’t leave the town without finding true love--which they thought they already had. 

Welch said that he and Sonnenfeld “have a shorthand, a shared sensibility, a shared sense of humor.” Sonnenfeld sent Schmigadoon! scripts to Welch, with the promising declaration that “this could be good.” Welch chuckled, “Barry is always underselling things. It was lovely to read these 30-minute scripts. I was laughing out loud in the living room by myself. My wife [two-time Emmy winner Catherine O’Hara--for best leading comedy actress on Schitt’s Creek and her writing for SCTV] would walk through the living room and ask ‘what’s so funny?’”

As they had done previously, Sonnenfeld and Welch opted to do the series entirely on stage to gain optimum control. Welch started drawing sets. And bringing these creations to life was both ambitious and complicated. “How do you get all this stuff on stage, then struck? It was like a machine, navigating multiple stages [at a studio in Vancouver, B.C.]. Something is being shot, another set is being built”-- all within the confines of limited stage space and time. Helping to create and leading the coordination was art director Don Macaulay, described by Welch as “a genius” at logistics and a remarkable creative contributor. Welch has a track record with Macaulay which includes A Series of Unfortunate Events. “Don assembles a tremendous group of people from set designers to scenic artists, sculptors, other art directors.”

Welch is nominated for the first episode of Schmigadoon! in the Outstanding Production Design for a Half-Hour Narrative Program along with Macaulay and set decorator Carol Lavallee. Schmigadoon! marked the first time Welch and Lavallee collaborated. “She’s incredibly talented,” assessed Welch. “Her level of energy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, to the point where I would be exhausted meeting with her--which I mean in the best way possible. She is a whirlwind of energy and talent,” always up to the task even in the face of creative challenges, scheduling and budgetary constraints.

COVID protocols, the off-and-on-again nature of the project due to the pandemic, at times being confined to Zoom meetings, were some of the additional challenges in the mix. But driving the team through those challenges was the joy of the show. Welch noted that Cinco Paul, a lead writer on the show and of the music, has “an insanely deep love and knowledge of musicals.” 

Welch added that the scripts were great, funny and appealed to a wide audience-running the gamut from “If you love musicals, you’re in good hands. If you think they’re corny, you’re also in good hands.” Welch described Schmigadoon! as “a collision of modern and old-time musical sensibilities that made it really fun. I remember Cinco gave everyone this link to what felt like hundreds of musicals--clips and actual musicals. I spent days and days immersing myself in that. It was fun. To really bombard myself with it was important for me so I could see what works, what doesn’t work, the common denominators within this genre, the degree of artifice within the design of this material.”

Even if something looked corny in an old-time musical, there could be a charm to it, observed Welch who shared that he didn’t want to throw away “the in-camera aspect of that charm.” He continued, “We wanted to embrace it and filter it through our sensibilities.”

Schmigadoon! is a special show for Welch who said that normally after finishing a show, he would move on--the process being the main thing. “But the product was so good, I became a fan. Every Friday when it dropped, I would watch it. I would smile and laugh, enjoy it like anyone else.”

Professionally there was also a special gratification. “What struck me when the talent came onto our set was that our sets really are a collection of inanimate objects that are artfully displayed to support a narrative. When these people came on the stage and suddenly break into song and dance, it game me goosebumps. It was the most clear illustration of how sets should come alive from the work of the performers on them. That kind of blew my mind, which is also why I became a fan. Watching these insanely talented dancers, singers and our principal cast come and do their thing was wonderful.”

The TV Academy recognition for Outstanding Production Design for a Half-Hour Narrative Program is one of four Emmy noms for Schmigadoon!--the others being for choreography, original dramatic score, and original music and lyrics. 

As for the alluded to four career Oscar nominations for Welch, they are, in addition to Men in Black, for The Color Purple (directed by Steven Spielberg), A Little Princess (directed by Alfonso Cuarón) and The Birdcage (directed by Mike Nichols).

David Schwartz
Composer David Schwartz picked up his fourth career Emmy nomination--and first for a documentary--as his efforts on Lucy and Desi (Amazon Prime Video) were recognized for Original Dramatic Score in a documentary series or special. His prior Emmy nods came for main title theme music for Wolf Lake in 2002 and Deadwood in ‘04. Schwartz also holds the distinction of having his work on a comedy series, Arrested Development, get nominated for Original Dramatic Score in 2013.

Lucy and Desi explores the relationship between--and the lives of--Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Departing from the icon and legends treatment typically given to Ball and Arnaz, this documentary instead humanizes the famed couple. In an earlier Road To Emmy interview, Robert A. Martinez, who was just nominated for his picture editing on a nonfiction program for Lucy and Desi, described the documentary as “a modern love story before its time,” one that is very relatable today--a working couple trying to balance the relationship between family and career. That working couple scenario was not so common back in the day when Ball and Arnaz were grappling with how their work--arguably the most successful TV show of all time, I Love Lucy--impacted their personal lives and relationship.

Beyond navigating through their personal and professional lives, Ball and Arnaz were a couple of mixed ethnicity, also not common during that era. Their relationship in the context of I Love Lucy was not only accepted, but fully embraced by American viewers. Additionally, while not seeing herself as a feminist, Ball brought many women under her wing, guiding them professionally. And Arnaz was a brilliant TV innovator and businessman.

Lucy and Desi garnered a total of six Emmy nominations, the others being for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special as well as for directing for a documentary/nonfiction program (Amy Poehler), writing and sound editing for a nonfiction program 
Schwartz--whose prior documentary experience came on director Alex Gibney’s Gonzo (which debuted at Sundance in  2008)--got the opportunity to take on Lucy and Desi thanks in part to its EP, Morgan Sackett. Schwartz had worked with Sackett on such shows as Veep and The Good Place.

Schwartz was also drawn to Lucy and Desi for the chance to work for the first time with director/producer Poehler. He found the collaborative relationship gratifying, noting that Poehler’s priority is the story, doing justice to the protagonists and having every element, including the music, serve those ends. 

This mirrored Schwartz’s longstanding approach, as reflected in his response when asked about composing for a documentary like Lucy and Desi instead of the TV series fare that more regularly graces his schedule. When working on Lucy and Desi or Gonzo, Schwartz related, “I don’t regard it like I am doing documentary scoring.” Rather Schwartz said that he treated Lucy and Desi more like a drama or love story. He observed that every project has its unique artistic and creative merit, noting for example that Veep and The Good Place “couldn’t be more different from each other.” He embraces those differences and creates music and a score that do justice to those differences, each particular story and character. 

That very lesson was ingrained in Schwartz early in his career, his first TV gig being scoring for Northern Exposure. No two episodes of that series were the same, he recalled. Episode 5 that first season called for West African music while a later episode went the unexpected route of a big orchestral score. 

Similarly Lucy and Desi had differing feels and tones, which Schwartz’s music had to support and reflect--feelings of love as well as a dark side to the couple’s relationship, a tinge of nostalgic Hollywood on the old studio lots, and of course, Arnaz’s Cuban roots. This made for a multi-faceted, diverse score but one that was balanced by big picture considerations, a case in point being on one hand giving a nod to music with that older Hollywood feel--but on the flip side, not allowing the documentary to come off as a period piece. Schwartz noted that Poehler didn’t want Lucy and Desi to be a period piece. Instead she wanted it to be “mostly modern,” in some respects underscoring the relevance of Ball and Arnaz’s relationship to today’s world, balancing work and career, and so on.

This is the 13th installment of a 16-part weekly The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories which explores Emmy contenders and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, costume design, music, sound and VFX. The Road To Emmy Series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 3 and 4, and then the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 12.

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