Tuesday, December 18, 2018
  • Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018
Emmy-Nominated Director, DP, Designer, Editor, VFX, Composer, Costumer POVs
Director Kari Skogland, an Emmy nominee for her work on "The Handmaid's Tale" (photo by David Leyes)
Insights into "The Handmaid’s Tale," "The Looming Tower," "Black Mirror," "GLOW," "Godless," "Versace," "Stranger Things," "black-ish"
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For director Kari Skogland, it’s been a long journey to reach the destination of her first Emmy nomination. Over the years, her body of stellar work has spanned such shows as Boardwalk Empire, Penny Dreadful, The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, The Borgias, House of Cards, Power, Vikings, The Americans and The Punisher—as well as Sons of Liberty for which she won the Directors Guild of Canada Award for best director of a TV miniseries.

This year Skogland finally broke through with TV Academy voters on the strength of the “After” episode of The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu). She’s nominated in the marquee Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series category, alongside Stephen Daldry for The Crown, Alan Taylor for Game of Thrones, Jeremy Podeswa, also for Game of Thrones, the Duffer brothers for Stranger Things, Jason Bateman for Ozark, and Daniel Sackheim, also for Ozark.

“I’m thankful for the nomination. It’s an incredible honor, a real validation,” said Skogland. “It’s no secret that as a female I had to bust through a few glass ceilings to be recognized.”

And while there’s still a long way to go to attain gender equality—perhaps reflected in her being the lone female nominee in this year’s Drama Series category—Skogland sees some progress, noting that The Handmaid’s Tale is “a significantly equal show when it comes to male and female directors.”

She added that Bateman invited her to direct the finale of Ozark but she wasn’t available. It turns out that’s the episode for which Bateman is nominated.

“There are lots of proactive people trying to change the numbers when it comes to women directors,” observed Skogland who has directed key episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, including the season one finale and multiple installments of season two, including “After.”

A pivotal episode on many levels, “After” for one takes us out of the perspective of Offred for the first time, delving into flashbacks from Samira. “We had to change the feel of the flashbacks, we needed a different quality to them,” noted Skogland. “So we went with the feel of snapshots, aggressively edited non-linear flashbacks, going for moments to capture and remember events differently.”

The opening funeral scene of “After” also carries considerable gravitas, depicting grief and replete with significant moments. There’s the pulling off of the veil from each handmaid, for example, symbolizing the lifting of anonymity to a place of each discovering her name.

“Overall we go from an incredibly bleak opening to a sense of hope at the end of this episode,” related Skogland. “It’s an emotional episode. Technically speaking we had to deploy cranes and drones to capture the imagery at key points and give full impact to scenes. We went for it, making certain scenes especially feel like they had a dreamscape quality.”

Skogland’s nomination is one of 20 bestowed this year upon The Handmaid’s Tale. She got the opportunity to direct for the show thanks to varied people and circumstances. She explained that series creator/writer Bruce Miller knew of her work, and that she had collaborated with Steve Stark a number of times over the years including on the lauded History series Vikings.

Stark is an exec with MGM, one of the producers of The Handmaid’s Tale. Skogland also had done much work through Take 5, a post house in Canada deeply involved in The Handmaid’s Tale. These and other factors all played a part in Skogland getting the gig, entrusted with the season one finale which was so successful that she was brought back as a go-to director in season two. She and Mike Barker directed the lion’s share of season two episodes teaming with such key contributors as cinematographers Colin Watkinson and Zoe White who helped create moods and support actor performances. Overall, said Skogland, vital to the success of The Handmaid’s Tale is a supportive culture.

The supportive, nurturing environment starts, assessed Skogland, at “the altar of Bruce,” referring to series creator Miller. “He’s incredibly talented and has created a place where your creative muscle is never dumbed down. He raises the bar and lets people do what they do best. Everybody feels their input, ideas and execution are valued. You feel needed and wanted. And when you’re loved, you give a lot back, you do the best work you can possibly do. Its a fantastic working environment—kind, aspirational, inspirational and gracious.”

Skogland’s career reach extends beyond television. For example Skogland’s feature film Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008), starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, won the Canadian Screen Award for her Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for an additional six awards including Best Film. Skogland’s prior feature as director, writer and producer was The Stone Angel—starring Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Page—which was nominated for Best Picture and Director by the Directors Guild of Canada, and Best Screenplay by the Writers Guild of Canada.

The Looming Tower
For Craig Zisk, his fifth career Emmy nomination—and second as a director—stands out as special on two prime fronts. First and foremost, to gain recognition for the “9/11” finale episode of The Looming Tower (Hulu) is most meaningful as the series tells a story of profound tragedy, looks deeply into history, shedding new light on the terrorist attack and what might have been done to prevent it while maintaining an abiding respect for the victims and their families.

Secondly, from a TV industry perspective, this is the first Emmy nod Zisk has received in the dramatic arena. His first four noms were all for his work in the comedy realm—Outstanding Comedy Series in 1992 for Brooklyn Bridge (as a producer), in 1998 for The Larry Sanders Show (as an EP) and in 2009 for Weeds (as EP); and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series in 2006 for the “Good S*** Lollipop” episode of Weeds.

“Over the last few years I’ve transitioned into doing more drama,” related Zisk. “I wanted to definitely direct and produce more drama. When the opportunity came for me to do The Looming Tower (directing select episodes and serving as an EP), I immediately accepted because of the material and the amazing people involved including (the show’s creators) Lawrence Wright, Dan Futterman and Alex Gibney.”

Based on Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title, the 10-episode miniseries The Looming Tower starts in 1988 and charts key players at the FBI and CIA as they chase down clues and often grapple with each other to uncover Osama bin Laden’s plot. We become privy to missed opportunities and how rivalries and stonewalling between the intelligence agencies at times undermined the greater good.

Wright, Futterman and Gibney served as screenwriters/EPs. Futterman, a two-time Oscar nominee (for his screenplays for Foxcatcher and Capote), was also the showrunner for The Looming Tower. Gibney additionally directed for the show, underscoring a masterful diversification into narrative storytelling from his longstanding perch as a documentarian, which includes his Best Feature Documentary Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side. Wright and Gibney have collaborated previously on such documentaries as My Trip to Al-Qaeda and Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief. The latter won a primetime Emmy in 2015. (Gibney is handled by Chelsea Pictures for commercials and branded content.)

“Alex and Larry immerse themselves in story and culture,” assessed Zisk. “I learned so much from them about finding the truth. As a director and a producer, I felt the weight of conveying that truth and showing respect to those involved. It was important to the writers—from day one to the last day of postproduction. We didn’t want to exploit anyone affiliated with that day.”

For Zisk, perhaps the greatest creative challenge posed by the “9/11” episode to him as a director was the interrogation scene (which featured Tahar Rhaim who portrayed FBI agent Ali Soufan, and Zaki Youssef cast as bin Laden’s bodyguard Abu Jandal). “It was a ten or eleven-page scene, all in Arabic," said Zisk. "It was meant to be a very quiet yet powerful interrogation. From very early on we tried to figure out a way to portray that story with the right emotional tension while also spelling out certain insights to an audience maybe not as familiar with the Koran and how it’s interpreted. We were blessed with amazing actors who were able to exceed our expectations not only emotionally but in just the physicalness of the way the scene played out.”

Zisk noted that Wright’s book spans 70 years of the Muslim Brotherhood and how different paths led to 9/11. “I was familiar with some of the history but not as familiar with the history of the infighting between the FBI and CIA. I’m politically active but this experience (of making The Looming Tower) had made me even more so, underscoring the importance of questioning the government and not just taking answers for what they are, especially in these times when we’re seeing the FBI and even the CIA compromised by our current President. We need to question everything. Larry Wright does a great job of that in the book. I feel like we’ve done that in the show. No matter what side of the aisle  you’re on, we’re not always being told the truth. Even within departments of government, they’re not telling each other the truth. If they’re not going to tell the truth to each other, you have to question if they are telling us the truth. The message is to keep our eyes, ears and minds open.”

In the filmmaking realm, Zisk is now open to new opportunities, after spending some 16 months on The Looming Tower. He hopes, for example, to break into shorter form fare, including spots, branded content and VR, via Framestore Pictures which handles him in the ad arena.

“My schedule over the past few years has been so full that I haven’t had the chance to take on other work. But I’d like to get involved in some shorter form work and see how it impacts and informs my long-form projects.”

Zisk received one of four Emmy nominations bestowed upon The Looming Tower—the other three being for Outstanding Casting For a Limited Series (Amy Kaufman, CSA; Leo Davis, Lissy Holm, Moonyeenn Lee), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Jeff Daniels as special FBI agent John O’Neill) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Clarke, chief counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council),

Zisk’s body of directorial work in TV spans assorted series including The Good Wife, This Is Us, Fear the Walking Dead, Preacher, Parks & Recreation, American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck, The Big C, Veep, Santa Clarita Diet, Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara, Entourage and The Office.
 
Black Mirror
Cinematographer Stephan Pehrsson, BSC, landed his first Emmy nomination for the “USS Callister” episode of the anthology series Black Mirror (Netflix).

“USS Callister,” which garnered a total of seven nominations including for Outstanding Television Movie, is a departure from most Black Mirror episodes, with its share of comedy and deployment of special effects. It introduces us to tech wiz Robert Daly (portrayed by Jesse Plemons) as he lives a double life. One has him bullied at his own company called Callister. The other puts him at the helm of the USS Callister, a Star Trek-like spaceship which he captains through the machinations of a video game adventure.

Pehrsson said a major creative challenge for him was getting the look and feel of the 1960s’ spaceship “just right...We were given a blank canvas to set the tone with this spaceship. I was a little nervous going in because we were doing something quite different for the series. It’s hard to judge what will be a success—especially if you depart from a show’s norm. How will it be received? Thankfully, audience reactions have been decidedly positive.”

The DP opted for the ARRI Alexa to lens “USS Callister,” explaining that Netflix insisted on 4K resolution. “For 4K and because we wanted to shoot anamorphic, the RED at that time was the only camera we could use,” said Pehrsson who praised its performance.

Pehrsson got the opportunity to shoot the “USS Callister” opening to season four of Black Mirror based on his history with the episode’s director, Toby Haynes. The two first met as students at the National Film and Television School in London and went on to work on several projects together, including multiple installments of the U.K. shows Doctor Who and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

“We’re both huge fans of the sci-fi genre and action/adventure so ‘USS Callister’ was ideal for us,” said Pehrsson.

As for life after “USS Callister,” Pehrsson just wrapped shooting Les Miserables, a six-part drama series for the BBC, which is a new adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel—sans the singing.

Pehrsson hopes the Emmy nomination for Black Mirror will help increase his profile in the U.S. market, translating into more lensing opportunities for him in American drama.

GLOW
Production designer Todd Fjelsted is also a first-time Emmy nominee, having earned that distinction for “The Dusty Spur” episode of GLOW, the Netflix series centered on a group of female wrestlers vying for celebrity and stardom on the syndicated pro circuit known as Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). Set in 1980s’ Los Angeles, GLOW garnered 10 Emmy nominations, including for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Perhaps the biggest creative challenge that “Dusty Spur” posed to Fjelsted as a production designer was a montage in which we see many of the characters’ backstories for the first time—albeit in brief, fleeting fashion and sans dialogue.

“Up to this point, we had only seen these women in the context of auditioning as wrestlers, being in the gym, rehearsing to become pro wrestlers on TV. This montage revealed more about them, showing them moving out of their homes, in Rhonda’s case her car. We see Carmen was living in a basement. Maybe she had to move down there because she was the only girl in the family. These are very brief moments which make you have to think about what they mean or circumstances they reveal for each character. The women all move into a hotel which is like an Olympic village kind of situation. We had to create a scenario for each in their own space at this hotel, reflecting something about each character. So for a relatively brief montage, we’re creating these sets which will only be on camera for a few seconds—but it’s important because we’re giving viewers a little handle, a little grounding on each woman.”

Fjelsted shares the GLOW Emmy nomination with art director Harry E. Otto and set decorator Ryan Watson. Fjelsted said of Otto, “He’s a huge art director with credits in features and TV, and a great sense of architecture which is so crucial to knowing where the show is in the world in terms of timeframe. His background and expertise were tremendously beneficial to GLOW.

While GLOW marked his first collaboration with Otto, Fjelsted has a longstanding working bond with Watson; the duo has teamed on some 30-plus projects over the years.

Earlier this year, Fjelsted, Otto and Watson—along with graphic designer Vanessa Riegel and digital set designers Cate Bangs and Glenn Williams won the Art Directors Guild’s Excellence in Production Design Award on the strength of three GLOW episodes—the pilot, “The Wrath of Kuntar” and “The Dusty Spur.”

Fjelsted recalled that his first major television show, HBO’s Looking—which he landed after designing independent features—helped spark interest in him from GLOW producers.

“Looking had a realism, showing the underbelly of a great American city (San Francisco) and it led the people at GLOW to check me out.”

Fjelsted crafted a slide show pitch depicting the flavor of 1980s’ L.A. “It wasn’t the cartoonish caricature you normally see of Los Angeles. I pitched a version that was a little more gritty and strange, letting the humor play out. I think that’s what got me the job.”

The job in turn yielded much for Fjelsted—not just the Emmy nod but an invaluable perspective. “What I never experienced before GLOW and hope to experience a lot more of was a huge team of women,” shared Fjelsted. “GLOW has mostly female writers, directors and producers—and a cast of women. Being surrounded by that many women telling stories through their eyes, experiences and situations was really refreshing and exciting. The experience was illuminating for me as both an audience member and a crew member.”

As for what’s next, Fjelsted noted that he’s wrapping filmmaker Gregg Araki’s first foray as a TV show creator, Now Apocalypse, a sci fi, sexy comedy thriller which the production designer described as “fun and surreal.” Then Fjelsted hopes to come back to another season of GLOW.

Godless
Godless
(Netflix) has been a godsend for composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, who describes himself as a guitar teacher who amazingly got a break thrusting him into feature and TV scoring. That break recently translated into a pair of Emmy nominations, both for Godless—one for his main title music, the other for scoring the “Homecoming” episode.

It all sprang from his looking to pick up a little extra income while pursuing his doctorate in music composition years ago at USC. Rivera responded to a posting at a Pasadena music venue seeking a teacher for guitar lessons. It turns out his student was Scott Frank, at the time a screenwriter of some note (Get Shorty, and an Oscar-nominated screenplay for Out of Sight) who had not yet embarked on what would become a successful directing career.

Rivera and Frank struck up a rapport. Separately Rivera was assigned a mentor at USC, famed composer Randy Newman. What was supposed to be a brief encounter turned into several hours with Rivera learning from Newman about the scoring process, the pecking order and politics at a recording session.

Frank found out about the Newman mentorship and wondered why Rivera hadn’t asked him about working with him in film or TV. “I’m a guitar teacher,” replied Rivera. But Frank still sent him some script pages and gave him a chance to write some music based on them. Though that script never came to fruition as a movie, Rivers said it was a great experience—which made him all the more ready when he heard Frank was going to make his directorial debut on a film starring Liam Neeson. Rivera reached out to Frank and pursued the project.

“I emailed him that even if I write temp music which would later be replaced by a professional, I wanted to be involved,” recalled Rivera.

He wound up landing the scoring assignment for that movie titled Lookout and teamed well enough with Frank that when Godless came up, the writer-director gravitated to the composer again. Set in the 1880s American West, Godless introduces us to murderous outlaw gang leader Frank Griffin who’s hunting for a former member of his gang, Roy Goode. The chase leads him to a quiet town inhabited, after a mining disaster, almost entirely by women.

For the main title, Rivera said he was inspired by 1970s’ TV title music, like Mike Post’s theme for The Rockford Files. “I’m a fan of that music and wanted to create something that was memorable, even singable,” related Rivera. “Godless had me thinking about the absence of life so I started playing with the black notes on the keyboard. It’s one of those nerdy things a composer does for himself—and doesn’t tell the director about—when trying to come up with something. I remember playing it for my kids—my daughter was 12 at the time, my son nine and later found that they remembered it, that it was catchy. Scott wanted something that felt old school. I got to collaborate with a cellist. I played the guitar. We performed a very basic track that felt really full. Scott loved it and over time it never changed. It turned out to be the theme.”

As for “Homecoming,” a long stretch of that episode is driven in large part by Rivera’s score. “To get to tell a story with no sound design or dialogue for that length of time is a unique opportunity that may never happen again for me,” said Rivera.

At the same time, Rivera has had ample opportunity to work with sound designers Wylie Stateman and Eric Hoehn on Godless. “We have a good give-and-take relationship going,” shared Rivera. “We collaborate to tell the story, to figure out when music should take the lead and where. ‘The music takes over here’ or ‘The sound should take over there.’ It’s a team effort. We’re all looking to help Scott tell the story. The process is collaborative and honest. When I looked at the final episode of the season in July, I felt I had won, making it to the finish line. I worked for a year and a half on this and it was a privilege to be involved from the beginning.”

This past January, Rivera compiled enough work to become a Television Academy member. Whether he takes on more primetime television fare remains to be seen but he’s hopeful. In the meantime, he remains where he was when the movie Lookout surfaced for him—teaching at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, “I have no idea what’s next but I’m grateful to have been part of the process on a show like Godless.

Rivera’s pair of Emmy nominations contribute to a total of a dozen for Godless this year.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX) tallied 18 Emmy nominations, the most of any limited series this year. Spread across 13 categories, the noms include three in the Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie category: Editors Chi-Yoon Chung for the “Manhunt” episode, Emily Greene for “Alone,” and Shelly Westerman for “House By The Lake.”

SHOOT caught up with Greene and Westerman who reflected on their respective episodes and the honor of being first-time Emmy nominees. (This is Chung’s second career nomination; she won the Emmy in 2016 for “The Race Card” episode of The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.)

“For three women to get nominations for The Assassination of Gianni Versace—and to be able to work with them, along with another talented woman, (executive producer) Alexis Martin Woodall who’s hugely involved in postproduction and editing—is a great honor and the experience on this show was a great treat,” said Greene. “To get the chance to have such a great collaboration among females is unusual these days. On a human level, it was remarkable.”

Chung was instrumental in Greene getting the opportunity to cut The Assassination of Gianni Versace. “We’re colleagues and she put my name in the hat, which led to a meeting with Alexis. I got the job, which gave me the chance to work with Ryan Murphy. He gives you complete creative freedom to make each scene, each episode the best it can be. He also gives you the opportunity to deal with important stories and social issues. In this show, we faced homophobia and though it’s based in the 1990s, we still see things relevant to today. Ryan puts out shows that push the envelope, that explore the kind of society we’re living in and how we can do better.”

Directed by Daniel Minahan, the “Alone” episode—in which the hunt for spree-killer Andrew Cunanan comes to a frantic end—posed varied challenges to Greene as an editor. “It’s by far the hardest episode I ever worked on,” she assessed. “There was so much restructuring and so many changes occurring. The final product changed dramatically from what was in the original script—and it was a great script. The restructuring made the editing hard, fun and a huge challenge. There was a lot of additional shooting. The first cut was over 85 minutes. And then we had to accommodate additional shooting and still pare it down (to under an hour). Many people know how Andrew Cunanan’s story went in the end. But we still had to determine how we were going to tell this story, whose voices were going to be heard. We wanted to make sure that all the characters in the preceding episodes had a voice or some semblance of closure with Andrew’s death.”

For Greene the Emmy nomination represents “affirmation that I made the right life choices. I started out studying and working abroad in features. I lived in Italy for 10 years. I finally thought I should try Los Angeles where there were advantages technologically speaking as well as some great shows creatively."

She came up the ranks, a key gig being landing a job as an assistant editor on the NBC series The Blacklist. “I got my foot in the door and moved upward there, becoming an editor, which was a great experience. I left for the opportunity on The Assassination of Gianni Versace.

As for what’s next, Greene is embarking on Tell Me A Story from series creator/writer/producer Kevin Williamson. Greene described the show as a revisiting of fairy tales in a modern-day, gritty New York. The editor is currently cutting episodic work for Tell Me A Story, directed by Liz Friedlander.

Meanwhile, it was another Minahan-directed episode of Versace: American Crime Story, “House By The Lake,” which garnered editor Westerman her Emmy nomination. In an earlier installment of this Road To Emmy series, Minahan described this particular episode as “a psychological thriller” in which Minneapolis architect David Madson (portrayed by Cody Fern) is forced to go on the run with Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), the man who murdered at least five people, including fashion designer Versace, Madson, and Chicago tycoon Lee Miglin. “This episode had a really intense emotional through line,” assessed Minahan. “To me, it’s sort of where the show begins to explore deeper themes of hate and homophobia. We get into the core of the series through the eyes of David and Andrew.”

The inherent challenge throughout the show, continued Minahan, was “depicting real people’s lives, particularly the victims.” This necessitated Minahan having to maintain a delicate balancing act between his role as a dramatist while still honoring these real-life characters. “It was important to me that the show be compelling and that people would want to follow our story, but at the same time we had to be respectful of the victims as individuals as well as their families. I feel we told the story in a way true to the lives of these people.”

There was also painstaking research to accurately depict the events. For example, Cunanan’s first murder victim was Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock) with Minahan and his compatriots turning to forensic photography and police reports “to imagine the blocking of the crime and where it took place.”

Westerman shared, “I feel that the hardest thing was cutting ‘House By The Lake’ down to the proper length. The director’s cut was an hour and 20 minutes and I was in love with all of it. It felt like a movie. It was challenging to pare it down for time and story purposes.”

Helping her immeasurably was a productive working relationship with composer Mac Quayle who had a hand in creating the needed mood and atmosphere. Music helped to create the tension. We would go back and forth. What do you think? He would take off with it and bring it back. I’d work with him and give him something else to consider as we teamed to create the right vibe and tension, promoting in the edit an understanding of why David didn’t run out of the apartment after Andrew killed Jeff. We did everything we could to advance the story and help set the mood.”

For Westerman, The Assassination of Giani Versace taught her a valuable lesson. “At first, I was a little bit afraid about working on a project involving Versace. Fashion is not my world. But I needed to get out my comfort zone and embrace the challenge. I told myself, ‘I can do this.’ What I learned is that this was a human, emotional story that needed to be told with empathy. Even for a killer like Andrew, at times you feel empathy for him, seeing him as conflicted as he is. This wasn’t about fashion but as Ryan Murphy said, ‘homophobia.’ Humanity and emotional storytelling are what an editor lives for.”

Westerman is now well ensconced in Murphy’s world, having cut installments of Pose, a show he co-created for FX Networks. And in the offing for Westerman is The Politician, Murphy’s first show for Netflix.

Stranger Things
Sr. VFX supervisor Paul Graff recently earned his eighth career Emmy nomination while his wife, sr. VFX producer Christina Graff picked up her second on the strength of the “Chapter Nine: The Gate” episode of Stranger Things (Netflix).

The Graffs won the Emmy in 2008 for their work on John Adams. Paul Graff’s prior wins were for Black Sails in 2014, Boardwalk Empire in 2011 and The Triangle in 2006.

Stranger Things marks the Graffs’ first Emmy nomination in the marquee Outstanding Special Visual Effects category, putting them in a field of nominees which includes such shows as Altered Carbon, Game Of Thrones, Lost In Space and Westworld.

Previous noms and wins for the Graffs were generally for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Supporting Role. “It’s cool to be in the heavyweight group thanks to what our team did on Stranger Things,” said Paul Graff. “But it was also cool to be up for the Supporting Visual Effects Emmys because those effects are invisible. If you’ve done your job right, the audience doesn’t even realize there’s any effects work involved.”

While effects are critical to telling the story of “Chapter Nine: The Gate,” they too have to suspend disbelief, particularly the closing of the gate by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). This final sequence of closure unfolds in the lift chamber. A cage suspended in studio on a soundstage is what the Graffs and their ensemble had to work with—surrounded by three panels of blue screen on rollers. They created a thin membrane-type gate separating two worlds—captured in a brilliant display of power and visual effects.

Advanced storyboards mapped out the scene—and they are remarkably spot on to what is depicted in the episode, related Christina Graff.

“Chapter Nine: The Gate” contained 400-plus physical effects shots, accounting for more than 20 minutes of the episode. Though under a time crunch, the Graffs and their team paid meticulous attention to each shot. The effects contingent played with varied shoot elements, working through scenes over and over again until they were just right. “It’s like a molding process. We were sculpting each shot,” said Paul Graff.

As for the biggest takeaway from their experience thus far on Stranger Things—which began at the outset of season two—Paul Graff said, “Be bold. Risk something. You have to risk something to get something really cool. At the same time, you need to keep things simple as much as possible—and you have to be flexible.”

For Christina Graff, a prime takeaway or lesson learned from Stranger Things is simply “to trust my instincts. If the chemistry works and is right within the creative team, we’re able to pull off whatever we undertake.”
Stranger Things garnered a dozen Emmy nominations this year.

black-ish
On the basis of the “Juneteenth” episode of black-ish (ABC), costume designer Michelle Cole picked up her fifth career Emmy Award nomination.

Cole’s first four noms came for her work on In Living Color—in 1991, ‘92. ‘93 and ‘94. She broke in as a costume designer on that variety series and recalled how meaningful it was to attain that TV Academy recognition right out of the gate.

Fast forward to today, some 24 years later, and Cole has returned to the Emmy nominees’ circle. “It feels different this time around,” she assessed. While the nomination is still most gratifying, this time it comes after two decades-plus of work, the attainment of professional maturity and a wealth of experience spanning assorted shows (The Soul Man, The Bernie Mac Show, Grimm, Love Bites, Three Sisters, Kickin’ It). “It almost seems like a spiritual journey, to get this latest nomination,” she shared.

The new Emmy nod is in the Outstanding Contemporary Costumes category but there’s a decided period piece orientation to Cole’s contribution to the “Juneteenth” episode which, per black-ish creator Kenya Barris’ vision, takes us back to the celebration in 1865 when slaves were freed in the U.S. Cole did extensive research pertaining to this historic era. “It’s a period I first studied in college. It’s part of my history. In going back, I again saw pictures of lynching. It’s emotional.

The costumes for the black-ish episode began to take shape. Cole aged the clothing, over-dyed the costumes including the choir robes, finding the right shoes for the actors once the choreography was devised, including the right kind of pants to accommodate the dancing performances. Cole said that the feature film The Color Purple, which too had its share of dancing, was among the sources of inspiration she tapped into for this black-ish episode.

Cole also credited her team—assistant costume designer Delores Ybarra and costume supervisor Devon Patterson—for what they brought to “Juneteenth”  and the show as a whole.

“I’ve always said it takes a village to do this," related Cole. "Delores and Devon are part of my village."

The artisans have a shorthand with one another—Cole has collaborated with Ybarra for some 10 years, and with Patterson for six. Especially delightful for Cole is that “Juneteenth” marks the first Emmy nomination for both Ybarra and Patterson.

While Cole’s Emmy nominations for black-ish and In Living Color are far apart chronologically, there is a connection between the two shows.

For In Living Color, Cole got the chance to work with writer Larry Wilmore. Their professional collaborative relationship blossomed, leading to his gravitating towards her for other projects, including The Bernie Mac Show. And as an executive producer and writer on black-ish, Wilmore again thought of what Cole could bring to the party. He introduced her to series creator Barris, the two struck up a rapport and Cole became an integral part of the black-ish ensemble.

Black-ish scored five Emmy nominations this year.

This is the 13th installment in a 15-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 Emmys ceremonies on September 8 and 9, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 17.


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