Tuesday, May 22, 2018
  • Friday, Jul. 15, 2016
Emmy Nominee Insights Into "All the Way," "People v. O.J. Simpson," "American Horror Story: Hotel"
Cinematographer Nelson Cragg earned an Emmy nomination for "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story"
Reflections from director Jay Roach, DP Nelson Cragg, production designer Mark Worthington

Prior to yesterday’s announcement of this season’s Emmy nominations, SHOOT connected with varied contenders over a two-month stretch spanning different disciplines and as it turns out a good number of the artisans we covered in parts 1 through 8 of our The Road To Emmy series of feature stories wound up in the 2015-’16 circle of nominees. Among them were: Jay Roach, nominated in the Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special on the strength of All the Way (HBO); Nelson Cragg, an Outstanding Cinematography For A Limited Series Or Movie nominee for the “From The Ashes of Tragedy” episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX Networks); and Mark Worthington whose Emmy nod is for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Contemporary Or Fantasy Program (One Hour Or More) on the basis of American Horror Story: Hotel (FX Networks)

All the Way
The telefilm All the Way focuses on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 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.

Adapted from the Tony Award-winning Broadway play starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ, the HBO movie scored a total of eight Emmy nominations, including for Outstanding Television Movie, Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Cranston reprising his LBJ role), and Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson).

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 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. And he just boosted his career Emmy nominations tally to six with two nods for All the Way--scoring in the Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic), and Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special categories. Department head makeup artist Corso shares both All the Way noms with co-department head makeup artist Francisco X. Perez and key makeup artist Sabrina Wilson. The Prosthetic category nomination additionally includes prosthetic designer Andrew Clement.

“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.

Roach too is experiencing Emmy recognition deja vu. He was part of the team that scored Emmys for Outstanding Made for Television Movie for Recount (HBO) in 2008, and then topped the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category for Game Change in 2012. Recount also landed Roach a directing Emmy while Game Change garnered him a directing nomination.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Cinematographer Cragg just picked up his second career Emmy nomination for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. (The first nod came in 2013 for his lensing of the Homeland episode “Beirut Is Back.”)

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 [Calif.] 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.

Cragg's nomination was one of 22 earned by The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (including Outstanding Limited Series and director nods for Ryan Murphy, John Singleton and Anthony Hemingway). That's the second highest tally this year, just one behind Game of Thrones.

American Horror Story: Hotel
Production designer Worthington’s latest Emmy nomination is his fifth for American Horror Story  (the first coming in 2012, twice in 2013 and in 2014). He was also nominated earlier on a couple of occasions for Ugly Betty (in 2007 and ‘08). Worthington has served as production designer for the first five seasons of American Horror Story, working on all the episodes during that stretch except for the pilot (done by production designer Beth A. Rubino). He is not staying for a sixth season, instead opting to design the Star Trek reboot on CBS.

Worthington's nod for American Story: Hotel is one of eight that the series garnered this year.

Citing the dramatically changing nature of American Horror Story from one season to the next--tantamount to a completely new series each year--Worthington described the show as the ultimate rush and addiction for a production designer, noting that its creator Ryan Murphy “changed my thinking about the anthology format on television...Ryan has revived the anthology format. One year I’m designing freak show entertainment in a circus followed this past season by focusing on an older art deco hotel interior [American Horror Story: Hotel].”

Worthington said of showrunner/EP/director Murphy, “He’s creating other worlds. For years television was done on a certain scale with certain expectations. That has changed rapidly with American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards. The kinds of worlds being created for TV now are bigger than those in a lot of feature films--but we have to create them within a tighter time frame. You have to do it at twice the speed you would normally do in a feature film. Plus in film you know the action. You know you won’t need that additional wall, for example. In TV you don’t necessarily know because you don’t have all the episodes in hand. Our worlds have to be more complete, allowing for more changes and contingencies.”

This is the ninth 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.