Sunday, July 21, 2019
  • Friday, Jun. 7, 2019
Showrunners, DP, Production Designer Shed Light On "GLOW"
Carly Mensch (l) and Liz Flahive, "GLOW" creators/showrunners
Creative couples discuss "The Good Fight" and "High Maintenance"

After GLOW season one, the creative and logistical challenges of the critically acclaimed Netflix series--centered on a group of female wrestlers vying for celebrity on the syndicated pro circuit--took on a new dimension, meaning that creators/showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch couldn’t rest on the show’s considerable laurels.

The challenges of the first season were inherent and continue, they pointed out. “We’re filming essentially an hour-long show in the space of a half-hour show--with high production value in everything from cinematography to hair and  makeup, production design while still being in this sort of half-hour comedy category,” said Mensch.

Flahive noted the high degree of difficulty involved in turning out “a half-hour-ish show with an enormous cast, juggling all these narratives to somehow make for a satisfying story.”

But season two added another dynamic--namely much more going on in the wrestling ring, bringing athleticism into greater play. Flahive related that a heavier does of actual wrestling “kicked us into a whole new gear. Production wise and logistically that asks a lot more of everybody--the  production, the actors, the stunt coordinator, the wrestling trainer.”

From season one to season 2 also saw a changing of the DP guard as Christian Sprenger moved on to the series Atlanta, succeeded on GLOW by Adrian Peng Correia. “We didn’t have that much wrestling in the first season,” recalled Flahive who noted that in the pilot the sport was presented as somewhat of a fantasy match in a world of heightened reality. By contrast, a realistic brand of wrestling was captured for season two. Flahive said taking on this wrestling gauntlet without hesitation and very successfully was cinematographer Correia who noted that even when expertly choreographed and rehearsed, actors are not strictly athletes, giving him plenty to address behind the camera.

Correia embraced that and other challenges posed by GLOW. “It’s one thing to shoot an episode in a short number of days; quite another to have incredibly challenging scenes in terms of drama or comedy--along with an action sequence as well,” said Correia who cited a workload which at times called for shooting a 45-page script in five days.

Correia  went with Red Helium as his camera of choice for season two, after Sprenger had opted for Red Dragon during the first season. Correia explained that the Red Helium proved inviting because he wanted to take advantage of REDs new color science.

While there was a transition from one DP to another, GLOW has enjoyed continuity in production design from Todd Fjelsted whose work on the show, specifically the season one episode “The Dusty Spur,” earned him an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour or Less) category.

The night he won the Emmy Fjelsted asked the showrunners why they gravitated to him for the GLOW gig. “The primary reason they wanted me was to have someone who had a background in fine arts, coming more from a place of narrative-based visual art rather than a TV or film background necessarily. I was originally in fine art, gallery work installations.”

Fjelsted also thought that his work on his first major TV show, HBO’s Looking--which he landed after designing for independent features--might have sparked interest from the GLOW contingent. Looking had a realism, showing the underbelly of San Francisco. That could have been a factor appealing to GLOW, which is set in 1980s’ Los Angeles.

Fjelsted related, “I love doing period work so much more than modern day. Everything was just more interesting. Things are kind of ugly now. Architecture has taken a downturn, the charm has been lost. You get to return to that time of charm [with a period piece].”

GLOW also has given Fjelsted the opportunity for the first time in his career to work with a large ensemble of women. GLOW has mostly female writers, directors and producers--and a cast of women. “Being surrounded by that many women telling stories through their eyes, experiences and situations was really refreshing and exciting.  The experience was illuminating for me as both an audience member and a crew member.”

GLOW again has Fjelsted in the Emmy conversation--as does his work on Now Apocalypse (Starz), the latest in his collaborations with director Gregg Araki. which include three films--the features White Bird in a Blizzard and Kaboom as well as the short Here Now. Now Apocalypse is the first TV series Araki has created. 

In an earlier installment of this Road To Emmy series, Araki discussed Now Apocalypse and the contributions of Fjelsted to that show.

The Good Fight
A Golden Globe Award and Emmy-nominated writing team, Robert and Michelle King have been professional creative collaborators for 20 years and married for more than 30 years. Their Emmy pedigree is rooted in The Good Wife which earned them as creators/EPs Outstanding Drama Series nods in 2010 and 2011, and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series noms in 2010 and 2016.

While it’s hard enough to live up to Emmy recognition with subsequent fare, the degree of difficulty perhaps becomes greater when you endeavor to do so with a spin-off of your originally lauded series--Robert and Michelle King have done just that with the first two seasons of The Good Fight generating a couple of Emmy nods, and prospects for more based on a recently wrapped third season. The Good Fight has also been up to the task of breaking new streaming ground as the first original scripted series on CBS All Access, making its debut back in February 2017.

While the world went crazy in the second season of The Good Fight, the resistance does the same in season three. Attorney Diane Lockhart (portrayed by Christine Baranski) tries to figure out whether you can resist a crazy Trump administration without going crazy yourself. Meanwhile Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Reddick-Lawrence (Audra McDonald) struggle with a new post-factual world where the lawyer who tells the best story prevails over the lawyer with the best facts. 

Robert and Michelle King as showrunners/creators break new ground on The Good Fight through a mix of ongoing and new collaborators. On the latter score, editors Amanda Pollack and Deborah Moran came on for select episodes during season 3. The Kings said both editors have brought a distinctive sense of humor to the series. Pollack comes off of cutting The Americans while Moran had most recently edited The Good Cop. Their editing styles, assessed the Kings, have injected a bit more fluidity into The Good Fight episodes, with Pollack having what Michelle King described as “a rock-’n-roll sense that has lent a new dimension to the show.

Meanwhile season 3 features more animated songs, almost one in every episode, which Michelle King said is a source of “great fun” fueled by the talent of composer Jonathan Coulton, who garnered an Emmy nomination last year for the song “High Crimes And Misdemeanors” from the “Day 450” episode of The Good Fight.

Relative to the earlier alluded to continuity in collaborators, Robert King cited Daniel Lawson’s wardrobe and costume design. “He’s been with us 10 years--seven years of The Good Wife and three years of The Good Fight--which is kind of amazing. We don’t like to let go of trusted collaborators with whom we have a shorthand dialogue for what’s needed. Similarly production designer Steve Hendrickson spans both The Good Wife and The Good Fight.

The Good Fight has a key new wrinkle that has benefited crew members, noted Michelle King. “Doing fewer episodes per season has allowed for a longer time to film--10 days as opposed to say, eight. We have a saner number of hours per day and that has helped everyone. It has helped crews and actors to do their best work.”

In that same regard, streaming offers a measure of flexibility when it comes to time, observed the Kings. On a broadcast network show, you’re living on 42 minutes and change when it comes to an hour-long drama series, noted Robert King. Without the same exact time constraints, directors can perhaps better catch the rhythm of a particular episode.

The Kings clearly are in tune with the right creative rhythm. Beyond the Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, their work over the years has garnered the Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment, the Humanitas Prize and a prestigious Peabody Award.

High Maintenance
While Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld also know what it’s like to be married while crafting a show, they unlike the Kings decided to divorce while continuing their work together as co-creators of High Maintenance, which began as a web series on Vimeo, telling short stories about the customers of a marijuana dealer known as The Guy (portrayed by Sinclair). Blichfeld and Sinclair won a Writers Guild Award in 2015 for High Maintenance in the Short Form New Media--Original category . The show then got picked up by HBO and began what’s been a multiple season run.

High Maintenance has gained critical acclaim as a thoughtful anthology series--the creative focus not being on the weed but rather the opportunity that the show gives its viewers to peer into the lives of The Guy’s customers, often intimate glimpses into people’s lives touching on themes such as romance, death, parenthood, loneliness, fantasy and aging.

Blichfeld is no stranger to the Emmy circuit, having won one as a casting director on 30 Rock. Now High Maintenance is in the Emmy conversation for its cast of returning characters and new faces, all with worthwhile stories to tell. “When we started, the show was a labor of love. We didn’t have big dreams of a TV show. Instead we were enjoying doing this ‘art project’ with our friends. To now have a TV show entering its fourth season is pretty amazing,” said Blichfeld.

As for their division of labor on High Maintenance, Sinclair shared, “We both have natural gifts we bring to the show. I would work on more macro things, scheduling, blocking, where the camera should be. She would do more detail-oriented things, details of acting performances, making sure the costumes are right, the hair looks correct. Over the years we’ve learned a lot from each other. This was the first year we directed separately from one another, having grown as people individually, always offering help to the other. It’s like going to college after high school. You develop skills you didn’t know you had at the beginning.”

Skills have developed among other holdovers from the original web series, a prime example being cinematographers Charlie Gruet, Brian Lannin and Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. “It was always important to bring those three along in that they were so integral to the aesthetic and feeling of the show from the outset,” said Sinclair. “They feel a similar kind of ownership of the work, an investment. They were involved at a time when it was just for fun. It’s nice to have that similar enthusiasm carry over and sustain itself through this iteration as a paid job.”

Blichfeld described Weaver-Madsen as “very soulful” and “the human embodiment of a unicorn or something,” bringing a magical quality to the show.”

Meanwhile Gruet comes form the documentary world, bringing a workstyle that Sinclair said is “very fast, flexible, curious. He’s used to capturing real subjects and trying to make things look pretty without being too precious about it. He’s the elder statesman but is not old by any stretch of the imagination.”

And of Lannin, Blichfeld related, “He’s very smart with a steady hand and a logical brain. He’s up on what technologies exist to make our show look better. He’s a real gearhead in that way.”

Collectively these DPs, who this past season all operated for each other, are credited by Sinclair and Blichfeld with bringing a special vibe and feel to High Maintenance. They are part of the family we have working on this series, which is nice said Sinclair.”

This is the fifth installment in a 16-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, production 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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