Monday, June 25, 2018
  • Thursday, Jun. 16, 2016
Director Jay Roach, Production Designer Mark Ricker Go "All the Way" For HBO
Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon B. Johnson in "All the Way" (photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO).
Plus composer insights into "Homeland," "Jessica Jones," "Killing Fields"; a DP’s POV on "Deadliest Catch"; costumes on "Billions," "The Astronaut Wives Club"
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Artist perspectives in this installment of The Road To Emmy span directorial and production designer insights into All the Way (HBO), reflections from composers on Homeland (Showtime), Jessica Jones (Netflix) and Killing Fields (Discovery), a costume designer’s take on Billions (Showtime) and The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC), and a cinematographer’s Emmy-winning approach to Deadliest Catch (Discovery).

All the Way
For director Jay Roach, there’s a contemporary relevance to the story of President Lyndon B. Johnson, even when just focused on his first year in office, an historically significant span born out of tragedy with the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and then marked by an often rocky legislative road--deftly navigated by LBJ, famed for his negotiation savvy--which led most notably to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation in public places and banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Subsequently Congress expanded the act and passed additional legislation designed to help bring equality to African Americans, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was aimed to overcome legal barriers at state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Roach captures Johnson in the midst of this turbulent yet eventful year in All the Way, an HBO telefilm adapted from the Tony Award-winning Broadway play starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ. Cranston reprises his role in the biopic. Both the play and the teleplay were written by Robert Schenkkan, a two-time Emmy nominee in 2010 for separate installments (parts 8 and 10) of the HBO miniseries The Pacific.

The enduring social relevance of the chapter in American history depicted in All the Way is evident on several fronts. Roach noted that civil rights issues continue to be part of our societal landscape. For one, the heart of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, freeing states such as Texas to institute a voter identification law. Roach finds it difficult to grasp the validity of any voter suppression, not only based on the story he told in All the Way but also another real-life dramatization depicted in his 2008 HBO film, Recount, which chronicled the weeks after the 2000 U.S. presidential election pitting George W. Bush against Al Gore, and subsequent recounts of votes cast in Florida.

Also particularly germane to today’s political climate is the art of negotiation and compromise brilliantly orchestrated by LBJ--a sharp contrast to the polarization and contentiousness which now grips government, particularly Congress, While Johnson was on one hand something of an outsider, a Texan looked down upon by the Kennedy elite, he also was a veteran insider, observed Roach. “He was in the House of Representatives for a dozen years, the Senate for another dozen, Vice President for three years before becoming President of the United States,” noted Roach. “You couldn’t have a person more inside Washington. He believed government could be part of the solution, helping address problems and better people’s quality of life. The speech he gave about his devotion to public service--that evolved from his experience teaching underprivileged kids, many from Mexico, in elementary school--rang true. He didn’t think it was acceptable that these kids lose faith in their own lives because of discrimination based on the color of their skin. He used his legislative experience to go at problems head on, even if they were for an unpopular cause. He understood how legislators thought, how they worked. He knew their wives’ names, their kids’ names, what they cared about. Compromise wasn’t a dirty word to him. It was a way to get things done.”

All the Way also provided a valuable history lesson for Roach himself. “I thought I knew something about the civil rights movement,” he related. “But through this film I learned about civil rights leaders Fannie Lou Hamer [portrayed by Aisha Hines], Bob Moses [Marquee Richardson] and Dave Dennis [Eric Pumphrey]. They were grassroots leaders of the movement who risked their personal wellbeing. I learned about many people, some beaten, some killed who displayed personal heroism for not much personal gain, fame or anything. Bob Ramos is one of my heroes. He helped run the Freedom Summer [in Mississippi in 1962] and remains very active. He currently runs a great program [the Algebra Project] to help kids in poorly funded schools get an education in math.”

For Roach the biggest challenge that All the Way posed to him as a director was “distilling such an epic story with so many characters [including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. portrayed by Anthony Mackie, Lady Bird Johnson by Melissa Leo, VP Humbert Humphrey by Bradley Whitford, Sen. Richard Russell by Frank Langella] and complexities to just a little over two hours. Even though our story was confined to about an eleven month period, there were so many elements. We had to find aspects of the story that stood for the larger story so that the audience is both aware that it’s a dramatization but feel they are also getting the essence of what happened.”

All the Way marks Roach’s second collaboration with actor Cranston, the first being the lauded feature film Trumbo (2015) for which Cranston’s portrayal of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo earned him a best lead actor Oscar nomination. Among the ensemble Roach assembled for All the Way were past collaborators, including DP Jim Denault who lensed Trumbo (as well as such prior Roach projects as Recount, Game Change, The Campaign and Dinner for Schmucks), production designer Mark Ricker (also on Trumbo), and first assistant director Josh King (Roach’s Austin Powers in Goldmember, Game Change, The Campaign, Dinner for Schmucks). On the flip side, Roach teamed with several key artisans for the first time on All the Way, including editor Carol Littleton and makeup artist Bill Corso. Littleton earned an Oscar nomination in 1983 for cutting E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and won a primetime Emmy in 2000 for editing Tuesdays with Morrie. Corso  won the Best Achievement in Makeup Oscar in 2005 for A Series of Unfortunate Events, and was again nominated in 2007 for Click and in 2015 for Foxcatcher. Corso has won three Emmys--for The Stand in 1994, The Shining in ‘97 and Grey Gardens in 2009. He was also Emmy nominated in 2007 for an episode of Nip/Tuck.

“You try to assemble the best team possible and those I worked with on All the Way--whether they were past or first-time collaborators---are all storytellers,” said Roach. “Bill [Corso] knocked it out of the park with the makeup job on Bryan Cranston [as LBJ]. I tried to work with Bill before and thankfully was able to get together with him for the first time on All the Way.

As reflected in some previously alluded to credits, Roach made his first directorial mark in comedy as reflected in such features as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. The director has made an atypical diversification into political drama with Recount, Game Change and All the Way; Recount being the game changer for the filmmaker. Sydney Pollock, an executive producer on Recount, was originally slated to direct but became ill, prompting him to select Roach as the telefilm’s director. “It was bittersweet to find that Sydney, one of my true heroes and mentors, was sick. He gave me a wonderful opportunity.”

Roach has made the most of that opportunity. He won the DGA Award in 2009 for Recount and again in 2013 for Game Change, an HBO telefilm which looked at John McCain’s decision to add Sarah Palin as his VP running mate in the 2008 presidential election. On the Emmy front, Roach won for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special for both Recount and Game Change. Additionally he was part of the team that scored Emmys for Outstanding Made for Television Movie for Recount, and then topping the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category for Game Change.

For Roach, a prime magnet attracting him to these political historical dramas is the chance to provide a spark of optimism as “an antidote to the cynicism” which is so prevalent today. From Ron Klain who wanted to count every vote cast [in Florida] in Recount to different civil rights activists, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lyndon Johnson’s sense of public service in All the Way, affirmed Roach, “I want to show how public service can be heroic or at the very least a meaningful pursuit which benefits society at large.”

Mark Ricker
Production designer Ricker, as earlier mentioned, has collaborated with Roach on Trumbo and then All the Way. “Jay does so much homework and cares so much about getting the story straight,” assessed Ricker. “I was lucky enough to be the third wheel with him and one of the producers to do research, to go to the LBJ Library, the White House, to halls of Congress, to be part of meetings and discussions with historic figures. With Jay in particular, you want to bring to the table whatever you can to match his level of detail, accuracy and social concern. Getting this story right was paramount.”

Ricker is no stranger to period films, noting that “1964 is a year I know fairly well after The Help and on James Brown’s story [Get On Up], and now All the Way. I love doing these films, unlocking the Pandora’s box of research.” That also applies to Ricker’s extended experience in biopics--from not only James Brown to Dalton Trumbo and LBJ but also Julia Child in Julie & Julia, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian in You Don’t Know Jack. Ricker’s work on the latter for HBO earned him a primetime Emmy nomination in 2010 for Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie.

The greatest challenge which All the Way carried from a production design perspective, observed Ricker, was simply its daunting scale. “The places that housed the events in the film are very well known and steeped in history. That was the call of my duty--to replicate the chambers of the House of Representatives, the Senate. It’s not just a creative challenge but even more a logistical challenge in terms of space, time and money. To rebuild the Senate, you have to sort of strategically, systematically and surgically figure out how to do everything, to get it right. I wanted it to all feel as if you stepped back into this world, that there was no question that what you were witnessing was absolutely real, that it wouldn’t feel like a movie but rather more like a documentary. I knew what Bryan [Cranston] would bring to the table, having worked with him on Trumbo. He’s so commanding. So my team had to match what he was going to bring to the role by replicating that world in which Lyndon Johnson lived.”

Ricker’s affinity and expertise for creating different worlds is reflected not just in the aforementioned Emmy nomination but in his Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award noms for his period film work spanning Julie & Julia in 2010, The Help in 2012 and Trumbo this year. 

Sean Callery
A 13-time Emmy Award nominee and three-time winner (in 2003, 2006 and 2010 for his work on the series 24), composer Sean Callery finds himself yet again in the Emmy conversation, this time for two distinctly different series: Homeland on Showtime, and Jessica Jones on Netflix. The former got him the chance to score the latter. 

Callery recalled that Jessica Jones executive producer Melissa Rosenberg gravitated towards him based on his music for Homeland. “She thought the Homeland music had an understated effective dramatic quality to it and had the instinct that I might be a good fit for Jessica Jones even though I had never seen 'Jessica Jones' [the comic book] in print, never worked on a Marvel series before nor in a Netflix environment. But at our first meeting, I took an immediate liking to Melissa. We kind of envisioned a sound for Jessica Jones to be kind of a neo noir-ish variety. What exactly is that sound? You don’t really fully know in the first stages of conversation. You’re kind of shining a flashlight into a forest to speak at that juncture. The exploration process becomes quite challenging and fun. You are uncovering the sound of the show from moment to moment.”

Callery found himself drawn to the title character as portrayed by Krysten Ritter. He observed that Jones has an exterior street toughness but an extraordinarily warm heart, albeit damaged by events in her life. “She has a wonderful sense of wit and humor even though we’re dealing with topics such as rape, abuse, mind control and so forth. Those topics are extraordinarily hard to address, let alone watch. In the midst of all that, her endurance is on full display in the way that she comported herself. She literally says things that we sometimes laugh at even when going through the most difficult times. So despite dark and damaging themes, there’s still wit, lightness and humor infused into the show that musically I can draw upon and draw out. Because of that, I’ve gotten emails from fans commenting that this is a different kind of sounding show than what you hear on other Marvel franchises.”

As for Homeland, Callery has enjoyed a long-running tenure on that series dating back to its pilot, receiving an Emmy nomination in 2012 for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. The latest Emmy-eligible season of Homeland offered a different challenge than past years, explained Callery, noting that Carrie Mathison (portrayed by Claire Danes) loses her way. “We had to kind of play into her paranoia and her state of mind. She was in an altered state and I scored most of the show through her eyes. When you care about a character, when they’re struggling and suffering, in this case altered in a way, there’s a heightened viewer interest and compassion. You feel both compassion and discomfort for the character. I tried to convey that musically where you feel what’s going on inside that person. That was a prime challenge of this last season.”

Eric Daman
Back in 2002, as an assistant costume designer, Eric Daman was part of a Sex and the City team that won the Outstanding Costumes for a Series Emmy on the basis of the “Defining Moments” episode. “It was the most amazing costume 101 education for me between Patricia [costume designer Patricia Field] and Sarah Jessica Parker,” recollected Daman.

Clearly Daman learned his lessons well as reflected in his work as a full fledged costume designer, which includes earning a Costume Designers Guild Award nomination in 2009 for Gossip Girl.

Now he’s getting notice for his work on Billions (Showtime) and The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC). The latter was created and is produced by Stephanie Savage whom Daman worked closely with on Gossip Girl (for which Savage was co-creator and EP). “We are pretty much always in sync visually,” related Daman of his relationship with Savage. “The first time around our look books had 80 percent the exact same images on Gossip Girl. We have a fantastic energy together. She wanted me very early on when starting to work on The Astronaut Wives Club, which is a period piece with seven leading ladies spanning a 10-year arc over 10 episodes. That’s an incredible progression, making this one of the hardest projects I was ever able to accomplish. Every two episodes, there are new wives with new astronauts. There are thirty-one wives needing character differentiation though we stay focused on those original main seven.”

The progression has the protagonists starting out as average U.S. Army wives, your “dutiful everyday 1950s’ wives,” said Daman. “But over time that changes as they are thrown more into the spotlight. They start to dress more glamorously because they represent the country and could be seen in Life Magazine and other media outlets. They became NASA stars, the first ‘Real Housewives.’”

For Billions, Sarah Edwards costume designed the pilot with Daman taking on the next 11 episodes. Daman recalled meeting Billions creators/EPs Brian Koppelman and David Levien. “We hit it off immediately,” said Daman who added that he was excited to work with actors the caliber of Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis who “let me embrace my job as costume designer.” Citing Giamatti as an example, Daman said, “I wanted to make custom suits for Paul, to give him a stature, a physique we haven’t seen before for him, a forceful appearance, the silhouette of a very sharp, strong man. I constructed the wardrobe around Paul’s body--three-piece suits with a puffed up kind of peacock appearance but not too super high fashion.”

The de Luca brothers
Composers Matthew de Luca and Neil de Luca--aka the de Luca brothers--brought an atypical approach to Killing Fields, the Discovery Channel’s true crime series which takes viewers inside an active criminal investigation as it unfolds. Killing Fields goes inside a case that went cold nearly two decades ago in the small community of Iberville Parish, Louisiana, located just 15 miles from Baton Rouge. In June 1997, Louisiana State University graduate student Eugenie Boisfontaine was last seen near LSU’s lakes. Two months later, her body was found nearby in a watery ditch with evidence of blunt force trauma to her head. Fast forward to today and a retired detective comes out of retirement to help solve the case.

Killing Fields executive producer Lucilla D’Agostino was drawn to the de Luca brothers based on their work on the reality series The Last Alaskans, which debuted on Animal Planet and then was shifted over to sister network Discovery. “That’s what opened the door for us to do Killing Fields,” shared Matthew de Luca. “They liked our approach to The Last Alaskans and wanted a cutting edge sound for Killing Fields, not your typical crime drama score.”

“We went with very organic sounds as a backbone, then twisted and made them edgy, at times almost distorted, making instruments sound strained, adding to the vibe of the show,” related Neil de Luca. 

Among the challenges, observed Matthew de Luca, was the location of the Louisiana bayou swamps. “Musically they wanted a nod to that location but not blatant backwoods swamp music. So we had to be very original in our approach to this brooding, dark scenery. There was a fine line and balance we had to maintain--every once in a while allude to the bayou sound but never go too far with banjos and so on. We had to avoid the obvious, and do full justice to the story.”

Regarding their process, the de Luca brothers work very closely together at the start of a project. Then when they develop between them the best approach, they separate a bit more, even gravitate toward separate studios while continuing to bounce ideas off of each other for an ongoing back-and-forth dynamic. Matthew de Luca said, “A lot of composers don’t have that other person to get genuine feedback from as you create and then develop and further hone a musical approach.”

Matthew de Luca further noted that he and his brother “come from a rock background” which adds a dimension to their composing endeavors. “We both play instruments and can build a hybrid world together. We can play instruments organically and depending on what the project needs, the sounds can get intentionally twisted or used as textures.” 

The de Luca brothers’ filmography also includes such features as the crime drama mystery The Living directed by Jack Bryan, and the romantic comedy Two Night Stand starring Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton, and directed by Max Nichols.

David Reichert
Also on the Discovery Channel front, last year David Reichert earned his first career primetime Emmy nomination and win for Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming on the strength of his work in tandem with other DPs (including Todd Stanley, Steve Wright, Breck Warwick and Matthew Fahey) on the “A Brotherhood Tested” episode of Deadliest Catch. The long-running series--centered on the real-life, high-sea, high-risk adventures of Alaskan crab fishermen--has Reichert and his cohorts continually pushing the limits under difficult conditions. A core team of cinematographers comes back year after year, spending long stretches at sea capturing life on the boats--and what some bill as the world’s deadliest profession. 

Reichert and his team deploy a mix of cameras from Go Pros to the Sony A7S, aerial filming via the Cineflex stabilized camera system, Canon C300s, the Canon XF305, the RED Dragon underwater camera, specialty jibs, gimbal rigs and assorted other resources, yielding a 24/7 chronicling of the fishermen’s experiences on the ocean.

“We’re always seeking ways to make the story we’re telling special, fighting through fatigue to get the best possible material,” said Reichert who describes the work as “super tough,” grueling yet creatively and professionally gratifying. 

This is the fifth installment of a 15-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on September 10 and 11, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 18.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Jay Roach, director; Jim Denault, DP.