Directors T.J. Martin, Dan Lindsay Reflect On "Tina"
The "Tina" ensemble of (l-r) director Dan Lindsay, Tina Turner, director T.J. Martin and Erwin Bach (Turner's husband). (Photo courtesy of HBO)
DP Neville Kidd shares insights into "The Umbrella Academy"; sound artisan Lee Walpole earns 2nd straight Emmy nomination for "The Crown"

The quest for truth is a driving force for documentarians. And filmmakers T.J. Martin and Dan Lindsay have over the years successfully made that journey spanning long and short-form fare--the latter reflected in the aptly titled “The Truth Is Worth It” campaign for The New York Times out of Droga5 New York spanning such spots as “Resolve,” “Fearlessness” and “The Truth Doesn’t Write Itself.” Martin and Lindsay directed via production house Furlined and have seen the work garner two Cannes Grand Prix honors plus five Gold Lions, two Black D&AD Pencils as well as Best in Film at The One Show, the Black Cube at the Art Directors Club, Best in Show from the AICP, and multiple Webby Awards, among other honors.

On the longer format front, Martin and Lindsay have delved into the truth with such moving efforts as Undefeated, the Best Feature Documentary Oscar winner in 2012, and LA 92, which won a primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking in 2017.

Now Martin and Lindsay are again in the Emmy nominees’ circle with Tina (HBO Documentary Films), a revealing and intimate look at the life of musical icon Tina Turner. Tina is currently nominated in three categories: Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program, and Outstanding Sound Mixing.

Getting to the truth of Turner’s life had its own unique challenges, among them the fact that she has been the subject of a high-profile narrative feature (What’s Love Got To Do With It, which landed Best Actress and Actor nominations, respectively, for Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, and Laurence Fishburne as her abusive husband, Ike Turner), documentary fare on such outlets as VH1, a hit Broadway musical, and best selling memoirs penned by the artist herself. 

Martin acknowledged going in that there was concern about exploring a life that has been already explored multiple times across multiple mediums. Ultimately it came down to, as he explained, “what are we adding, how are we creating a space that is adding to her story?”

Lindsay recalled their first meeting with Turner who in light of prior books, films and the musical asked “now what the hell are you going to make a documentary about?”

Perhaps the truth that was most worth pursuing for Martin and Lindsay turned out to be Turner’s humanity. The legendary performer’s triumph over adversity--from racism to sexism to being abused by her former (and now late) husband Ike--has deservedly made her a hero to many, But sometimes that heroic crown can loom larger than life, placing her on a pedestal as a testament to strength and resilience--and somehow lost in the shuffle are the humanness and vulnerability which makes her all the more relatable to all of us. Tina captures this through interviews with Turner and those close to her, backed by a treasure trove of archival footage and images.

We also discover that Turner has had to cope with PTSD. Talking about her past, including the abuse she suffered, can throw Turner back to those times, reliving the trauma and resulting in nightmares. The pain of the past remains present. Still, her sharing of the pain she experienced can uplift others. Turner has a complicated relationship with her own story--and that is part of the story told in Tina which helps to paint a fuller picture of the iconic figure, adding a dimension to how we see her.

Martin related that it is remarkable how Turner has “been able to process her trauma,” describing her as a person “who made the choice to be a survivor every single day.” 

Lindsay added that a priority for him and Martin was allowing the story to be told “in Tina’s voice.”

As for how the two directors work together, Martin thinks of himself and Lindsay “less as a co-directing team” and more as having “a creative partnership.” Much, continued Martin, “kind of happens naturally.” The subject and the relationship with a person generally determines who will do the interviews. The director possessing a better rapport with the subject/person will do much of the interviewing. But in those cases where a more contentious, adversarial approach is needed, perhaps the director with less of a rapport with the person will be asking the questions. While there’s no clear cut division of labor, Martin generally takes on more of a role in editing, Lindsay in producing. Yet even then, they both cut, they both shoot. How they mesh their talents can change from project to project--is dictated by the specifics of the given project--but the spirit of their collaboration remains the same: close knit, positive, teaming as a brain trust to do justice to the story, the people and the lives being chronicled.

Lindsay observed that the notable short-form work they’ve done, such as The New York Times campaign, has informed their feature-length efforts and vice versa. The directors for instance have brought the narrative acumen honed in feature endeavors to their commercialmaking. Conversely the visual sensibilities of commercials--along with how to say more with less, “the efficiency of that form,” explained Lindsay--have positively impacted their feature documentaries.

Paramount is that the directors have editorial control over the content as they place their trust in the documentary discipline and process as well as their creative instincts. While there were hurdles as to how to come up with a fresh take on a life as scrutinized as that of Turner, Lindsay said that he and Martin ultimately felt confident that the documentary form as they have come to love it would provide a platform for the story to be told in a way that other forms could not.

Neville Kidd, ASC
Neville Kidd’s first Best Cinematography Emmy nomination and win came in 2014 for the “His Last Vow” episode of Sherlock. This year he picked up his second Emmy nod for the “Right Back Where We Started” episode of The Umbrella Academy (Netflix).

In one respect, the second career nomination means more to Kidd than the first in that there are so many more outstanding shows out there, the competition is harder, the standard is so high for so many shows--”a lot harder than when I won for Sherlock,” he assessed.

Kidd was in on The Umbrella Academy from the outset, lensing the first three episodes which debuted in 2019. The series is based on Gerard Way’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series in which estranged siblings with extraordinary superhero powers are reunited when their father dies. Their coming together uncovers dark family secrets as well as a looming threat to humanity. 

Kidd was brought onto the show by its creator/EP/writer Steven Blackman, whom the DP had worked with before on Altered Carbon. Being invited to create a new world with Blackman on The Umbrella Academy was too good an opportunity to pass up. Back then, Kidd first told SHOOT, “I love world building, creating a world that no one had ever seen before from a graphic novel that had a huge following. I read the script and could see the world in my head.”

Now, as he’s nominated for an Emmy on the strength of the episode kicking off season two, Kidd recalled that he wanted The Umbrella Academy from the very beginning “to feel one or two degrees out of left field--a little bit not quite what reality is” while at the same time “embracing the reality” of the show. Also key to his approach--this time specific to season two--was to make the 1960s “not feel vintage,” to give the ‘60s instead “a brand new look” because the characters were experiencing it for the first time. It was like a brand new world to them, he explained. They were dropped into a new world in 1963--and Kidd felt the need to capture a fresh look for a new world where lots of change was taking place.

Meanwhile new to the series--but not to Kidd--was Sylvain White who directed the “Right Back Where We Started” episode. White has since gone on to direct a season three episode of The Umbrella Academy.

Prior to their coming together on The Umbrella Academy episode which earned Kidd his current Emmy nomination, White and the DP had collaborated on “The Heat,” the second episode of the Amazing Stories series. That experience built a creative rapport between them as they found their cinematic, TV and visual tastes to be simpatico. Both Kidd and Blackman were eager to bring White into the directorial mix for The Umbrella Academy.

Remaining the same during Kidd’s stretch on The Umbrella Academy has been his choice of camera, rooted in the aforementioned Altered Carbon series where he came to know Blackman. Kidd broke new ground on Altered Carbon by deploying the ARRI Alexa large format camera system. This is believed to have been the first use of that camera system on a TV series. For The Umbrella Academy, Kidd again turned to the Alexa 65 to help make a fantastical world seem real, the wider larger format allowing the audience to see much more of this world--and its beauty.

Kidd likened the Alexa 65 to “a fine wine--once you use it, you can’t go back.” It’s played an integral part, he related, in translating the graphic novel to television.

But what perhaps resonates most for Kidd is the humor of the series, “finding the connection with the camera and the characters, making people laugh.” He observed that when operators have a good relationship with the cast, “a kind of magic starts to happen,” everybody is on board and that contributes to a honed, believable sense of comic timing.” Ultimately the goal is to serve the story and its characters, which includes their humor.

The Umbrella Academy this time around landed four Emmy nominations--the other three being for fantasy/sci-fi costumes, sound editing, and special visual effects (in a single episode).

Kidd’s’ awards pedigree extends beyond his Emmy track record. He has to his credit a pair of BAFTA Award nominations for factual photography, winning the honor in 2009 for A History of Scotland. Kidd also was an ASC Award nominee in 2017 for an episode of Outlander.

Lee Walpole
For the second straight year, Lee Walpole has earned an Emmy nomination for The Crown (Netflix). In 2020 it was as supervising sound editor on the “Aberfan” episode which scored in the Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) category. And this time around Walpole served as re-recording mixer on the “Fairytale” episode which registered in the Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour). The current honor is shared with re-recording mixers Stuart Hilliker and Martin Jensen, and production mixer Chris Ashworth.

“Fairytale” introduces us to a young Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) as her courtship with Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) unfolds. This installment is a prime example of the fly on the wall dynamic so associated with the series as we are allowed to infiltrate the halls of Buckingham Palace to see and hear the royals behind closed doors. The sound is crafted in support of the story and its players--that is essential affirmed Walpole, particularly in the case of a dialogue and character-driven show. The audio is marked by subtleties, designed not to call attention to itself, requiring meticulous attention to detail. Dialogue meshes with ambient and external sounds that contribute to the tone, feel and emotion of a given scene. 

Having such subtlety recognized by the Television Academy is particularly gratifying for Walpole whose Emmy track record pre-dates The Crown. He was nominated in 2014 as supervising sound editor on the miniseries Klondike. And his first nomination and sole Emmy win thus far came in 2009 as sound effects editor on the miniseries Generation Kill.

Walpole has also earned 11 BAFTA Award nods--seven in television, including a win in 2018 for The Crown, and four in features, among them a win for Les Miserables in 2013. He also has twice been nominated for Cinema Audio Society (CAS) Awards, both for The Crown (in 2018 and ‘21).

Walpole has been part of The Crown ensemble from the very beginning. His company had done assorted shows for Left Bank Pictures in the U.K., which in tandem with Sony Pictures Television is behind The Crown for Netflix. That connection as well as a working relationship with Phillip Martin who directed four episodes in the first season helped open up the opportunity for Walpole to take on The Crown.

The show has received assorted plaudits from the first season on. But this year represented its high water Emmy mark thus far with 24 nominations, tied with The Mandalorian for the most this season. The Crown has received four straight Emmy nods for Outstanding Drama Series.

The new wrinkle for this Emmy-eligible season, though, was the pandemic. Postproduction had just started when the COVID-19 lockdown hit the U.K. This necessitated the creation of a remote workflow on the fly--with Walpole and his audio colleagues having to adapt accordingly. Despite the inherent challenges, Walpole and his compatriots maintained the mantra, he said, that the quality of the work would not decline--in fact, it would sound better than ever before.

There were some pleasant discoveries along the way. For example, the pre-pandemic norm for a loop group (aka a walla group), a small assemblage of voiceover actors who record audio for edited video during postproduction, would be to have them in studio with a couple of microphones. These performances--from voice specialists and on-camera performers--help fill out a soundscape, bringing specific detail and realism to scenes. However, with lockdown in place, each voiceover actor at home performed separately with an individual microphone while linked together with the other artists via Zoom to allow interaction. This gave Walpole and his team more detailed options from which to choose. They were afforded more flexibility, able to select from each performer, making the end product more defined and concise. Walpole observed that this positive experience makes it difficult in some respects to return to the norm. He conjectured that ways to retain this loop group flexibility might be explored.”

As for what’s next, Walpole at press time was working as supervising sound editor on an Amazon Studios series, The Power, directed by Reed Morano, winner of an Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series in 2017 for the very first episode, “Offred,” of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Editor’s note: This is the 15th installment in SHOOT’s 16-part weekly The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories. The features explore the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, music, sound and visual effects. The Road To Emmy series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 11 and 12, and then the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 19 broadcast live on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

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