Directors Marcos Siega and Christina Voros, with respective ties to Dexter and Yellowstone, shared insights into their work on series that those shows spawned--Dexter: New Blood (Showtime) and 1883 (Paramount+)--which are now in the awards season conversation.
Eavesdropping on that conversation is SHOOT with this Emmy Season Preview, a prelude to our 16-part The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories.
Siega, who helmed episodes spanning multiple seasons of the original Dexter, came back to the darkly fascinating central character, serving as EP on Dexter: New Blood, which debuted last year. Siega also directed the lion’s share of the New Blood episodes.
Voros, who served as a DP and director on Yellowstone, both helmed and lensed multiple episodes of 1883, the prequel to Yellowstone, which too premiered in 2021.
Siega and Voros have a common bond--they each took the initiative and actively sought out opportunities on Dexter and Yellowstone, respectively, which led to their integrally contributing to those series and then to Dexter: New Blood and 1883.
Siega, already an established director, was an unabashed fan of Dexter from the outset. He loved the writing, the protagonist, its graphic novel look and feel, and a wholly unorthodox narrative which had viewers connecting with and in some respects rooting for a serial killer. After season one, Siega--duly impressed by the show’s storytelling substance and unique visual language--felt the need to reach out to the people behind the series although the likelihood was that he’d have a hard time breaking into such a major hit. Siega wound up getting his much desired meeting with key members of the Dexter camp, including exec producer Clyde Phillips and producer Robert Lloyd Lewis. Siega evidently struck a chord with Dexter decision-makers as Phillips offered him a season 2 episode to direct. From that gig, the relationship grew as several episodes came Siega’s way each of the next two seasons, leading to a strong collaborative bond with, among others, Phillips and actor Michael C. Hall who portrayed Dexter.
That bond endured as Phillips and then Hall reached out to Siega for Dexter: New Blood, which premiered eight years after the original Dexter series wrapped. Phillips served as New Blood creator and showrunner. A strong mutual trust among Siega, Hall, Phillips and writer/EP Scott Reynolds made for an ideal creative working environment. Siega observed that Dexter: New Blood “felt more like making a movie than a television show,” adding that movies are “a director’s medium,” carrying the opportunity to “elevate the material” and shape a story. Siega noted that he could go to Phillips and pitch ideas in a way that normally isn’t associated with episodic TV. “You don’t usually have that sort of access,” related Siega. “Clyde allowed for that. He believes that a good idea is a good idea--and has no ego about it.” This afforded Siega the freedom to create a world, “to put my DNA” on it as you would a feature film. Siega described Dexter: New Blood as a special opportunity and “the perfect job.”
However, “perfect” doesn’t mean easy. As much as Siega wanted to work on Dexter: New Blood, it was far from a foregone conclusion that he could accept the assignment. Siega has an exclusive deal with Warner Bros. that would have precluded his involvement in the show. Ultimately, though, Warner Bros. agreed to loan Siega out to Showtime for a year so that he could take on New Blood after wrapping an episodic directing commitment on The Flight Attendant.
Then there were logistical hurdles that had to be cleared to tap into a strong narrative. Dexter: New Blood offered creative opportunities for character development as Dexter is haunted by the memory of his sister, and challenged by a son, Harrison, who’s back in his life, questioning why his dad had abandoned him. As Dexter reconnects with Harrison, we start to realize that certain doors cannot be selectively opened. Darker impulses that have been bottled up can also resurface. The father-son relationship is a major element in the rich human vein and pathos of the series. Yet taking that journey--mining that emotional well--required extensive planning by Siega and his colleagues. Circumstances such as weather and COVID considerations impacted the schedule, necessitating cross-boarding 10 episodes at 50-plus pages per script. Months of prep had to be done in order to build a doable schedule from some 550 pages of material.
Siega recalled, for instance, having to shoot scenes from episodes 1 and 10 on the same day. That kind of scenario must be meticulously mapped out on varied levels, including the director and actors having to be on the same page in terms of the proper context. Siega related that actors may have to delve into a scene from episodes earlier--that hadn’t been lensed yet--which puts them in a place emotionally that informs a scene about to be shot. Siega noted that a defining scene between Dexter and Harrison in the finale was shot just some three weeks into a six-month shooting schedule.
Siega assessed that “tracking these things out of order was a huge challenge” that ultimately “made me a better director.”
Meeting the challenge and becoming a better director are rooted, said Siega, in assembling the right team of creative partners--from writers to producers, the cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, editors, first assistant director, et al. Essential, he affirmed, are those collaborative relationships and “the idea that you can really trust people to do what they do and to do it well.” That trust came to fruition on Dexter: New Blood, added Siega, noting that he had “incredible partners on this project...people who I learned from.”
As for what’s next, Siega was in Miami at press time, directing episodes of Bad Monkey, an Apple TV+ series from Bill Lawrence, co-creator of Ted Lasso, and starring Vince Vaughn who is also an exec producer.
Like Siega on Dexter, Voros took the initiative in a bid to work on Yellowstone. Already an established cinematographer, she put her hat in the ring to serve as a camera operator on Yellowstone which debuted in 2018. This put her on the series from its inception, operating for DP Ben Richardson, a longtime friend. Voros was drawn to the opportunity to collaborate with Richardson as well as Taylor Sheridan who teamed with John Linson to create Yellowstone. Voros admired Sheridan’s work, including his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Hell or High Water. Voros described Sheridan as “one of the most remarkable voices and screenwriters of our time. He is one of the most loyal people I know, He loves to promote from within. He trusts people and gives them the chance to move fluidly from one area to another.”
After operating that first season and with Richardson going on to another commitment, Voros settled into the DP role for Yellowstone’s second year. She had seen and been in on the birth of every shot concocted by Richardson and Sheridan, helping her to maintain as well as add to the show’s visual continuity.
Voros’ evolution on Yellowstone continued come season three, which saw her direct a pair of episodes while not lensing any. Her DP on the episodes she directed was Jim Denault. Come season four, Voros took on the dual role of director/cinematographer on multiple episodes.
Voros said she is grateful for those along the way who have afforded her the opportunity to direct, the first being Ava DuVernay whom she met while serving on an international film festival jury. The two struck up a rapport, with DuVernay reaching out to Voros about a year-plus later with an offer to direct an episode of Queen Sugar. Without Queen Sugar under her belt, Voros doubts that studio and network decision-makers would have taken the leap of faith to let her direct Yellowstone. She noted that Sheridan gave her the chance to direct Yellowstone and then 1883. Voros quipped that her career has been highlighted by “two Taylors”--not only Taylor Sheridan but also producer-director Tate Taylor. For the latter she served as DP on the features Ma starring Octavia Spencer, and Breaking News in Yuba County starring Allison Janey, Mila Kunis and Regina Hall. Voros also lensed episodes of Tate Taylor’s TV series Filthy Rich. Additionally Taylor had Voros direct multiple episodes of that show.
Of her directorial exploits, Voros said, “Ava set the stage, Tate [Taylor] fought for me and Taylor [Sheridan] ran away with it and kept throwing me into the deep end.”
Part of that challenging “deep end” was having Voros serve as both director and cinematographer on episodes of 1883--as did Richardson. After Sheridan directed the pilot for 1883, Richardson and Voros alternated as helmers over the remaining episodes. While the proposition of directing and shooting an episode seems daunting, Voros observed that “in a weird way, it seems like less work for me.” She explained that her brain is already naturally focused on shooting--and it all becomes possible with the backing of “an unbelievably talented crew at the top of their game not only as technicians but also in understanding how to build a story,” If not for that crew and her prior experience both directing and shooting episodes of Yellowstone, Voros said she wouldn’t have entertained taking on the dual role for 1883 which follows the Dutton family as they flee poverty in Texas and sojourn through the Great Plains in search of a better future in Montana. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill star as James and Margaret Dutton. Sam Elliott portrays cowboy Shea Brennan. The cast also includes Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett and Dawn Olivieri.
Continuing on the “deep end” challenging front, Voros said she quipped to a friend, “Nothing can teach you how to do a wagon train show...You have 36 wagons lined up, shout action and it takes four minutes for all of them to start moving. It’s a real lesson on planning. There are so many living, breathing pieces. The animal department, the wranglers and stuntpeople deserve much praise.”
Just as in Yellowstone, the environment is a character, a major, powerful, all encompassing personality, in 1883. Also like Yellowstone, 1883 is cinematic in its feel and scope.
“It’s a very hard show to do. What made it doable was the attitude that everyone showed up with every day,” assessed Voros. “For a cast of such remarkable individuals, iconic personalities, there was not an ounce of hubris, no moment of being a diva. As a crew we felt a deep respect from the actors. And the actors felt a deep respect from the crew.”
She added, “Despite hardships, the weather, COVID, this was a lesson in what can be achieved if you get a group of like-minded individuals to tell a story.” Even the background actors, continued Voros, were fully committed to the process. They had their own character arc and trajectory. She recalled an extra who was supposed to be making goulash in a scene realizing that all provisions were lost in a prior episode so maybe there wouldn’t have been the ingredients for goulash. This thoughtful quest for authenticity reflected a mindset that permeated the project. Voros noted, “You had people saying nothing on screen yet fully committed to telling the story and feeling gratitude for being a part of it.”
Editor’s note: SHOOT kicks off its 16-part weekly The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories next Friday (5/13). The features will explore the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, costume design, music, sound and visual effects. The Road To Emmy Series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners in September, and then the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony that same month.