The Road To Emmy Preview: Director & EP Insights Into "Succession," "Homeland," "Little Fires Everywhere"
Executive producer/director Mark Mylod (r) on the set with actors Brian Cox (l) and Hiam Abbass (center) on the set of "Succession" (photo by Peter Kramer/courtesy of HBO)
Two-time Best Cinematography Oscar nominee discusses lensing "Tales from the Loop"; winner of two Academy Awards reflects on editing "Mindhunter"
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Looking to be close to home--after spending much time overseas for multiple seasons of Game of Thrones--director Mark Mylod found a series close to his creative heart, one that has engaged viewers and drawn acclaim, including this year’s Golden Globe Award for Best TV Drama, as well as five Emmy nominations and two wins (Best Drama Writing for Jesse Armstrong, and Original Main Title Theme Music by Nicholas Britell). That show is Succession and while he didn’t fully anticipate the success it’s enjoyed, Mylod knew the HBO series was special when he agreed to come on board.

Attracting him to Succession from the outset were Armstrong and the pilot, which was directed by Adam McKay, an executive producer on the series. McKay is an Academy Award-winning writer for The Big Short, which also earned him a Best Director nomination. He went on to garner three more Oscar nods for Vice (Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay).

Mylod recalled, “I wanted to find some quality work a bit closer to home (in New York) to see my kids, so I waited for something that I felt passionate about. My agent sent me the pilot for Succession because they were looking for directors for the first season. I loved it immediately. It had a finger on the pulse of its times, prescient and so alive. It didn’t give a fuck about whether you liked it, whether you liked the characters. It was bold and sweeping, a combination of Jesse’s brilliant laser satirical eye and Adam’s sweeping bravado in his direction. It was electric.”

That pilot introduced us to the Roy family--Logan Roy and his four children--who control an enormous media and entertainment conglomerate. Succession tracks their lives as they contemplate and grapple with what the future may hold for them once the aging patriarch steps down from the company. The fictional Roy family conjures up thoughts of other power-wielding mass media families from the Murdochs to the Maxwells and the Redstones. McKay earlier told SHOOT that Armstrong’s original script for Succession was “fabulous,” prompting his desire to direct the pilot. 

Like McKay, Mylod had long wanted to work with series writer/creator/exec producer Armstrong, an Oscar-nominated writer for In The Loop. Mylod and Armstrong are fellow Brits, with some roots in U.K. comedy. Mylod had long admired Armstrong’s work, particularly on UK Channel 4’s series, Peep Show, which demonstrated an acerbic wit along with insights into human behavior.

“The idea of working with Jesse was a big magnet for me,” said Mylod who recalled, “We hit it off on a phone call. It was just one of those lovely kind of meeting of minds...Before I knew it, instead of directing just a couple of episodes, I was offered this producing/directing role which I had done before (with Entourage and Shameless for Showtime)....I had found a job in New York. With Succession I could see my wife and children, could work with writing beyond compare with a brilliantly fresh cast.”

That cast is headed by Brian Cox whose portrayal of Logan Roy earned the Golden Globe earlier this year for best actor in a dramatic series. In fact the five Emmy nods in 2019 included one for Best Casting, Best Drama Series and Best Directing (McKay for the pilot episode, “Celebration”). 

Such Emmy recognition could be in the offing for Mylod, who is also an EP on the series. This year he was a DGA Award nominee for the stunning season 2 finale of Succession, “This Is Not for Tears,” which figures to be up for strong consideration generally this upcoming awards season.

McKay’s pilot continues to loom large for Succession, observed Mylod. “The choices that Adam made (in the pilot) we tried to honor as we moved forward. If a pilot is strong, you want it to be the blueprint for the series. We didn’t consciously try to evolve anything, I suppose. It all sprung from the same nucleus....I’m generalizing of course but there’s often a tendency for each successive season of a show to get more polished, to be smoother, to round off the edges. For some shows that’s a great evolution. For us, we never felt that would be. In my producer role, I’m a guardian of that lovely, edgy, messy, catching the act by the seat of its pants moments. That’s what was so gorgeous about the pilot and the first season. All of us in film and TV production are kind of programmed for aesthetic beauty. We search that out often completely unconsciously. In the case of Succession we all, particularly as directors, have to be aware of that tendency. We have to stay true to and remember the satirical eye, the cold eye, that we need to bring to the material.”

The pilot set the tone on another key front by not glamorizing wealth and extravagance. Instead the focus is on these atypical, often unlikeable characters. “It’s easy when you’re filming in these beautiful locations, on mega-yachts, to ‘fetish-ize” the wealth and the lifestyle,” said Mylod. “You’re sucked into the darkside unwittingly if you’re not careful. The only moment in the pilot which I suppose could be viewed as ‘wealth porn” was taking a helicopter to play in a softball game. But instead of a ‘it’s great to be rich’ feel, the palette was subdued. The camera never ‘fetish-ized’ wealth. This was more about the characters and what wealth and power were doing to them.”

In the middle of the alluded “This Is Not for Tears” episode directed by Mylod, for instance, we’re aboard a super yacht but the opulence of that environment is incidental, the focus being the family in kind of a tribal council mode sitting around the breakfast table discussing who should be the public scapegoat for a corporate scandal. Later Logan Roy is blindsided by his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) during the course of a televised news conference, the impact of which is all the more powerful because it was set up by the family debate, accompanied by food, Machiavellian heart stabbing and a strange sense of politeness, over whose body would best fit under the proverbial bus.

Among the challenges Succession poses, related Mylod, is one rooted in what makes the show such a joy to work on. “When you’re blessed, lucky enough to have great scripts land on your desk, the prevailing emotion is fear of fucking it up. That’ s in some respects a motivating force. What if I’m the idiot who messes this up. You’re terrified of not delivering on these scripts. You see that in the cast members as well. Brian Cox with all his age and experience comes to the set nervous. I love that.”

Part of doing justice to those scripts, shared Mylod, is trusting the intelligence of the audience. “That gives me confidence going forward, that the audience will get the moment. If the writing is strong enough, the audience will (figuratively) have their weight leaning forward towards the screen, picking up on the story without our having to belabor any point. We’re confident enough not to dwell on an emotional beat. You can rely on the audience to be keeping up with us, with the storytelling whatever the pace is. I find that liberating.”

So too do actors find that liberating, he continued, noting that there’s less fear in underplaying a role. Mylod saw that dynamic when he was directing for Game of Thrones, citing “Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey who were so brilliant underplaying and yet have soul and depth in their performance.” Similarly, Mylod finds the nuances and underplaying of the Succession cast to be “exquisite.”

Lesli Linka Glatter
For director/executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter, the eighth and final season of Homeland (Showtime) is “bittersweet.” Gratified and joyful over what the show has accomplished during its lengthy run--noting that “you’re lucky if you get one or two of these in your career”--Glatter is at the same time saddened to bid farewell to the lauded drama. She personally has received six Emmy nominations for Homeland over the years--Outstanding Drama Series nods in 2015 and 2016 as an EP, and Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Her directorial acumen on the show has additionally been recognized with five DGA Award nominations, including a win in 2015 for the “From A to B and Back Again” episode. Glatter has a total of seven career DGA noms thus far--the first coming for Twin Peaks in 1991 and then Mad Men in 2010. The latter won her the DGA Award, specifically for the “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” episode.

Glatter figures to yet again be in the Emmy conversation--and perhaps next year’s DGA competition handicapping--this time around as Homeland is off to a great creative start, with yet another intriguing storyline that’s been well received in its swan song turn. Season 8 calls CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) into question. She flashes back to her time as a prisoner of the Russian government as she undergoes evaluation by the CIA, hoping to resume her intelligence work. However a fellow agent isn’t convinced she didn’t crack under Russian interrogation. Muddling matters further is the fact that Mathison sometimes can’t trust her own memory or thoughts due to bipolar disorder. But her heroism has been evident over time as she’s given up lovers, freedom and even her daughter to protect American democracy.

“This season I love how (series creators) Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon have brought the show full circle,” said Glatter. “Originally Nicholas Brady (a U.S. Marine back home after being held captive by al-Qaeda) was a source of suspicion. Was he turned by al-Qaeda during that time? Now we’re looking at Carrie after seven or eight months being held by the Russians.”

Glatter, who’s been an integral part of the show from the second season on, observed that Homeland has stayed relevant over this extended time span “because every year we reinvent it. We don’t stay on the same set and in the same place. We have our yearly meetings with the intelligence community (in Washington, D.C.), asking them what their biggest fear is, what keeps them up at night. That changes every year--not always drastically--and it’s where each season comes from. Usually we’re in a different country starting all over again. That’s why it never gets easier from one year to the next--but that’s also what keeps it fresh and engaging.”

Mathison, observed Glatter, is “a complicated female character, something that is more common today but she was one of the first starting out.” That has served the series well as has the fact, continued Glatter, that “gray is the predominant color. There are no black hats or white hats. Carrie is one of many complicated characters.”

The series has taken risks with those characters, said Glatter, citing Mathison last year being depicted as not a good mother. Love for her daughter leads Mathison to make a candid admission. She concluded, related Glatter, that “my daughter is going to be better off staying with my sister.” 

Being “a mother who is not a good mother” has traditionally been regarded as a “verboten” character flaw, continued Glatter. Yet Homeland delved into this aspect of antihero Mathison, creating a different kind of self-realization and even empathy at times. That reflects another strongsuit of Homeland. “You never stop challenging yourself and one another. We never get comfortable,” related Glatter. ”We keep pushing on the edge of the envelope, going deeper and deeper into each character.”

Glatter knew that the characters and the actor performances capturing them were paramount in Homeland right out of the gate. Glatter first directed the season 2 episode, “Q&A,” for which she earned both Emmy and DGA Award nominations. She recalled having “an amazing script” from the now late Henry Bromell but then felt a daunting challenge when she realized that 40 pages of it took place in one room. “There was nothing to hide behind,” she noted. Thankfully she was in this lone room with two remarkable actors, Danes and Damian Lewis who played Brady. Glatter let the actors do what they do best, bringing their smart, respective characters to life, injecting a new dimension to interrogation and the cat and mouse back and forth.

Homeland, contended Glatter, has taken on in a sense more responsibility over the course of its run in that American society has changed with increasingly partisan politics becoming the norm. “We’re more divided than we’ve ever been. No one is listening to the other side. My favorite scenes are now when two characters have completely opposing views but they are both right. You might not end up with an answer but hopefully at least a question. That’s become a big challenge as well as a responsibility for the show.”

Lynn Shelton, Amy Talkington
Lynn Shelton shared that directing an episode of The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell proved fortuitous--not just because of the experience she enjoyed on that Apple TV+ series but also the opportunity it afforded her to get together with Witherspoon and her producing partner, Lauren Levy Neustadter. 

Neustadter went on to send over a copy of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” to gauge Shelton’s interest in the project. The book, of course, spawned the acclaimed Hulu series of the same title, featuring a cast which includes Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jade Pettyjohn, Jordan Elsass, Gavin Lewis, Megan Stott, Lexi Underwood and Huang Lu. Shelton wound up directing four of the eight episodes, as well as serving as an executive producer of the limited series, which was produced by Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Washington’s Simpson Street and ABC Signature Studios, a part of Disney Television Studios. 

Little Fires Everywhere follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and an enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. Witherspoon portrays Elena Richardson, a well-to-do mother of four, while Washington plays Mia Warren, a nomadic single mom.

Shelton was drawn to the story, recalling that Ng’s book “really resonated with me so hard and on so many different levels, in a very personal kind of way. I’m a mom--on paper I led Elena Richardson’s life but always wanted Mia’s life. As a kid, I dreamed of being a single artist mom. I went to the School of Visual Arts...As a kid I was a poet, just like Pearl (daughter Pearl Warren, portrayed by Underwood). I felt all these very intense parallels, very personal connections with these characters.”

Shelton pursued the project aggressively, creating a 99-page look book and doing multiple pitch presentations to get the gig. Her commitment ran deep as for the first time she served as a producing director on a television series. While she was accustomed to making her own movies as an indie filmmaker, she had subsequently diversified into TV as solely a director on episodic fare and several pilots.  She jumped into the producing TV fray with Little Fires Everywhere and the experience whetted her appetite to take on the dual role again, as long as it’s for “the right project.” Unlike when making her own features, Shelton said a producing director in TV has you “in service to someone else’s vision,” which she embraced as “a truly collaborative role. You just have to make sure you are going in the same direction,” and have a belief in the vision. Little Fires Everywhere checked off all the boxes in terms of those prerequisites.

Assembling the team, of course, is key and Shelton turned to familiar and new collaborators. An example of the latter was cinematographer Trevor Forrest who lensed all four of the Little Fires Everywhere installments she directed. Shelton’s DP was one of the last roles to be filled, she recalled, noting that there were meetings with a lot of different lensers. “It was a long search process. He came in and simply blew us away with his presentation, his vision and his passion. He’s very meticulous.” Shelton had an extra measure of confidence going in relative to her DP selection, relating that director Patty Jenkins had previously worked with Forrest and gave him a strong thumbs-up. “Patty and I have a mutual admiration going, we’ve exchanged congratulatory emails,” said Shelton, explaining that her endorsement of Forrest meant a lot.

On the flip side, Shelton gravitated on the editing side to a colleague with whom she already had first-hand experience, Tyler L. Cook. “We originally met when he was the editor assigned to me for the first two seasons of GLOW. We cut three episodes of that show together. I really loved working with him,” recollected Shelton. “I have worked with fantastic editors in the television realm. He was something special--smart, good instincts, very well versed in cinema. He put me to shame with his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. He’s incredibly ego-free. I then asked him to edit my last movie (the comedy-drama Sword of Trust). It was a small indie film which we edited in his house. I basically moved into this little den in his cottage. His family basically adopted me for a summer and we really bonded.” Cook wound up having an editorial hand in multiple episodes of Little Fires Everywhere, including the first as well as the finale.

Also in the editors’ mix on Little Fires Everywhere were two collaborators new to Shelton, Phyllis Housen and Amelia Allwarden. Housen cut a couple of episodes, including working directly with Shelton on “The Spider Web” (episode 4), bringing a feature film sensibility to the process. Housen’s body of work includes writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s acclaimed film Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard and which won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, as well as earning three nominations, including Best Feature, at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Shelton said that Housen has “a unique way of approaching material, almost poetic.” Coming from features, Housen has a brand of cutting that translates, assessed Shelton, into “a beautiful, languid experience,” which isn’t the norm in TV.

Allwarden cut multiple episodes, including “Duo” (episode 5) and also impressed Shelton. “I thought Amelia was spectacular...I was an editor for years and it’s where the artistry happens. It can make or break a story. It’s the final gateway. I’m  not one of those who can walk away from the process. I have to be in the room if at all humanly possible.” However, scheduling didn’t allow Shelton to spend as much time as she would have liked in the editing room with Allwarden. Still, Shelton could see the final results. The producing director said of Allwarden, “I loved her work.”

Shelton described Little Fires Everywhere as being “the most collaborative experience I’ve ever had. I have always been collaborative but still I felt I learned a lot about collaboration, about finding the best way to tell the story, to be super respectful of the process that everybody is going through, that over-communication is better than under-communication even if it feels you’re being redundant at times. And you communicate in different ways--with still images, storyboarding, writing.”

The experience also proved to be a balancing act, being ambitious and thinking big yet within the parameters of not having an unlimited budget. “I never really had to tackle a job that had the kind of visual effects this one did,” related Shelton. “The big house fire was such a lesson in the amount of time we had, how it had to be carefully thought out, starting with research and ways to approach it, what we could afford in terms of budget, making it really look great and having the impact we needed. That was just one aspect. Throughout the entire series, we had to prioritize, doing justice to the vision, the beauty and emotion but staying efficient relative to the budget...You had to think big, not extravagant but with a sense of vision and scope. You had to be flexible enough to realize that if you can’t have the entire universe, how about just this galaxy--only these number of stars and this moon but not all of Saturn. You learn a lot. It was eye opening, challenging and inspiring.”

Like Shelton, Little Fires Everywhere writer and co-executive producer Amy Talkington found her experience on the series most inspiring. Among the dynamics she credited was creator/showrunner Liz Tigelaar’s handling of the writers’ room. “Liz curated the room really carefully--great writers for starters but all different voices. Each one of us connected in a different way with the material. We would talk about a scene or a subject and have all these perspectives come into it in the room. It hit home for me how important it is to curate your room with the right people. It was an extremely diverse room--all women except for one male writer.”

This helped bring a depth and dimension to the series, observed Talkington, who wrote the finale. Talkington noted that everyone in the writers’ room contributed to all the episodes.

Little Fires Everywhere marked Talkington’s first time as an EP on a TV series. She found the gig gratifying, observing, “To me a limited series is the perfect medium. It has that closure that I’m familiar with structurally as a feature. You can dig into the characters and their world more, spend more time with them, obviously.”

Talkington gravitated to Little Fires Everywhere for the story, its characters, and the fact that so much is happening in TV. She had become accustomed to the long waiting game--with projects frequently languishing in development--that feature filmmaking entails and saw more opportunities emerging in the prolific TV landscape. Ironically, though, as Little Fires Everywhere came together, so do did a feature project that she had written a draft for some 11 years ago, a remake and musical adaptation of Valley Girl. Lo and behold that new incarnation of the film has come to pass, directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg with a screenplay by Talkington, and a cast featuring Chloe Bennet, Peyton List and Alicia Silverstone. Orion Pictures’ Valley Girl was originally slated to hit movie theaters this Mother’s Day weekend but the COVID-19 crisis ended plans for such a theatrical release. Instead the new Valley Girl, set to a new wave 1980s' soundtrack, premieres Friday (5/8) on VOD on assorted platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play/Youtube, Comcast and FandangoNOW.

Plans have also changed for Talkington’s Little Fires Everywhere colleague Shelton who at press time was, like the rest of us, sheltered at home in light of the pandemic. Prior to self-isolation, Shelton was in prep on an episode of a new series for AMC. She also was looking to diversify more deeply into directing shorter-form fare, having had a positive experience on a commercial campaign a couple of years ago and currently handled for spots and branded content via production house Caviar.

Jeff Cronenweth, ASC
For two straight years, Jeff Cronenweth, ASC earned ASC Award and Best Cinematography Oscar nominations on the strength of David Fincher-directed films: in 2011, it was for The Social Network, followed by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in 2012. However, his many accomplishments did not include television--until now as he recently made his TV series debut with the pilot for Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime), which reunited him with Mark Romanek, who directed that first episode while serving as an EP on the show.

Cronenweth’s collaborative relationship with director Romanek--as with Fincher--has been deep and creatively varied, spanning commercials, music videos, and the Robin Williams-starring feature, One Hour Photo. Cronenweth in his career has earned five MTV Video Music Award nominations for Best Cinematography, three for music clips directed by Romanek: Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug,” Eels’ “Novocaine for the Soul” and Macy Gray’s “Do Something,” the latter winning the VMA honor in 2000.

The chance to again team with Romanek, this time on Tales from the Loop, drew Cronenweth in, as did the depth, eloquence and subtleties of series creator Nathaniel Halpern’s script, and the overall allure of TV which has grown exponentially in recent years in terms of creative quality and its increased threshold for risk taking.

Romanek reached out to Cronenweth about working on the show. The DP couldn’t pass up the opportunity to team with the director/EP to help set the tone and visual language of the series in its first episode. Among the prime initial visual references were the films of Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Cronenweth early on in his career worked with the famed Sven Nykvist, Bergmann’s cinematographer. Cronenweth served as a 1st assistant cameraman or camera operator on seven features with Nykvist, which proved helpful on Tales from the Loop given that the light in Winnipeg, where the show was shot, is similar to that of Sweden. The late Nykvist of course was known as a master of soft natural light.

Inspired by the wondrous sci-fi paintings of Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the mind-bending adventures of the people who live above the Loop, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe--making things previously relegated to science fiction, possible.

Still, Cronenweth felt a delicate balancing act was needed to translate Stålenhag’s artistry properly for the anthology series. “Simon’s artwork is wonderful and says so much in a single image,” assessed Cronenweth. “Some of it is rather strong in tonalities. I feel that if we had embellished all of it, that would have taken away from the humanity of the live action, which had to be balanced with the impact you draw from the still frame. So we had to bridge humanity and science fiction. When you deal with science fiction as a genre, you can easily be overwhelmed by effects and action. We couldn’t let that affect the story. We see people with everyday problems in a world not familiar to us. But the action, nuances and story are tangible for us. That humanity had to be maintained.”

There was also the challenge of working with children as they are in 80 percent-plus of the shots, conveying the story. “Canada is rightly protective of child actors and on top of that we started shooting in February in Winnipeg, with temperatures in the minus-30s,” recalled Cronenweth. “Put all that together and the shooting window gets smaller and smaller. We had to utilize the time we had wisely so that we could tell as detailed a story as we wanted to.”

Cronenweth went with the Panavision Millennium DXL2, a digital camera with a RED sensor. He was attracted to the large format camera and glass, centering on a girl who lost her mother, feeling isolated and alone in this vast, open, large vista world of what was to be the fictitious town of Mercer, Ohio in the winter.

Cronenweth had deployed the camera in commercials and music videos. Tales from the Loop marked his first longer-format project utilizing the DXL2, and he was gratified with the results.

Tales from the Loop has whetted Cronenweth’s appetite for more television, a pursuit he hopes to take up once the pandemic gives way to some semblance of working normality. “The show was a wonderful experience. We were afforded the time and resources to tell a compelling story, with enormous support from Amazon. I found that Amazon really appreciates artists and what they bring to storytelling.”

Besides One Hour Photo, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Cronenweth’s feature lensing credits include A Million Little Pieces directed by Sam Taylor Johnson, director Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, and other films for Fincher such as Fight Club and Gone Girl.

Cronenweth is also eager to resume his commercialmaking endeavors--as both a DP and a director. On the directorial side, he continues to team with his brother, Tim Cronenweth, under The Cronenweths banner, taking on spots and branded content via production house Sandwick Media. Jeff and Tim have teamed on projects for Gatorade, American Express, Audi, Mini Cooper, Bud Lite, Apple, Corona and Jeep, among other clients. 

Kirk Baxter
Editor Kirk Baxter has been a long-time trusted collaborator of director Fincher--so much so that he no longer gets asked if he wants to work on a project with the famed filmmaker. Instead, quipped Baxter, “I get a start date.”

Start dates thus far have led to much storied work, including two Best Achievement in Film Editing Oscars, both shared by Baxter with editing colleague Angus Wall--for Fincher’s The Social Network in 2011, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2012. Those came after an Oscar nomination for Baxter and Wall on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2009. And on the TV side, Baxter has earned a primetime Emmy nod in 2013 for the very first episode of House of Cards, helmed by Fincher. Plus there are several ACE Eddie Award nominations on Baxter’s resume, including a win for The Social Network, with the latest nod coming earlier this year for episode 2.2 of Mindhunter (Netflix).

That Fincher-directed episode of Mindhunter--in which serial killer Son of Sam, aka David Berkowitz, is interviewed to gain insight into the elusive BTK killer--may again put Baxter in the Emmy conversation. Baxter noted that the most challenging scene in that episode was the one centered on Son of Sam. “It took me around a week to wrap my arms around it; another week to perfect it. That term (‘perfect it’) only applies to myself and David being satisfied. At the point that I was happy with it and then shared it with David, his main critique concerned Holden (FBI agency Holden Ford, portrayed by Jonathan Groff).” 

Fincher, recalled Baxter, wanted to see more of a transition in Ford’s character relative to Son of Sam--seeing the FBI investigator build a strange rapport with Berkowitz, drawing him out, then ultimately taking over and dominating the interrogation, coaxing from him a startling revelation about the Son of Sam killings. “That’s what I love about working with David--his ability to be granular when you need it and yet still be able to zoom out to the bigger picture when required. That big overview never leaves him (as was the case with making the Ford character evolve most authentically).”

In the figurative big picture, Mindhunter also allowed Baxter to diversify. Besides serving as an editor on the Fincher-directed episodes, Baxter took the reins as a series co-producer for the first time. Baxter thus had a say in who the other editors would be on the show, as well as other aspects beyond his hands-on cutting. Baxter said taking on the producing role entailed a bit of a learning curve for him during season one. But by season two, Baxter smiled that he had “gotten used to giving opinions to others.”

Asked if his commercialmaking experience has informed his work in TV and features, Baxter, a founding partner of edit house Exile, doesn’t really think so. He observed on one hand that a single frame is important to a commercial because there aren’t that many to go around. The nature of the work comes down often to “trying to squeeze as much into the timeframe as possible while still making sense. But my work with David applies that same discipline no matter how long the piece is. We are vigilant of making sure that everything is there for a reason and a purpose--the actors, their responses. We are constantly trying to get it as dense as the story will allow--and that’s not exclusively because I work in commercials.”

While script and content are vital, Baxter added that he bases his selection of projects more on “who I’m working with. I agree to do work based on who’s doing it--people I want to be around, who are taking it seriously and stand up for what they’re making whether it’s short form, TV or movies.” Fincher certainly fits all those criteria and more.

Most recently Baxter has been editing Mank, a Fincher-directed feature about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for the iconic 1941 film Citizen Kane. Gary Oldman portrays the title role of Mankiewicz.

Baxter’s spotmaking exploits include editing not only for Fincher but such directors as Lance Acord, Michel Gondry, John Hillcoat, Alexander Payne and Martin de Thurah, among other notables.

Editor’s note: This is a prelude to SHOOT’s 16-part weekly series of The Road To Emmy feature stories, which gets underway on May 15. 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 12 and 13, and the Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20. 

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