From the pages of...
  • Originally published on
  • Friday, Aug. 14, 2020
A scene from "Succession" (photo by Peter Kramer/courtesy of HBO)
DP Settles Into Director's Chair On "Succession"; Costume Designing "Mrs. Maisel"
Creating an "Unorthodox" series; Sound insights into Spike Jonze’s "Beastie Boys Story"

Succession (HBO) has marked both an expansion and a progression for Andrij Parekh, an accomplished cinematographer for 20 years who continues to lens short and long-form fare. Among his credits are multiple episodes of Succession, including the Adam McKay-directed pilot which debuted in 2018. 

The spreading of career wings for Parekh is reflected in that acclaimed series’ “Hunted” episode which last month landed him his first-ever Emmy nomination--not as a DP but for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.

The Emmy nod came “as quite a shock,” said Parekh, noting that he’s “a little bit new to directing. Succession was my first transition into directing. I’m still shooting as a DP. I love both directing and shooting.”

Parekh’s directorial credits include three episodes of Succession and one of Watchmen, another series for which he served as the pilot’s cinematographer. He has also directed two episodes of Brave New World (NBCUniversal’s Peacock), a series for which he did not serve as a DP.

Besides affording him the opportunity to direct, Succession also brought Parekh more squarely into the world of television. He had been mostly known for his feature cinematography which included director Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary, Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson and Ben Lewin’s The Catcher Was a Spy. Parekh had just a couple of prior TV forays on Show Me A Hero, and the first two episodes of 13 Reasons Why.

Lensing the Succession pilot for director McKay (a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner for The Big Short) was “an amazing experience,” related Parekh. “When the show was picked up, Adam asked me to DP part of the season.”  Parekh developed a deep love for the story, characters and cast. He then asked HBO if he could direct an episode. “They kindly said ‘yes,’” he recalled.

The opportunity represented more than just career growth but the chance for continued personal growth, explained Parekh. “Back in film school, I was terrified of actors. I had no vocabulary to speak to them. So I found it comfortable behind the camera. Directing for me was an opportunity for growth, to come out of my shell, to use other muscles.” 

Parekh described his directorial debut on Succession as “a great experience, a comfortable transition. I knew the story, the cast and had support from everyone to do it.”

His years as a DP also helped him settle into the director’s chair. “I was always a director-centric DP. Very director-friendly, always helping directors.” As a cinematographer he found it most important to “never get in the way of getting a great performance. Don’t take time from the director yet never be too far away. It’s the way I had been shooting for 20 years, spending time with directors, watching great directors.”

With Succession, Parekh also had the benefit of a great cast “who knows what they’re doing. There’s a character history on the show. Writers are there to help.” Again first and foremost was “to not get in the way of a great cast.”

In that vein, Parekh observed there’s “no single star (on Succession). The whole cast is what makes it so incredible. That’s the way Adam and I set up the show in the first place. It’s like in the theater. No one is given specific closeups. It’s an ensemble piece where everyone in the room is important. By not letting them always know where the camera was, we created an egalitarian feel to the performances. Anyone off camera is as important as anyone on camera. It’s a really beautiful way to work. For me, the most important thing is finding the emotional truth with the camera.”

In some respects, Parekh’s directorial experience has reinforced his ongoing orientation as a cinematographer. Among the prime lessons he’s learned from directing is “the same thing as a cinematographer which is to just watch and let things unfold with actors and let them bring things to the table without trying to control too much. I definitely guided things along. But what an actor brings through the human spirit is something you don’t want to crush or dissuade by being too decisive or too on top of them. Allowing for things to happen can bring about incredible results.”

As a director, Parekh had to adapt to the dynamic of working with a cinematographer. Christopher Norr shot the three episodes of Succession directed by Parekh. “Chris and I became very close over those three shows,” said Parekh. “I became more and more hands-off with him. I had come to trust him. There’s always that urge to give someone your two cents. But it’s interesting to see a different read and the incredible results--to see what someone else sees as opposed to your own vision. Chris is incredibly collaborative. Everyone involved in the show has its essence at heart.”

As for what’s next, Parekh said he loves directing and cinematography. I don’t want to give up one over the other. Each satisfies a different part of me. Just based on my experience, I’m more comfortable on the set as a DP than as a director. But an Emmy nomination doesn’t hurt. It helps one’s confidence, puts a little wind in the sails.”

Parekh’s Emmy nomination is one of 18 bestowed upon Succession this season, including for Outstanding Drama Series the second consecutive year.

Donna Zakowska
For the third consecutive year, Donna Zakowska has earned an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Period Costumes category for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime). In 2019, the costume designer won the Emmy for the “We’re Going To The Catskills!” episode of Mrs. Maisel. This season she’s nominated for the “It’s Comedy Or Cabbage” episode. In all, Zakowska has four career Emmy nominations, the first coming in 2008 for the “Reunion” episode of the miniseries John Adams for which she won the Emmy.

For Zakowska, though the shows are decidedly different, there are parallels between John Adams and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She explained that both series entail “great relationships with the creators and writers. When I feel the passion of the other people involved and the desire to push the envelope as far as we can, it’s inspiring. You don’t have a lot of these experiences in your career.”

She added that the historical drama John Adams reinforced her “interest in the details, how one world is different from another.” This, she said, came out during her initial interview with Mrs. Maisel creator/EP/director/writer Amy Sherman Palladino and EP/writer/director Daniel Palladino. “We had a great chemistry in the interview,” recollected Zakowska. By the time she had left the meeting and made it down the elevator, Zakowska said she got a phone call that the Mrs. Maisel gig was hers.

In “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” Zakowska’s costumes had to communicate the world of Miami,” quite different from Las Vegas or the Catskills. She designed a color palette for the scenes at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau hotel. There’s a colorful, graphic look to the costumes in Miami, with a touch of Cuban and Latin influences figuring into the equation as well. 

Zakowska’s nominated colleagues on the episode are assistant costumer designer Marina Reti and costume supervisors Sheila Grover and Ginnie Patton. Zakowska enjoys a collaborative history with each, having teamed with Reti on TURN:  Washington Spies.  Zakowska described Reti as “very detail-oriented”; the two share a deep caring about the fine details. 

Zakowska has known Grover for some 20-plus years, dating back to their teaming on One True Thing starring Meryl Streep. Like Grover and Reti, Patton is, noted Zakowska, an artisan with whom she shares “the same level of caring and passion, someone whom I can trust. You can’t be every place all the time. If they see something wrong, they alert me to it. There’s a constant alertness on the team that plays a very big part in distinguishing the work. We are all together. Everyone is contributing.”

This same “oneness of spirit,” observed Zakowska, applies in the big picture to all the contributors to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “When you are at one with the writers, the directors, the showrunner, when you have a similar vision, the struggle--no matter how hard--is not painful. This is true of films and television. If you’re not in harmony or have a different vision, it can be a painful struggle...That’s the difference between a project being difficult, painful or elevating.”

Boding well for current Emmy prospects for Zakowska, Reti, Grover and Patton is the “It’s Comedy or Cabbage” episode earlier this year winning the Costume Designers Guild Award in the Excellence in Period Television category. Zakowska also won the guild honor the previous year for Mrs. Maisel. She has been nominated for the Costume Designers Guild Award three consecutive years for Mrs. Maisel. Zakowska has six career guild nominations thus far, the others coming for a Fiat commercial, and the miniseries Empire Falls and John Adams. The latter won a Costume Designers Guild Award in 2009.

The Emmy nomination for period costume design is one of 20 received this year by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Anna Winger
Unorthodox (Netflix)--inspired by the bestselling memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” in which Deborah Feldman shared her story about leaving the Hasidic Satmar community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her own family--recently earned eight Emmy nominations: Outstanding Limited Series, Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special (Maria Schrader), Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Shira Haas), Casting for a Limited Series, Movie or Special, Contemporary Costumes, Music Composition, Main Title Theme Music, and Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special.

The latter was garnered by Anna Winger for the “Part 1” episode,  marking her first career Emmy nom. Winger also served as an executive producer on Unorthodox, the first show done via her company Studio Airlift.

The genesis of the limited series stemmed from the it’s a small world dynamic. Memoir author Feldman and Winger are friends, getting to know each other as moms whose kids go to the same school. They connected at the school bus stop. Winger recalled Feldman asking her a what-if question--”what if you made a TV show from my book?” Adapting the memoir for the screen would have been new territory for Winger who normally writes from her imagination. But the more she considered it, the opportunity to use such “a beautiful book” as the launchpad for a show become all the more appealing.

Winger also tapped into her experience as the writer/creator of the Hulu series Deutschland 86 in which Schrader had a lead acting role. Between the first two seasons of that show, Schrader directed Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, an arthouse feature about a famed Jewish Austrian writer who committed suicide. Winger got Schrader to direct Unorthodox, bringing with her the DP, editor, production designer and other members of the creative team from the Zweig film. Thus artisans who were already creative collaborators again came together, this time for Unorthodox.

In adapting Feldman’s novel, Winger made a key change as the protagonist Esther (portrayed by Haas) not only leaves her family but goes overseas to Germany where the Holocaust nearly destroyed her ancestors and family. The show thus speaks to the Jewish community in the U.S. and Europe as a Jewish-American woman seeks redemption in Berlin.

Certainly key to bringing the show to fruition was the commitment of Netflix. Unorthodox was one of the projects Winger pitched to the streamer and she related, “They just went for it.” The network didn’t balk at a show in Yiddish even though very few people speak the language. “The show had its built-in challenges but they (Netflix) never wavered,” noted Winger who explained that helping on the language front was Eli Rosen who portrays a rabbi in the show. He also served as a cultural coach, Yiddish translator and what Winger described as “our spirit guy, wonderful and helping us get the details right as each micro Hasidic community has its own specifics.”

It was essential for Winger and her colleagues “to build a community around the project. If you can bring the right people together who believe in an idea, you can push a crazy project through to the end. That’s what can be so delicious about the most difficult project. Sometimes it feels easier to opt for something simpler. But when you find the people who want to make what you envisioned, it’s so fulfilling when it comes to fruition.

Martyn Zub
The Spike Jonze-directed Beastie Boys Story (Apple TV+) has garnered five Emmy nominations--for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, Writing for a Nonfiction Program, Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program, and both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera).

The latter two nods were bestowed upon teams headed by Martyn Zub as supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer, respectively. These marked the first career Emmy nominations for Zub who regards them as a “humbling honor,” adding it’s great to get recognition from one’s peers. 

Zub noted that he felt honored just to get the gig to begin with in that he’s been a long-time fan of the Beastie Boys as well as director Jonze. Zub recalled hearing from Jonze’s producer who had admired the audio work on a particular scene from a John Wick movie. Zub’s credits include the entire John Wick franchise, as well as such features as Deadpool 2, Nightcrawler and Tom Ford’s directorial debut, Nocturnal Animals. Zub’s John Wick exploits had a hand in attracting Jonze’s producer. Zub also had a video conference call with Jonze himself and the two hit it off. “I remember laughing my head off,” said Zub as he and Jonze were looking at IMDB and uncovering their obscure credits and storylines. “I then got a phone call the following day, asking me if I wanted to work on the (Beastie Boys) documentary.”

Zub found collaborating with Jonze to be gratifying. “He’s super friendly and collaborative. He knows what he likes--as any great director does. We had a small intimate crew and it was a great working relationship.”

The documentary features Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys--whose work spanned rap, rock, punk, jazz and funk--sharing the intimate, personal story of their group, their 40 years of friendship together, and of course their bond with their bandmate, the late, great Adam “MCA” Yauch who died in 2012. The deep esprit de corps in the band is evident--and rare, as is being an act that has won Grammys in the rap, rock and pop categories.

Beastie Boys Story chronicles the touring stage show of the same name that Horovitz and Diamond performed following the release of the memoir-scrapbook “Beastie Boys Book.”  Jonze captured footage from their show last year at a theater in Brooklyn, NY. It was shot like a live comedy set in front of an audience with a backdrop of photos and videos that complement and help bring the remembrances of Horovitz and Diamond to life.

Zub related that there were 70 or so live microphones on stage during the live show. One of the balancing acts he and his sound team had to be mindful of was when to bring in the crowd in the room audio into play and when to cool that audience feedback down to focus just on the boys on stage. A sense of that environment in terms of how to best do justice to the story had to be navigated by Zub and his colleagues.

While he’s no stranger to TV (having served as a mixer, for example, on an episode of Game of Thrones) or music documentaries (a film on Frank Zappa will be released down the road), Zub is new to Apple TV+. Zub said that the production was afforded creative freedom, total commitment and support from Apple. He affirmed that Apple is willing to financially back and provide whatever support is necessary to make great content.

Beastie Boys Story marks Zub’s first high-profile documentary and the experience has whetted his appetite for more. “I love storytelling no matter what the platform--not only features, television but also TV commercials and documentaries.”

This is the 14th installment in SHOOT’s 16-part weekly series of The Road To Emmy feature stories. The features explore the field of Emmy Award contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, music, sound, costumes and visual effects. The Road To Emmy series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners in September, and the Primetime Emmy Awards later that month (9/20).

Category: Road To Emmys Annual Series

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