Emmy Nominees Shed Light On "Game of Thrones," "Fleabag," "High Castle," "Umbrella Academy," "Rent: Live"
Lawson Deming, sr. VFX supervisor on "The Man in the High Castle"
VFX supervisor, editor, production designer and supervising sound editor perspectives
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For the second time in three years, The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) has been nominated for an Outstanding Visual Effects Emmy Award. The show’s VFX supervisor, Lawson Deming of Barnstorm VFX--a Burbank-based house which recently opened a studio in Vancouver, B.C.--was part of an ensemble that garnered the first nod in 2017, and then the second last month for the “Jahr Null” episode.

Deming noted that the current nomination came as a bit of “a relief” in that “one doesn’t know all the calculations that go into the decision people make to nominate a certain show.” Returning to the nominees’ circle reflects that the first time around wasn’t “a fluke.” He’s particularly proud in that The Man in the High Castle is “a science fiction show that is also kind of a historical show. It plays more realistically in subject matter than the shows we’re up against in this category. There are no space aliens or dragons but we don’t qualify for the Supporting Visual Effects category. The Man in the High Castle is technically fantastical yet grounded in reality which is quite different from the huge popular shows we’re up against (such as Game of Thrones, Star Trek: Discovery).”

In some respects, The Man in the High Castle marks and tracks the progression of Barnstorm VFX, observed Deming. As a smaller shop, Barnstorm took on one sequence of the show at the end of its first season. That sequence was deemed successful, putting Barnstorm in the running to handle the majority of effects in season two. “Between the beginning and end of the first season, we grew from a company that couldn’t have taken on the show to one that could. As the show has continued to grow, so have we.”

Barnstorm has gone from some 10 staffers early on to now around 70.

Among the challenges posed by the “Jahr Null” episode was a major sequence in which Nazis blow up the Statue of Liberty. “There was a lot of nuance we wanted to express in the way the destruction happened,” related Deming. “The Nazis understood the importance of putting on a good show essentially. It wasn’t good enough to just demolish the Statue of Liberty. They had to turn it into an event.”

This desire for spectacle yielded aerial maneuvers of attacking planes emitting trails of colored smoke--with missiles fired at the Statue of Liberty’s base, triggering a fireworks-like show. Deming’s team also experimented with scenarios so that a portion of the Statue of Liberty would fall into the water. Liberty Island is wide enough that if the Statue of Liberty tipped over from where it was standing, it would not reach the water’s edge. Multiple effects simulations were done to create circumstances where the statue or a part of it would reach the water, including sliding down from its base far enough that the arm would snap off and fling the torch into the drink.

Deming has found The Man in the High Castle--which earned a total of three Emmy noms this year (the others being for cinematography and production design)--creatively satisfying for reasons that go beyond the TV Academy recognition which he so values. “It’s a very special show, a prescient show, a show with a lot of very creative people who are pulling in the same direction. There’s a lot of collaboration, discussion of how we create this world, how much is too much, how to sell the sort of sometimes crazy ideas in a way that feels believable. We are creating history that didn’t actually happen--that we are trying to craft and become historians of. Our collaborators are passionate about creating this world, respectful of what that world would be in service to creating this believable horror. To be a part of this has been very gratifying. There’s no other show quite like it.”

In addition to the Emmy nominations, Deming and his crew’s work on The Man in the High Castle have scored a pair of Visual Effects Society (VES) Award nods, both in 2017--for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode and Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode (for Volkshalle in the 2016 episode titled “Fallout.”

Deming also back in 2014 earned an HPA Award nomination for his VFX work on the HBO series Silicon Valley.

Tim Kimmel
Supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel recently landed his eighth career Emmy nomination and his sixth for Game of Thrones (HBO)--specifically “The Long Night” episode. 

In its final season, Game of Thrones tallied a record high 32 Emmy nominations, including the one for Kimmel and his cohorts for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour).

For Kimmel--an Emmy winner in 2015 for Game of Thrones--the biggest creative challenge posed by “The Long Night” is it being “a nearly nonstop battle for which you have to try not to wear the viewer out. You have to make sure the big moments are big. You have to find a way to pull back a little bit, to give viewers a little break. If you go big the whole time, it doesn’t have impact anymore.” The sound, he observed, has to have some reflective moments enabling the audience to get into certain character’s heads.

Other team members on Kimmel’s final season nomination for Game of Thrones include supervising ADR editor Tim Hands, sound designer Paula Fairfield, sound effects editor Bradley C. Katona, supervising dialogue editor Paul Bercovitch, dialogue editor John Matter, music editor David Klotz, Foley editor Brett Voss, and Foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit.

Touching upon the contributions of several of his compatriots, Kimmel noted that Hands has been with Game of Thrones since its pilot. Kimmel, who started on the show in season three, said of Hands, “He’s been phenomenal, from the outset very helpful to me, telling me when I came aboard what to be looking for, what the actors were like, the skillset required.”

Like Kimmel, Fairfield began her Game of Thrones tour of duty during season three. Kimmel had worked here and there with her a bit in previous years. When he got hired for Game of Thrones, Kimmel had to find a sound designer. “Paula was at the top of my list and I felt lucky to get her.”

Klotz, whose work on Game of Thrones goes back to its first season, teamed with Kimmel when he began the show during season three.

Meanwhile Katona and Kimmel have collaborated together a dozen-plus years. Katona had worked on all 10 years of CSI: Miami, with Kimmel on that series for the last six seasons. “He’s an amazing editor,” said Kimmel of Katona. I was an assistant at Todd-AO when he was an effects editor. We became friends, I moved up to supervising editor and landed at CSI: Miami.” 

Kimmel’s first two career Emmy nominations were for CSI: Miami in 2007 and 2012. With him in that Emmy-nominated crew was Katona, among others.

Bercovitch has worked on Game of Thrones with Kimmel since season five; Matter since season three; Wilhoit and Voss since season two, and Tuomy-Wilhoit since season four. 

For Kimmel, the most significant lesson learned over the years on Game of Thrones has been simply the value of “story-driven sound. It’s not a matter of cool sound. It comes down to what’s most important for the story.” He cited as an example his collaboration with Fairfield, using sound to tell the story such as when the dragons were huddled in a cave, tired, sick and not eating. “We always see what works story-wise, in this case conveying through sound that we need to start worrying about the dragons.”

As for what’s next, at press time Kimmel was about to embark on season two of Castle Rock. And though he wasn’t at liberty to publicly discuss them, he has a couple of HBO shows in the works.

Mark Worthington
Like Kimmel, production designer Mark Worthington is an eight-time Emmy nominee. Unlike Kimmel, Worthington has yet to win an Emmy.

Though Worthington doesn’t mind the “bridesmaid” syndrome, saying that it keeps him creatively hungry and sharp, perhaps the eighth time may prove to the Emmy charm as he is again currently in the running on the strength of the “We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals” episode of The Umbrella Academy (Netflix), the series based on Gerard Way’s comic books 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.

Worthington’s Emmy nod is one of two earned by The Umbrella Academy, the other being for its visual effects. The production designer’s nominated compatriots on The Umbrella Academy are art director Mark Steel and set decorator Jim Lambie. Worthington and Steel had worked on Star Trek: Discovery. There Worthington got to know Steel’s “strong and beautiful aesthetic sense” and the ability to coordinate a sprawling department dealing with elements and people in different cities, and bringing all of them together as one.

As for Lambie, The Umbrella Academy marked Worthington’s first time collaborating with him. Worthington lauded Lambie’s contributions to bringing the bizarre urban mansion of the siblings’ late guardian, Reginald Hargreaves, to life. Worthington provided the vision for this fun, big yet strange, at times foreboding place which the kids are at odds with in many respects. Somewhat akin to the Vanderbilt mansion, the Upper East Side of Manhattan building smacks of early 20th century and houses wildly disparate elements from Moorish to Baroque and neoclassical. Lambie not only had to come up with what Worthington described as “intricate, detailed collections of stuff” to set the tone for the mansion but also have the siblings in their 30s now living in rooms that look like how a teenager would have decorated them.”

For Worthington, the mansion is a reflection of what his profession often requires, which is to have sets become characters in the show and/or facilitate the development and spirit defining the characters themselves. “This is how it was every year on American Horror Story--the set as character, which is not necessarily so in the script but it’s implied. ‘What is the nature of the space that this encompasses?’ We’re creating other worlds. That’s what is most challenging for a production designer but also the most fun.”

Worthington earned five Emmy nominations for American Horror Story (two in 2013, and one apiece in 2012, 2014 and 2016). His first two career nods came in 2007 and ‘08 for Ugly Betty.

American Horror Story was crack cocaine for a designer,” quipped Worthington. “The only person I had to answer to creatively was (series creator/showrunner) Ryan Murphy. It was a rarefied place to do amazing work, taking on wild story ideas, running with your imagination.”

Worthington similarly feels The Umbrella Academy has been a golden creative opportunity for him, Steel, Lambie and their support team. “It’s a really special project,” assessed Worthington, noting that the comic book series/graphic novel takes us to “a unique place in the world,” reflecting the generation and independent tone creating it, a POV which is gratifying to delve into. That’s why he’s particularly glad to see this design work get nominated.

He observed a parallel between The Umbrella Academy and American Horror Story, shows that both “push you to design in a completely different way. You’re always learning. The material forces you to rethink the way you design. You don’t know where you’re going all the time, what it’s going to look like. There are no preconceptions because the material is so different. It forces you to go to a different place. I love that.”

Gary Dollner, ACE
Gary Dollner, ACE landed his first career Emmy nomination this year for editing episode “2.1” of Fleabag (Amazon), a series adapted from a lauded play about a young woman trying to cope with life in London while coming to terms with a recent tragedy. The adaptation has proven to be a commercial and critical success as Miller’s Emmy nod is but one of 11 the show has received.

For Dollner, a prime creative challenge of Fleabag was “to make the comedy work” while “walking the line between funny and the more poignant, emotional beats of the script. I’m a big fan of work that can make you laugh, then make you cry. It takes a writer with brilliance to pull that off.” As an editor, Dollner felt a profound responsibility to do justice to that writing and the performances.

Much of the writing and performance can be credited to series/creator/writer/EP Phoebe Waller-Bridge who portrays the title character.

“When you come across a script that allows you to take a leap at this challenge (navigating between drama and comedy), it’s special,” said Dollner. “One of the biggest takeaways from my Fleabag experience is when you find fellow creatives you click with, you want to carry on working with them.”

Leading the way among those collaborators are Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer. “We have a very creative and special relationship,” related Dollner. “They are never afraid to try things out. Phoebe is fantastic. Harry is open as well. Even if it doesn’t work out, you are learning something all the time,” which in turn can lead to something that does work.”

From an editing standpoint, Dollner noted that he was given the freedom to “bounce around,” try varied things, “zoom in as it were, get into minutiae, reactions, tension...constantly winding the coil.”

Dollner is expert at winding and unwinding the coil spanning comedy and drama--and that is not just exemplified in Fleabag, for which he also earned a BAFTA TV Award nomination for Best Editing: Fiction in 2017. Earlier this year, Dollner won a coveted American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award for his cutting of the “Nice Face” episode of Killing Eve. This marked his second career Eddie nomination, the first coming in 2016 for the “Election Night” episode of Veep.

Jason Sherwood
Production designer Jason Sherwood is another first-time Emmy nominee, scoring in the Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special for Rent: Live (Fox). “To be welcomed this way into the television industry is a real treat,” said Sherwood whose only prior TV experience had been The People’s Choice Awards show ceremony.

Sherwood shares the Rent: Live nomination with art director Adam Rowe and set decorator John Sparano. “None of us had worked together before,” related Sherwood who credited Rowe with making “an enormous contribution, bringing many of my ideas to life” through meticulous “attention to detail.” Sherwood said their collaboration was so close that Rowe seemed “literally like a part of my body,”

Relative to set decorator Sparano, Sherwood described him as “invaluable,” bringing “so much texture and life to the environment,” infusing “a vast, enormous space with a true sense of storytelling” along with “an eye for detail, great resourcefulness and flexibility.”

Sherwood earned the Rent: Live gig for the talent he demonstrated in live theatre, along with his work in music. The production designer noted that he and Broadway director Michael Greif had wanted to work together and Rent: Live afforded them that opportunity.

Sherwood assessed of the ambitious Rent: Live,  “The biggest challenge was the biggest opportunity, and it was of our own doing, our concept that the show would be shot in 360,” presenting the action, the environment and the audience, “sharing every square foot of that enormous stage on the Fox lot,” bringing viewers right into the production.

Sherwood noted that there’s “a sense of teamwork in any production,” but that it took on a massive scope and scale in Rent: Live. “The enormity of staff, the number of people working on the show, people good at their jobs gave us a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We had to come together. At the beginning of the process I had a lot of input as to how things would look like, how it would move, what it would be. Then there was a long period of time where I had to listen, have the team do their work and bring their special thoughts and understanding. And then I could respond to those ideas. I would collaborate with a team two, three or four times more than what I was used to--even two, three or four times what a normal show would be....It was a beautiful learning experience, seeing what a team can achieve when dancing together.”

Sherwood’s Emmy nomination was one of two received by Rent: Live, the other being for Outstanding Variety Special (Live).

This is the 15th installment in a 16-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, casting, music, production design, costume design and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 14 and 15, and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 22.

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