Sunday, June 24, 2018
  • Friday, May. 20, 2016
Directors, DPs Reflect On "Homeland," "Vinyl," "The Path," "American Crime Story"
Lesli Linka Glatter
Insights from Lesli Linka Glatter, Carl Franklin, Mike Cahill, Yaron Orbach, Nelson Cragg
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Next month director/producer Lesli Linka Glatter—an alumna of the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW)—will receive the 2016 Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, joining the ranks of such past honorees as director/producer/writer  Darren Aronofsky, producer/actress Anne Garefino, director/writer Patty Jenkins, cinematographer Janusz Kamiski, director/writer/producer David Lynch and DP turned director Wally Pfister. The American Film Institute kudo recognizes the extraordinary creative talents of AFI alumni who embody the qualities of filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner: talent, taste, dedication and commitment to quality storytelling in film and television. 

Over the years Glatter has brought her directorial touch to a wide range of work, including such TV series as ER, Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, Justified, The Leftovers, The Newsroom, Ray Donovan, The Walking Dead and West Wing.

She has earned four Emmy Award nominations, a Producers Guild of America Award nod as well as six Directors Guild of America Award nominations and two wins for her work on Homeland and Mad Men. Her DWW film Tales of Meeting and Parting garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short in 1985. Glatter made her feature directorial debut in 1995 with Now And Then starring Melanie Griffith, Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and Rita Wilson.

Glatter’s Emmy nods came for Mad Men (Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series) in 2010 followed by three for Homeland—Directing for A Drama Series in 2013 (for the “Q&A” episode) and 2015 (“From A To B And Back Again”), and Outstanding Drama Series in 2015.

Now season five of Homeland (Showtime) has her again in the running for Emmy recognition. This marked the second straight season she as served as an EP on the show. And this past year she again directed several episodes. “What I love about Homeland is that we reinvent the series every year. Part of that reinvention comes from going every year to Washington, D.C., and meeting an incredible array of intelligence experts. The prime questions that the wonderful [writer/EP/co-creator] Alex Gansa asks are ‘What’s your biggest nightmare? What keeps you awake at night.’ The responses help to shape each season and often issues arise that are in a gray area—like national security versus privacy. You look at both sides of the issue and you find that both sides are right. What we try to explore is where the truth is—somewhere within those shades of gray. Exploring these gray areas is so provocative, provides incredible challenges and sheds light on our characters.”

Season five also had Glatter and her compatriots in Berlin, which she described as “the epicenter of what’s happening in Europe, an exciting focal point. Berlin is so visually exciting—the old and the new right next to each other, an old historic building adjacent to a modern skyscraper. The energy of Berlin was extraordinary. This happens to be the city in Europe where spies are abundant while also being the place where artists congregate. You can still afford to live there, leading to an artists’ community which in some ways reminded me of New York in the 1980s. Bringing together in Homeland the world of spies and intrigue together with the cutting edge art world gave season five an exciting, engaging feel. I also loved the challenge of working with a totally foreign crew and discovering our similarities and differences, finding out what we bring to the party and what they bring and allowing the two to mesh.”

Yet while Germany has a deep cinematic history, Glatter noted that there were some obstacles that Homeland encountered. “There are a lot of rules in Berlin. They need 14 days to secure locations while our prep for an episode is seven days. Berlin has a rich filming history—Metropolis was shot there for example. But they had not done a premium cable series there before. And our challenge was to make a TV series look like a movie in a very short amount of time. It wasn’t always easy but creatively and culturally we ultimately made it work.”

As for her most profound experience this past season on Homeland, Glatter recalled shooting the finale in subway tunnels under German government buildings. At that time, news came about the terrorist bombings in Paris. “I don’t have the words to describe how we all felt. It was profound, upsetting, disturbing. Homeland is often called a prescient show. But at that time, it felt too prescient in a way we had never fully anticipated.”

At press time, Glatter was in Wilmington, N.C., where she was in the process of directing and about to wrap the first episode of the History channel dramatic miniseries Six. She is slated to direct another episode as well. Produced by The Weinstein Company and A+E Studios, Six centers on the Navy Seal Team Six, the elite group responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Glatter noted that upon returning home from Berlin after wrapping season five of Homeland, she was “ready for a holiday. But I got sent the script for Six by William Broyles who wrote Apollo 13 [for which he and Al Reinert were nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar], Flags of Our Fathers and Jarhead. The story of Six was so fascinating—delving into the lives of these guys—that I couldn’t say no. I’m keenly interested in people being put in extraordinary circumstances where they are forced to be who they really are, and the impact of that on them and their families.”

Carl Franklin
Director Carl Franklin’s roots are in independent filmmaking as reflected in such credits as One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress. The former earned Franklin an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director in 1993.

And while he continues to be involved in feature pursuits, Franklin is today perhaps best known for his television exploits, having some years back diversified meaningfully into the medium at a most fortuitous juncture. 

“This is the Golden Age of Television,” affirmed Franklin who delved into the cable game early on, helming the HBO telefilm Laurel Avenue. He has gone on to have an impressive track record with HBO on Rome, The Pacific miniseries, The Newsroom, and most recently Vinyl and The Leftovers. His body of work also encompasses such notable shows as Showtime’s Homeland and The Affair, TNT’s Falling Skies, and Netflix’s Bloodline and House of Cards.

For the latter, Franklin directed multiple episodes, including “Chapter 14,” which in 2014 garnered him not only his first career Emmy nomination (Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series) but also created a stir with the killing off of character Zoe Barnes (portrayed by Kate Mara).

Fast forward to today and Franklin again finds himself in the Emmy conversation, this time primarily for his work on the drama series Vinyl, specifically the “Rock and Roll Queen” episode. Created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter (Winter has since exited the series), Vinyl is set in 1970s New York, bringing viewers into the sex- and drug-addled music business as rock ‘n roll was playing against the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. Much is seen through the eyes of record label president Richie Finestra, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, who is trying to save his company and his soul. Others in the cast include Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Ato Essandoh, Max Casella, P.J. Byrne, J.C. MacKenzie, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Juno Temple, Jack Quaid, James Jagger and Paul Ben-Victor.

Among the EPs on Vinyl is John Melfi with whom Franklin enjoys a long collaborative history, going back to the aforementioned indie feature One False Move, followed by such projects as Laurel Avenue, Rome and House of Cards. “John has been a common thread in my life going back for some time,” said Franklin, noting that Melfi had a hand in bringing him aboard Vinyl.

It was another EP, though—Scorsese, also director of the series pilot—who provided creative inspiration as well as a major challenge for Franklin on Vinyl. “Martin is a legend. His work has an imprint, a creative signature. And his imprint on the pilot set the bar for Vinyl, becoming one of the consistencies of the show,” related Franklin. “I had to help maintain that legend’s imprint with the episode I directed while at the same time bringing my own style to the show—it’s quite a balancing act, a daunting task. I had to be aware of the template Martin set and then kind of dance within that template. I had to maintain the energy of Martin’s work with his Steadicam shots and constantly moving camera. You want to make sure you keep that pace up, that thrust going forward, yet still feel the freedom to trust your own instincts and to let them come to the surface.”

Vinyl also carried the logistical challenge which goes with any high-level, ambitious cable show, arguably even more so with a Scorsese series that’s a period drama. “You have to be doing feature film-style caliber work, all within the constraints of a tight TV schedule,” summed up Franklin.

The Path
Hulu’s first hourlong scripted series, The Path, is for some critics traveling a path towards awards season recognition. The Path revolves around a fictional religion, the Meyerist Movement, and explores the lure of a faith that may appear to outsiders as being more of a cult. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) stars as a convert, Eddie, whose doubts about the movement start to strain the relationship with his wife Sarah portrayed by Michelle Monaghan. Also starring is Hugh Dancy as Cal, the charismatic unofficial leader of the Meyerists. 

Mike Cahill, who directed the first two episodes, said the script from series creator Jessica Goldberg “ignited my passion right away. I have to praise her. The words on the page showed how her eyes and ears are trained to observe, which allows her to portray humans so honestly—with fullness, complexity, internal contradictions and yearnings for betterment. Thematically all these characters come together to tell a bigger story centered on why we believe in anything. I was drawn toward this. I’ve always been drawn to something toddling between science and spirituality, to what drives people with faith. Some of the brightest minds in history believed in the unseen.”

A prime challenge for Cahill was dealing with the negative connotations surrounding the word “cult.” Cahill observed that the notion of a cult “pushes people away so we wanted to portray the members in a positive way that’s relatable. We started from the inside out. We get to know Sarah and others, the wonderful things they do to make the world better. We see joyfulness and warmth. Then we slowly pull that away as we start to see various characters’ motivations.”
Regarding his approach to the material, Cahill tried to attain a sense of what he called “epic verite.” The director shared, “On one hand I wanted this to be big and cinematic as we tackle universal questions of faith. On the other hand, we wanted a verite feel, using multiple cameras to shoot simultaneously, to give scenes the appropriate intimacy. The juxtaposition of big universal cinema and intimate, real, gritty, hyper-emotional scenes is what I wanted—to find the right balance of those two elements. I wanted this world to feel big and cinematic yet lived in.”

Towards that end, cinematographer Yaron Orbach proved essential, said Cahill. “A lot of cinematographers don’t like cross coverage, shooting different actors simultaneously. We had four camera operators squished in a cabin at one point. We would have a camera on each character simultaneously. Hugh would give a gesture or subtle nuanced performance that Michelle would give back to him. We did not have to manufacture this back and forth in the edit. We had it all captured at the same time. Yaron did everything possible to capture what these brilliant actors did. Michelle, Hugh and Aaron played beautifully off of each other. Yaron is an amazing guy for whom no order is too tall. He has an incredible sense of lighting, speed and efficiency.”

Orbach shot all 10 episodes in season one of The Path, establishing the tone and feel for the show from the very first episode. Orbach said initially the approach was to present a very positive world. “The facade is inviting and warm but as you get more deeply into the story, there are some dark undercurrents. We get into the people in control with regard to how they recruit people. Once you are part of the movement, it’s hard to get out. As Eddie has doubts and seeks other truths, we go on that journey with him. It becomes a mysterious, more suspenseful journey, creepy in a way. We go from light and enlightening to a much darker place.”

Orbach deployed RED Dragon cameras. “It’s a simple camera to shoot in 4K which Hulu required for streaming. I’m very comfortable with the camera and how the chip reacts when you go very dark and use very little lighting. It’s great for practical lighting to give you a natural feel.”

While Orbach has made a name for himself as of late in television—with credits that include his lensing 11 episodes in season two of Orange is the New Black and two more this past season—he comes from a background steeped in independent narrative features. He also has to his credit a notable documentary, Unmistaken Child, which earned him a Golden Frog at Camerimage in 2009. His more recent feature filmography includes the Peter Bogdanovich-directed She’s Funny That Way and the John Carney-helmed Begin Again.

Besides enjoying his collaboration with Orbach on The Path, director Cahill also valued working with the people at Hulu for the first time. 

“Their feedback to me was always ‘be bold,’” said Cahill. “Hulu empowered us to be bold. They really want artists to do their best work without falling into any storytelling cliches. The same is true of Jason Katims, one of the greatest showrunners and executive producers. Being in his orbit on The Path, you can feel the empowerment he gives you. He values you for your creative talent and people flourish under this leadership.”

Nelson Cragg
Cinematographer Nelson Cragg is no stranger to the Emmy competition, having been nominated in 2013 for his lensing of the Homeland episode “Beirut Is Back.” Four years earlier, he won an ASC Award for an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Going back further, Cragg as a student at USC won the ASC Heritage Award.

Cragg now figures to garner more awards show consideration for his work on all 10 episodes of FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story from executive producers Ryan Murphy (who directed four of the episodes), Nina Jacobson (the Hunger Games movies) and Brad Simpson (World War Z, Diary of A Wimpy Kid). Cragg recalled that Simpson and Jacobson—who were aware of his work on Homeland—”wanted a cinematographer to bring an emotional realism to American Crime Story and wound up hooking me up with Ryan,” That initial meeting—which took place after Murphy and Cragg rapped their respective pilots for Scream Queens and David Nutter’s Containment—ultimately resulted in the DP getting the American Crime Story gig.

Cragg said he was drawn not only to the story but also to the pedigree of the people involved, citing Murphy and the fact that American Crime Story marked feature producers Jacobson and Simpson’s first foray into television. 
“With people at that level, you know the material will be great, that the support will be amazing, that you will treated well,” said Cragg. “The scripts by Larry [Karaszewski] and Scott {Alexander] were simply outstanding.”

Among the many challenges posed by The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story to Cragg as a cinematographer was recreating the Bundy Drive crime scene where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered. 

“That condo location in Brentwood had since been razed,” said Cragg. “We realized we had to recreate that crime scene down to the last inch. The specificity of the crime scene was important because so many had seen and become familiar with it. We saw thirty gated entry ways to condos in Brentwood but none of them was quite right. We then decided we had to build the crime scene [Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo site in Brentwood] ourselves. Our production designer and crew did an amazing job. We realized that people would watch this show and go on Google to compare what we had to the reality. We needed and wanted our show to hold up to that kind of scrutiny.”

Also daunting to recreate was the infamous chase on the 405 Freeway which had police pursuing the Ford Bronco in which O.J. Simpson was a passenger. “We knew that would be in episode number two—and that these were images that everybody had seen when it actually happened. For this, we had to own a freeway. The City of Los Angeles gave us a two-mile section of the 710 Freeway where it ends right below Pasadena. We had one weekend during which one side of the freeway was closed. With only two days to shoot that whole pivotal sequence, we had two units running simultaneously.”

In that The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is a period piece, Cragg said that he and Murphy at first considered shooting film. But that wasn’t conducive to the way Cragg and Murphy wanted to approach the project. 
“We had to run multiple cameras, and running four or five film cameras simultaneously would have been too difficult,” said Cragg. “We had these huge courtroom sequences with fifteen to twenty key people. Ultimately we thought it best to go with the ARRI ALEXA, a great, battle-tested digital camera which I had used on the series Homeland and Halt and Catch Fire.

Among Cragg’s other notable lensing credits are Breaking Bad, Flashforward and the pilots for the series Terra Nova and Elementary. 

This is the first installment of a 15-part series of feature stories that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation, visual effects and production design. 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.