Directorial Reflections On A Sublime "Succession"
"Succession" director/EP Mark Mylod (photo courtesy of Max)
Cinematographers discuss lensing "The Crown," "The Last of Us," "George & Tammy," "Only Murders in the Building" and "Schmigadoon"

After serving as a director on Game of Thrones for three seasons, what would Mark Mylod do for an encore? That was the quandary facing him several years back.

Fast forward to today and Mylod will again grapple with the same daunting challenge of what’s next after a monumental success--this time four seasons of Succession (HBO) as an executive producer and director.

Succession has thus far yielded for Mylod three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series (winning twice--in 2020 and ‘22), a pair of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series Emmy nods, and two DGA Award nominations (with a win last year for the season three finale, the “All the Bells Say” episode).

There was no way of Mylod knowing going in what Succession would become but even at that he felt from the very outset that he had hit the jackpot--both personally and professionally--when the opportunity arose for him to work on the series. For one, he had been a longtime fan of Succession creator Jesse Armstrong, an Oscar-nominated writer for In The Loop, and a driving force behind the U.K. Channel 4 TV series Peep Show, which demonstrated an acerbic wit along with insights into human behavior. Mylod and Armstrong are fellow Brits with some roots in U.K. comedy--but their paths hadn’t crossed before. Suddenly Succession emerged, Mylod got a look-see at the pilot directed by Adam McKay and was being considered by the producers for directing duty on a couple of season one episodes. A subsequent phone call with Armstrong helped establish an immediate rapport which in turn led to a more substantial role on the series as a hybrid director/EP.

On the alluded to personal front, Mylod had been directing Game of Thrones in Europe over three seasons, making his wife a single parent for extended stretches of time. He longed to get back to New York and have some semblance of a regular family life--so he waited what seemed an inordinate amount of time for a substantive project to surface in the desired geography. Succession more than fit the bill--brilliant writing, a willingness to take creative risks, a world-class cast, and all on the East Coast.

Still, the creative bar was set high and it took some time for Mylod to get the full grasp he desired on the series and its characters. He felt things fell into place while working with Armstrong on the last two episodes of the first season. “I felt I could peel back the layers and find context for the characters’ behavior,” related Mylod, which carried a domino effect into subsequent seasons. 

Mylod observed that his journey over four seasons of Succession in some respects is akin to that experienced by many of the show’s fans. Mylod recalled first walking onto the series thinking, “I just love this big bold, bombastic creative swing we’re taking where we don’t give a damn.” He felt he could just dive into stories driven by these characters who were on some level “irredeemable.” The vein was rich for satire on the human condition.

At the end, though, Mylod found himself more “protective” of the characters, embracing them in his heart. The opportunity over four seasons to explore the context for their behavior led to an empathy and understanding, finding the tragedy in their lives and caring for the characters despite conduct that at times was “heinous.” For the last two seasons in particular, Mylod observed that he was “fiercely protective” of the characters, “almost like an overprotective dad on some level.” He started out being aboard “a Trump era satire on abusive parent and family dynamics” which by the end of the series run evolved into the feeling that “I would do anything to help mitigate their suffering.”

Mylod acknowledged that the final season generated its own anguish for him, embodied by the “elephant in the room”--namely, he said, “how do we continue past episode three without Brian Cox’s character?” Yet while that quandary was “terrifying,” it was also “entirely necessary” as the story and its conflicts shifted. The season’s storyline was distilled down to some two weeks in time with the protagonists grieving over their father’s death, looking to protect their legacy, trying to stop the company’s sale, and engaging in a heightened sibling rivalry, jockeying for position in order to somehow succeed. Mylod observed that among his prime responsibilities this final season was “to try to keep all these plates spinning with a sense of emotional truth.”

Another dynamic at least in part informing Succession for Mylod was his feature directorial debut, The Menu. Actually The Menu sprung from a collaboration between Mylod and writer Will Tracy on a season two episode of Succession. The two hit it off as Tracy went onto co-write The Menu and the two gravitated toward one another for that project.

Mylod noted that The Menu, particularly working with actor Ralph Fiennes, “gave me an appetite for stillness,” an appreciation of what it could bring to a story. Mylod acknowledged that “stillness” was “something I’d been a little wary of, particularly with Succession,” which always had a sort of “rolling momentum” with stillness being “a rarity” on the show. But for the season four arc of Succession, Mylod felt that stillness was a quality that helped define the characters at times and advance the story. 

In the big picture, continued Mylod, the show was profoundly and positively impacted by the growth experienced by cast and crew over four seasons of being together. Mylod noted, for example, that his collaboration with Armstrong “grew organically over the seasons,” which proved invaluable to the final product--and most gratifying for Mylod. 

Adriano Goldman, ASC, BSC, ABC
Perched on an awards throne which thus far has amassed 63 Emmy nominations and 21 wins over its first four seasons, The Crown (Netflix) is now poised to add to that royal lineage of accolades. Among the select artists who’s been there each year, including for the current Emmy-eligible season five, cinematographer Adriano Goldman, ASC, BSC, ABC has seen both the series and his work on it evolve. 

For each of the first four seasons, Goldman lensed at least five episodes, the highest tally coming the first season with six installments, including “Smoke & Mirrors”--for which he earned his first career nominations in the Emmy, ASC Award and BAFTA competitions. He wound up winning the ASC Award that year. 

Since then Goldman has garnered three more Emmy nods for The Crown, winning in 2018 for the season two episode “Beryl” and in 2021 for season four’s “Fairytale.” Goldman also earned two more ASC Award nods, winning for “Beryl” in 2019. “Beryl” additionally garnered him a BAFTA TV Craft Award.

Now Goldman once again finds himself in the present-day Emmy conversation, having lensed a pair of season five episodes--a tally that’s reduced from his norm in that this time he came aboard the series a little late, needing to wrap a commitment on another show, Andor (Disney+), which is also generating awards season buzz.

Goldman shot two season five episodes of The Crown--“Mou Mou” (the third episode) and “Decommissioned” (the season finale), both directed by Alex Gabassi, a newcomer to the series. “Mou Mou” brings a fresh view to the show, staying true to its period drama excellence yet breaking away from the Royal family, shifting focus for instance to Mohamed Al-Fayed, taking us back to his modest beginnings in Alexandria, his ascent to great wealth and his aspirations related to royalty.

Goldman noted that over the years he’s been entrusted with shooting for directors who are new to The Crown--Gabassi being a recent example though they weren’t total strangers to one another, having earlier teamed on some commercials. 

Having worked on The Crown from the outset, Goldman has a deep rapport and comfort level with the crew which are of value to a director coming aboard the series for the first time. He has also welcomed such directors to The Crown over the years as Benjamin Caron and Jessica Hobbs. 

Still, though, it was his prior bond to a director, Stephen Daldry, which brought Goldman into The Crown fold to begin with. Goldman described himself as a longtime admirer of Daldry’s work, citing such films as Billy Elliot and The Reader. Upon seeing the former, Goldman recollected that “the energy and performances blew me away.”  The DP was thus honored to get to collaborate with Daldry on the feature Trash in 2013. Trash told a story set in Brazil where three kids make a discovery in a garbage dump only to soon find themselves running from the law and trying to right a terrible wrong. 

When Daldry came back to Rio de Janeiro for the Trash premiere in 2014, word of The Crown was out and about. Goldman had heard of Daldry’s involvement in the project and that showrunner/creator Peter Morgan was prepping for the series. Goldman reached out to Daldry in Rio, expressing his interest in The Crown. Daldry on the spot replied, “If you want it, it’s yours,” recalled Goldman who was elated over the prospect of delving into history and the challenge of delivering work that would eventually look different from other period dramas in Britain.

While he shot episodes one and two of the series which were directed by Daldry, Goldman noted that episode five was shot first--the aforementioned "Smoke & Mirrors" with director Philip Martin. In many respects, “Smoke & Mirrors” helped set the look and tone for the series with the input and approval of Morgan and Daldry.

Through all five seasons thus far, Goldman says constants have remained in place--such as the prioritizing of story and characters, and a collaborative mindset. At the same time, though, the show has evolved, adapting to the more contemporary times depicted as the story advances, marked by a progression in the show’s overall visual grammar, and the creative imprint of different directors and cinematographers.

Yet there’s an element of continuity among some of the cinematography talent gracing the series. Goldman observed that several DPs have come up through the ranks on The Crown. For instance, Goldman’s operator during season one, Stuart Howell, started shooting episodes in season two, continuing into the third and fourth seasons. Ben Wilson replaced Howell as Goldman’s operator for seasons two and three. Wilson then graduated to full-fledged cinematographer on season four, then season five and the much anticipated season six.

This familiarity with The Crown from artists who worked on the series before becoming DPs on it brings a consistency and continuity to the process, observed Goldman--even when the nature of the cinematography called for changes over time as the show moved forward chronologically, taking on more modern-day settings and requiring approaches decidedly different from those deployed in the initial seasons.

Ksenia Sereda, RGC
The Last of Us (HBO) has already made an impact on the awards show circuit--in terms of eyeballs. The season finale drew 8.2 million people despite airing against this year’s Oscars telecast, continuing a run of impressive numbers. The series premiere garnered 4.7 million viewers in the U.S., which amounts to HBO’s second largest debut ever, just behind House of the Dragon.

It remains to be seen if The Last of Us will also score on the awards front in terms of Emmy nominations. Suffice it to say that prognosticators are giving the dramatic series a strong chance. Clearly the show--adapted from a popular video game that bowed 10 years ago--has struck a responsive chord with gamers and non-gamers alike. Created by Craig Mazin, the architect of the Emmy-winning limited series Chernobyl, and Neil Druckmann who developed the video game, The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal as Joel, a smuggler who’s assigned the task of escorting a teenager, Ellie played by Bella Ramsey, across a post-apocalyptic U.S. The teen is immune to a fungal infection that has taken over the planet.

Ksenia Sereda, RGC shot three of the episodes, including the first installment, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” directed by Mazin, and episode two, “Infected,” helmed by Druckmann. These first two episodes helped lay a foundation for the series spanning visual language and tone. Sereda also lensed the seventh episode, “Left Behind,” directed by Liza Johnson.

Though not a seasoned gamer, Sereda was well aware of The Last of Us video game, assessing that “visually it’s the most outstanding game that existed. It’s absolutely incredible. I had never thought of a video game as something that could compete with the emotional impact of cinema. This was shocking in a very impressive way.”

A major fan of Chernobyl, Sereda was drawn to the prospect of working with Mazin and a gaming visionary like Druckmann. The show that evolved was not zombie-centric but rather dealt with complex characters and aspects of life that are relatable ranging from hope to love, grief, parenthood, friendship and the coming-of-age process. While the world in The Last of Us seems bleak, there’s a positivity to the story as people strive to build new lives when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

Sereda described Mazin and Druckmann as “a great partnership” providing their collaborators with guidance spanning “all the details....They are very connected to the characters, their journey.” Sereda said it was gratifying “to help visually develop the relationship building between Joel and Ellie on their journey. And even though we received strong guidance from Craig and Neil, we were given a lot of freedom which I appreciated a lot. It’s is always great when you can bring in ideas, find references, share thoughts.”

Sereda noted that while the series is based on the game--which meant preserving iconic parts of that game--Mazin and Druckmann were out to create something beyond that, a series which was special and had its own unique driving force. Sereda described the scripts as “amazing” and detailed enough to help shape the visual approach, which often entailed doing justice to those moments which called for the camera to be up close and intimate with the characters.

Sereda and her fellow cinematographers on The Last of Us--which included Eben Bolter, Nadim Carlsen and Christine A. Maier--deployed the ARRI Alexa Mini for the show. “A lot of the times we needed to be very close to the characters,” said Sereda who selected Cooke S4/i spherical lenses in conjunction with the Alexa sensor. “I love ARRI cameras and the unique cinematic look they provide, very close to a film camera vibe in a lot of ways--and then to build the image with spherical lenses, to get very close without losing the face sculpture.” She also found the flexibility of spherical lenses appealing relative to being able to work well in low light levels with illumination from varied sources such as flashlights and searchlights. The lenses dovetailed with a world which lacks electricity, with Sereda and her colleagues creating suspense through shadows, darkness and light--all the while letting the actors’ performances take center stage.

While the scripts for The Last of Us were stellar, Sereda also attributed the show’s success to the cast, crew and their esprit de corps. “When you experience a great crew, you’re afraid it will never happen to you again,” said Sereda. “There was so much love on set. Everyone was so happy to see each other. It’s a great pleasure to work in such an environment.”

Sereda affirmed that the collaborators on The Last of Us legitimately cared about one another. In her corner of the world, that feeling permeated the camera crew, lighting and grip department. People were so invested in everything, she said. “They gave me the feeling we could get through anything together. People are the most important part of any filmmaking process.”

The Last of Us is part of a filmography for Sereda which also includes Beanpole, nominated for Best International Feature at the 2021 Gotham Awards, as well as Best Foreign Language Film by the National Society of Film Critics. Beanpole additionally earned Sereda a nomination for Best Cinematography from the Russian Guild of Cinematographers.

Igor Martinović
A two-time Emmy nominee--first for his lensing of an episode of House of Cards in 2014, and then (in tandem with DP Rachel Morrison) for the documentary What Happened Miss Simone? in 2016--Igor Martinovic is now once again a contender for TV Academy recognition for George & Tammy (Showtime). The cinematographer’s awards pedigree extends beyond the Emmy nods. He won an ASC Award for the “Subtle Beast” episode of The Night Of in 2017, and gained acclaim for shooting Man on Wire, James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary.

George & Tammy stars Jessica Chastain in a SAG Award-winning portrayal of Tammy Wynette, and Michael Shannon as George Jones. The limited series chronicles Wynette and Jones, the country music power couple who had a tumultuous romance and 30-plus chart-topping country songs between them. 

Martinovic said that he was immediately drawn to the story of “two talented people fighting their own demons, hoping to find a way to live in peace with themselves and with each other. It’s a universal story of human struggle. At the same time, it’s a celebration of creative energy. Both were gifted. The combination of talent and human struggle was interesting to me. There was a dichotomy of glamorous show business life and human drama.”

George & Tammy was the first collaboration between Martinovic and director/executive producer John Hillcoat, known primarily for his work in features (The Road, The Proposition). Hillcoat approached George & Tammy much as he would a feature, tapping into his vast picture library to share images with Martinovic to help pinpoint a visual direction that would reflect Wynette and Jones’ emotional journey together.  “I went through John’s incredible library of visuals and picked out what spoke to me,” related Martinovic.

The cinematographer observed that Wynette and Jones’ music reflected what was happening in their lives. The DP felt he needed to take a visual approach that would depict Wynette and Jones’ public as well as their private lives. For the latter, Martinovic shot “a little bit more edgy and rough,” underscoring a very human struggle with addiction. Martinovic opted for more handheld work, a little more grain and muted colors, for example, for scenes involving drug and alcohol abuse. For the duo’s public persona and concert performances, Martinovic went for “a little more polished and glamorous photography,” deploying a more colorful, less grainy approach with the camera at times moving slowly on a dolly.

Martinovic opted for the Sony VENICE camera for George & Tammy, at times utilizing its Rialto Extension System to afford him greater versatility. The system frees sensor and lens from the rest of the camera body (connected only by a tether), affording the user more freedom with movement and camera placement. This dovetailed well with intimate sequences that helped to define the relationship between Wynette and Jones. Martinovic selected Canon K35 lenses to use in conjunction with the VENICE.

Martinovic brought a measure of his documentary sensibilities to those intimate actor performances, He has doc. experience that includes not only Man on Wire but also work with Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris, including the Netflix series Wormwood. Martinovic used his eye to capture the immediacy of the moments deftly created by Chastain and Shannon.

George & Tammy additionally marked the first time Martinovic took on a music performance piece as a project. “I learned a lot. I learned how to stage, how to deal with large-scale performances.” He experimented with different lights from the period [late 1960s into the ‘70s] and for some on-stage performances even used actual cameras from that era as well.

Martinovic’s artistry extends beyond lensing. For example, he served as both cinematographer and a director on the HBO series The Outsider. In fact, earlier on in his career, Martinovic--who was already an accomplished DP--earned inclusion in SHOOT’s 2011 New Directors Showcase on the strength of “Dream,” an Adidas spec piece.

Among Martinovic’s other cinematography credits is director Christopher Zalla’s narrative feature Sangra de mi sangra (originally Padre Nuestro) which won a Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and garnered nominations for Zalla at the Film Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best Screenplay.

Chris Teague
Cinematographer Chris Teague’s work--ranging from feature film to episodic television--has registered on the awards show circuit. In 2017, he won the Tribeca Film Festival Jury Award for Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature for Love After Love. Two years later Teague came up an Emmy winner for his lensing of the “Ariadne” episode of Russian Doll.

Now he’s in the awards season banter for his work on Only Murders in the Building (Hulu), a show which he began from the outset of season one and then spread his creative wings for in season two. This marked the first time that Teague took on back-to-back seasons of a series.

Teague lensed all of season one and multiple episodes of season two. The second season also saw him branch out into directing a pair of episodes, including “Hello, Darkness,” which were shot by Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. “Hello, Darkness” centers on the trio of Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) trying to save a loved one from the killer during a blackout. Teague recalled having a conversation with John Hoffman (series co-creator with Martin) about season two many months in advance. At the time, Hoffman was developing stories for season two and talked about wanting to do a blackout episode. Teague followed up, sending Hoffman visual and other references related to various power outages/blackouts in New York City. “We began to collaborate on a new level,” said Teague. “I could send John material that might spark something in the writing process.” This led to Teague’s involvement taking on a new dimension with the direction of two episodes.

Teague enjoyed the foray into directing. He had studied at Columbia University with a concentration on directing but ultimately pursued a cinematography path. Still, a return to directing on Only Murders in the Building “felt familiar. Storytelling has always been a major aspect of my camera work. Knowing everyone on the show made for an easy transition. The cast was welcoming and wonderful.”

At the same time, Teague said that when directing he got “to know the cast in a different way. You work with each cast member a bit differently. Each one needs different things from you. You share suggestions on how to find your way into a scene, reminders of circumstances of a scene, other options to try and play around with.”

He also had a positive experience with cinematographer Weaver-Madsen on the episodes he directed. “We had a great back and forth,” said Teague. “It was freeing for me to give her a lot of freedom with lighting and setting things up. I had so much other stuff to focus on. I had her take the reins.” 

Getting back to his cinematography on the show, Teague was drawn to Only Murders in the Building from its inception. When he first met with Hoffman and executive producer Jess Rosenthal about the prospect of shooting the series, Teague recalled, “We connected about the style of the show. I was excited about the idea, the comedy elements, the high tension moments, mystery, dark moments, how exciting it would be for a DP to mix these things together. Coming from a show like Russian Doll, I loved this mashup of different tones.”

This deep creative attraction to the series has been a constant for Teague who shared that a prime challenge has been to balance a tight timeline--needing to shoot so many pages in a day--with making sure that the actors get the opportunity to shine in a lot of multi-character scenes. Teague observed that his prior experience shooting GLOW, a show “with pretty much a dozen main characters,” proved helpful in his approach to Only Murders in the Building. In GLOW, it was typical for him to have multiple main characters in a scene, often within the confines of a small room. “You learn a lot of tricks and clever planning,” related Teague, “to get the best angles and shots within a very limited amount of time--while still making sure that you get everybody to have their moment to play on camera.”

Teague’s camera of choice for Only Murders in the Building was the Sony VENICE, combined with Leitz Primes and Zoom lenses. “In this day and age there are so many great options for cameras, it’s hard to make a wrong pick. I’m familiar with the VENICE. I shot with it on several shows. I like the way it looks, how it handles various skin tones of different people. I feel like it has a kind of a leg up in that category....It’s also very light sensitive. It doesn’t get particularly noisy when you shoot in low light situations.”

In the big picture, Teague affirmed that Only Murders in the Building has been “the best working environment, the best experience I’ve ever had when it comes to working with the cast and crew...Setting the right tone on set is incredibly important. With long hours, sometimes difficult conditions, particularly the pandemic, Steve [Martin], Marty [Short] and Selena [Gomez] are aware of the importance of setting a tone--fun light and happy--and to have that energy on set ripple through the rest of the crew.”

Jon Joffin, ASC
A five-time ASC Award nominee, winning that honor three times--for episodes of Beyond in 2019, Motherland: Fort Salem in 2021, and Titans last year--Jon Joffin, ASC this time around could again be an awards season contender for his lensing of Schmigadoon (Apple TV+). Joffin is no stranger to the Emmy conversation, having earned a nomination back in 2009 for The Andromeda Strain, which also garnered him his first ASC Award nod.

Joffin took on season two of Schmigadoon, the musical comedy TV series--created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio--which in its first season (shot by Todd Elyzen) picked up four Emmy nominations, winning for Best Original Music and Lyrics. Yet while the humor and as Joffin described it, “the delicious music,” carried over from the first to the second season, the Schmigadoon parody of musicals he was going to shoot took a decidedly different turn. “It’s a totally different story,” said Joffin, noting that Paul referred to season two as reflecting “a darker time for musicals.” 

Joffin added, “Season one was sort of in one time period. Season two is more of a mish-mash--Cabaret, Godspell, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Dream Girls, many different looks” with an underlying theme of a Technicolor [musical] feel still having an influence.

Joffin took a deep dive into researching the Technicolor look, and then aspired to give it an appeal for a modern audience, “a modern story even though it pays tribute to older films.”

The Sony VENICE 2 was deployed on Schmigadoon by Joffin who observed that while there’s the notion that the Technicolor look is color saturation, it really is “all about color separation...The [VENICE] camera has so much gorgeous color space,” which he credited colorist Jill Bogdanowicz with taking full advantage of by developing a LUT that made the reds more punchy, the blacks deeper. Joffin said the VENICE was the ideal camera for delivering the desired color information and resolution, used in tandem with Zeiss Supreme Prime Radiance lenses.

In addition to Bogdanowicz, Joffin pointed to his many cast and crew compatriots on Schmigadoon with bringing season two to satisfying creative fruition, including directors Alice Mathias and Robert Luketic, production designer Jamie Walker McCall, costume designer Angus Strathie, gaffer Todd Lapp for his contributions to the show’s lighting, and digital imaging technician David Skidmore. Joffin added that Schmigadoon producer Connie Dolphin--with whom he had earlier collaborated on the sci-fi TV series Aftermath--also helped greatly as a champion of creativity, shaping a positive collaborative environment for everyone on the show.

Joffin added that less can be more when shooting ambitious tour de force musical performances. “The performances are so strong and so much fun. You feel committed to bring your A game to them. You’re shooting it a lot of the time like a performance on Broadway. You want to see it from head to toe--the costumes, the production design, the choreography. They’re so amazing. And I feel a little guilty. I just point my camera and try to get the exposure right. I try not to be too fancy with anything, Let it speak for itself.”

This is the fifth installment of SHOOT’s weekly 16-part The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories. Nominations will be announced and covered on July 12. Creative Arts Emmy winners will be reported on during the weekend of September 9 and 10, and primetime Emmy ceremony winners will be covered on September 18.

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