First-time Emmy Nominees Share Insights Into Directing "Bridgerton," Editing "WandaVision," "The Flight Attendant"
Director Julie Anne Robinson, an Emmy and DGA Award nominee for "Bridgerton" (photo courtesy of Netflix)
Director Julie Anne Robinson, editors Nona Khodai, ACE and Heather Persons reflect on their work, collaborators

Among the dozen Emmy nominations this season for Bridgerton is one that helps to give a little geographic balance to the awards portfolio of director Julie Anne Robinson who’s been lauded over the years with BAFTA TV Award nods for such BBC fare as the miniseries Viva Blackpool and the telefilm Coming Down The Mountain. Now she’s made an awards mark on this side of the Atlantic with “Diamond of the Water,” the first episode of Bridgerton (Netflix) which has earned her an Emmy nod for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, right on the heels of a DGA Award nomination.

“I’ve been working in this industry both here and in the U.K. for 20-odd years now,” said Robinson who broke into the American awards circle for the first time with Bridgerton. She’s found the recognition from U.S. peers to be “quite emotional” and especially “gratifying,” adding that while she thought Bridgerton would do well in the Emmy derby, she never thought she would be nominated.

However, Directors Guild and TV Academy voters felt otherwise, honoring a director whose stateside endeavors prior to Bridgerton have also been of note, spanning work for the likes of Masters of Sex, Nurse Jackie, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scandal, Orange is the New Black, Grey’s Anatomy and Pushing Daisies.

Within that body of work are efforts for show creator/producer/writer Shonda Rhimes’ production company Shondaland such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, as well as having a hand in developing, producing and directing The Catch. So for Bridgerton, the first series to come out of Rhimes’ exclusive development deal with Netflix, the Shondaland family ultimately gravitated again to Robinson. 

Bridgerton takes us back to 1813 in Regency-era England when ladies and gentlemen of means and royal blood try to find true love--or at least a tolerable spouse. On the lookout for a soul mate in this matrimonial market is Daphne Bridgerton, a debutante (portrayed by Phoebe Dynevor) who’s a daughter of a widowed viscountess. While true to the period--as captured in the series of romance novels penned by Julia Quinn which inspired the show, with liberties taken by its creator and showrunner, Shondaland vet Chris Van Dusen--Bridgerton marks a dramatic departure for the era in terms of race as Black actors star as land-owning aristocracy including Simon Basset, aka the Duke of Hastings (played by Regé-Jean Page), who is Daphne’s love interest, and the Queen herself (Golda Rosheuvel). The notion of royalty being of diverse racial descent has historical roots as some in academia believe that the reigning Queen Charlotte at that time was of Portuguese and African ancestry.

For Robinson, among the biggest challenges was fully doing justice to the writing of Van Dusen. Robinson has been a long-time fan of his writing, describing it as “very rich,” citing as a prime example the ballroom sequence in the episode for which she was nominated. She tallied 33 sequences within that ballroom context, layers of story that have to be picked apart and approached in an “incredibly thoughtful” manner in terms of shooting and performance. Thankfully Robinson had extensive pre-rehearsal opportunities, tapping into her live theater roots, drawing upon those skills to help hone each scene within the ballroom sequence. “It’s a complicated sequence with many sequences within it,” she related, noting that they all had to feel and mesh in an “effortless” manner.

Among the colleagues integral to helping her meet that challenge was cinematographer Jeffrey Jur, ASC. They had teamed earlier on the pilot for The Catch, a collaboration that was positive and creatively fulfilling--so much so that Robinson phoned Jur as soon as she got the Bridgerton gig. She asked him to come to England for Bridgerton and recalled that he was initially “a bit taken aback” because “the last thing he thought he would do at the time was a period drama set in 1813.”

But as he told SHOOT in an earlier installment of this Road To Emmy Series, Jur was drawn to the opportunity along with the chance to again team with Robinson and Shondaland. Jur’s lineage with Shondaland goes all the way back to the pilot for Grey’s Anatomy, extending through to How To Get Away With Murder, The Catch and now of course Bridgerton. Jur also had a collaborative bond with Tom Verica, the director of multiple episodes, including Bridgerton episodes two and three. Jur had earlier shot an episode of Dirty Sexy Money directed by Verica. The two also worked together on How To Get Away With Murder on which Verica was a cast member, portraying the husband of Viola Davis’ character. Verica, who continues to direct and act, was recently appointed Shondaland’s head of creative production, a newly created role in which he will help translate Rhimes’ creative vision for all of the company’s projects.

Bridgerton just earned Jur his fourth career Emmy nomination, specifically for the third episode, “Art of the Swoon,” directed by Verica. Jur won cinematography Emmys in 2004 for Carnivale and in 2015 for Bessie. (He was also a nominee in 2005 for Carnivale.)

Robinson said she and Jur engaged in extensive prep for Bridgerton, pulling images, defining the tone they needed to establish in the first episode, wanting it to feel lit by natural sources, not too overblown. While the work entailed many enhanced colors, they couldn’t be pushed too far. That could have been overwhelming, assessed Robinson, jeopardizing coherency. It all had to be in service of the story, she affirmed, adding that too was Jur’s priority.

Robinson affirmed that her experience on Bridgerton reinforced her belief that great work is very collaborative, a notion that can be “kind of unpopular in this day and age of the auteur director.” But especially in a show like Bridgerton, with so many moving parts and talented people, it’s essential that “everyone is marching in the same direction...It’s good to trust people, to trust in your team, to trust in the process with something of this scale” in which no one person can control absolutely everything.

This teamwork has also afforded Robinson the chance to make a bit of history. Thus far only three women have won the Best Drama Directing Emmy--Karen Arthur for Cagney & Lacey in 1985, Mimi Leder for ER in 1996, and Reed Morano for The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017. That trio could be added to on Emmy night. Robinson is one of three women nominated in the category this time around, the other two being Liz Garbus for The Handmaid’s Tale and Jessica Hobbs for The Crown. Rounding out this year’s field of directorial nominees in the drama series category are Steven Canals for Pose, Benjamin Caron for The Crown and Jon Favreau for The Mandalorian.

Bridgerton’s 12 Emmy nominations also include Outstanding Drama Series as well as recognition for lead actor (Page), production design, casting, period costumes, hairstyling, original dramatic score, main title theme music, music supervision, and character voiceover performance.

Nona Khodai, ACE
Editor Nona Khodai, ACE picked up her first two career Emmy nominations last month, both for the limited series WandaVision (Disney+)--one as the lone cutter of the “On A Very Special Episode...”; the other along with editors Zene Baker, Michael A. Webber and additional editor Tim Roche on “The Series Finale.”

Khodai’s two Emmy nods contributed to a total of 23 for WandaVision, including for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series and encompassing such disciplines as directing, production design, casting, fantasy/sci-fi costumes, hairstyling, main title design, non-prosthetic character makeup, original dramatic score, original music and lyrics, main title theme music, music supervision, lead actor (Paul Bettany) and actress (Elizabeth Olsen), supporting actress (Kathryn Hahn), sound editing, sound mixing, special visual effects and three writing nods.

The pandemic lent an extra layer of resonance not originally planned for WandaVision which featured unsettling sitcom sendups (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Family Ties, Malcolm in the Middle, Modern Family) meshed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe to put us in a suburban setting that is sort of an insulated, isolated cocoon, with a lost sense of the outside world--akin in some respects to what the COVID-19 lockdown and quarantines yielded for many of us in real life. The show was conceived well prior to COVID-19’s emergence which had many of us confined at home craving comfort--the kind of escape and contentment that could be found in the sitcom world. On the surface, super-powered characters Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, appear to be living an idyllic residential neighborhood life in Westview, New Jersey. Yet as their environment shifts through different decades, they encounter varied TV tropes and begin to suspect things are quite different from what they seem. 

Matt Shakman, director/executive producer on WandaVision, said in an earlier installment of this Road To Emmy Series that he never could have imagined the pandemic parallels that surfaced in the show. Two-thirds of the shooting for the limited series had been wrapped before the lockdown. But audiences saw WandaVision in the midst of the pandemic, making it eerily relatable. “It was a strange twist of timing,” acknowledged Shakman who noted, though, that the show has universal themes which are relevant during more normal circumstances as well. “It’s a show about meditation on loss,” he shared as Maximoff is dealing with personal trauma and trying to cope.

Shakman directed all nine episodes, bringing a continuity to a show that sojourned to many different places in terms of narrative, style and tone. Having a single director was the plan all along. “This was among the first batch of Marvel shows for Disney+ and they wanted to approach it the same way they created their feature films,” said Shakman, referring to using but one filmmaker who could help bring a cohesiveness to a constantly evolving narrative, able to re-craft scenes, storylines and worlds as the show went along.

Khodai described Shakman as the show’s “supreme leader,” observing that “having that one clear vision was very helpful.” The editor noted that Shakman “knew exactly where each episode should be” and “really steered the ship.” 

Khodai had a history with Shakman prior to WandaVision. She had cut multiple episodes of The Boys, including one directed by Shakman. That may have helped her land the opportunity to work on WandaVision. She added that Eric Kripke, creator/showrunner on The Boys, permitted her to leave that show a week early to take on WandaVision. “He knew I got the job before I did,” Khodai recalled.

Khodai worked more closely with Shakman on WandaVision than she did on The Boys. She credited him with creating a working environment for WandaVision where everybody could contribute. Khodai came to deeply value the collaboration, affirming that she hoped to continue working with him in the future. “He’s lovely as a person and as a filmmaker so talented.”

That collaborative esprit de corps started in-person but then the pandemic took it to a remote platform for Khodai and others. While “seeing people in boxes all day long” after having experienced lovely face-to-face interaction was difficult, noted Khodai, good-natured, productive collaboration somehow weathered the storm and survived. People helped each other out remotely, extending a hand, promoting teamwork rather than some sort of competitive orientation in the editing room. She added that this came from up top, not only from Shakman but Marvel executives. Khodai said that Marvel was supportive in every way, setting up remarkable remote systems which brought people together even as they were performing at home in the face of uncertainty, not knowing what course the virus would take. The approach was to keep moving forward, doing whatever was possible to keep bettering the show, advancing the characters and the story.

Heather Persons
Editor Heather Persons is also a first-time Emmy nominee, earning the distinction for “In Case of Emergency,” the first episode of The Flight Attendant (HBO Max). This is the same episode for which Susanna Fogel earlier this year won a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series. Fogel is also nominated for an Emmy in comedy series directing on the strength of “In Case of Emergency.”

Persons and Fogel’s Emmy noms are two of nine received by The Flight Attendant, the others including Outstanding Comedy Series and spanning production design, editing, casting, original main title theme music writing, lead actress (Kaley Cuoco) and supporting actress (Rosie Perez).

Based on Chris Bohjalian’s book “The Flight Attendant,” the series introduces us to title character Cassie Bowden (portrayed by Cuoco) who after a one-night stand with Alex Sokolov (portrayed by Michiel Huisman) awakens in her hotel room in Thailand to find him dead--and she has no memory of what happened. From there unfolds a story that is part murder mystery, comedic thriller, dark introspection into the doubts and demons within us, and more. Part of that more, Fogel told SHOOT in an earlier Road To Emmy Series installment, was departing from a course which often relegates the woman to being “the vamp” and “a victim.” Instead, The Flight Attendant gives us Cuoco, someone you feel could be your best friend, and drops her into this mix of genres not known for female characters. Cuoco’s performance expands the perception of what she could do dramatically, offering the audience a character they could trust in and relate to--what Fogel described simply as “a dimensional woman.”

Persons was drawn to the project, citing her affinity for projects with a female point of view. She thought the story was “really fun and in a way subversive” as it centered on a character to whom many give short shrift. “People tend to write off flight attendants the way they write off a cheerleader, a nurse.” The editor liked a narrative centered on someone worthwhile whom society tends to often overlook.

Persons also felt simpatico with Fogel from the outset, describing her as “the kind of director I love to work with. She’s all about character and performance.”  Persons related, “The feeling I got from working with Susanna was one of questioning. We would turn things over together, exploring and I learned that she has a great sense for when something isn’t as real as it can be. We would shade things to make them cooler and more authentic. She also has great taste in music.”

The Flight Attendant also deftly uses split screens at times, modernized but slightly akin to old-school espionage thrillers, advancing the story’s timeline, building suspense and engaging the audience. Persons assessed, “I would say the biggest challenge on this project was figuring out how to use the split screens and boxes for montages.” She described it as “an experimental process that our entire creative team--producers, showrunners, editors and assistants--was involved in.  We learned a lot about storytelling through that experience.”

Another prime personal challenge for Persons was, she said, “the same as it is on every project--to deliver the best version of performances as possible. It’s what I care about the most. For this show in particular, which bumps the edges of plausibility--a lot of crazy stuff happens--I wanted to be sure I delivered the most emotional, believable, real performances, beats and exchanges between characters. If you believe the performances and are with the characters, as a viewer you can go to all kinds of impossible places with them.  This show delves into some dark, disturbing stuff--childhood trauma, homophobia, alcoholism. Kaley’s performance was the key to making all of that come alive. She did an incredible job. She’s so appealing and generous with her acting. I have a sense that people feel safe and excited to follow her into some weird, scary places.”

Editor’s note: This is the 14th 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+.

MySHOOT Company Profiles