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Creative Arts Emmys Preview: 'Breaking Bad,' 'Orange' Nominees Spill Secrets on the Art of Storytelling

An elite cache of crafts nominees reveals the stories behind the nominated work that's sending them to contend for gold at Emmy's Aug. 16 Creative Arts awards ceremony.

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This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

American Horror Story: Coven (FX) 
OUTSTANDING SOUND MIXING FOR A MINISERIES OR A MOVIE

The Halloween episode, "Fearful Pranks Ensue," of the miniseries required balancing a multitude of elements, from the "quiet horror of the lynching of a child in the 1960s South to the powerful voodoo spell used to raise the dead, building to a crescendo with the retribution delivered upon the murderers by snarling zombies," says rerecording mixer Doug Andham, who is nom­inated with Joe Earle and Bruce Litecky. Other elements of the mix included such sounds as gunshots and shattering wood. Says Andham: "We also dealt with a witch trial containing flashbacks through time, Evan Peters' Frankenstein-like monster pounding his bloody head against a bathtub, an acid attack upon Sarah Paulson and the reveal of a zombie attack against the coven at the end of the episode."

Breaking Bad (AMC) 
OUTSTANDING SINGLE-CAMERA PICTURE EDITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

The acclaimed final season of the Emmy-winning series earned three nominations in this category -- one for Skip MacDonald and two for Kelley Dixon (one of which she shares with her assistant, Chris McCaleb). One challenging scene in particular was shot inside a car on a soundstage, with a greenscreen in the windows. Background plates and actual cars passing by were filmed on location and added later. "Bryan [Cranston] and Aaron [Paul] were on the phone together doing the scene in real time, but we only see Walt's side of the conversation. I had to cut the entire scene using only Bryan's performance, never really knowing at which point in the conversation he was still in the city, out on the highway or driving through the desert," says Dixon. "When the background footage came in later, I adjusted as needed. But overall, it was a heated three-minute sequence -- an escalating argument where Walt admits to several crimes -- so I had to keep the tension up and make it believable."

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey (Fox) 
OUTSTANDING CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR NONFICTION PROGRAMMING

"I wanted to make a thinking man's action movie," says director of photography Bill Pope (The Matrix). "I wanted viewers to feel like they were on the ship. When the [Ship of the Imagination] goes near the sun, I wanted it to shake, to have the inertia of being thrown around on the ship." From Star Wars to Star Trek, audiences are used to being on spaceships, "so you have to live up to that. Even though it's a science show, you can't put people to sleep," he says. Another key challenge to Cosmos, says Pope, was that shooting took place on location in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Italy, France, Germany and the U.K. "The U.S. desert doubled for locations including Egypt and Iraq, and the other greenscreen elements were filmed on a stage," he says.

Downton Abbey (PBS/Masterpiece) 
OUTSTANDING ART DIRECTION FOR A PERIOD SERIES, MINISERIES OR A MOVIE (SINGLE CAMERA)

The downstairs of Lord and Lady Grantham's London House was a particularly tricky aspect of work on the period drama for production designer Donal Woods, who is nominated alongside Mark Kebby and Gina Cromwell. "It was the most challenging to design as it was a composite set that included the kitchen, servants' hall, butler's office, housekeeper's office, stairs and corridors, in essence, the same rooms as the Downton Abbey below stairs," explains Woods. "It was important to design a very different look yet still remain historically correct and within the narrow, stylistic parameters of the servants' work environment in the early 1920s."

Homeland (Showtime) 
OUTSTANDING SOUND MIXING FOR A COMEDY OR DRAMA SERIES (ONE HOUR)

In a scene during which Brody (Damian Lewis) and several members of an elite combat team try to sneak into Iran, they pretend their car is disabled as an Iranian patrol comes by. After an intense conversation, they call in a U.S. sniper who fires. "From a sound standpoint, we wanted to make it as intense and startling as possible," says veteran rerecording mixer Nello Torri, who shares this nomination with fellow rerecording mixer Alan Decker, production sound mixer Larry Long and scoring mixer Larold Rebhun."We start very focused on the conversation between Brody and the Iranians on patrol. It slowly builds up with the music. At the same time, we try to keep it reasonably quiet while maintaining the intensity so that everyone jumps when the sniper shoots," explains the 11-time nominee and four-time winner. "We mix very first person. We are not an observer. We want the viewer to feel what the character is going through -- nothing in thedialogue can take you out of the scene. You only hear their words."

Killing Kennedy (Nat Geo) 
OUTSTANDING CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

Director of photography Stephen St. John admits that he would have liked to have shot on film since Kennedy was a 1960s period piece, but the project's budget didn't allow it. However, he's a big fan of the Arri Alexa and chose that digital camera for the heart of the production, using older Zeiss lenses "that tend to flare a little bit" in order to give it the period look. To make the day of the assassination feel as real as possible, he prepared by watching the famous Zapruder film and archival news footage of the day. "We tried to emulate those," he says. "I used an old Philips tube camera that, as you pan, breaks apart just like those early cameras, making it documentary-style."

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) 
OUTSTANDING SINGLE-CAMERA PICTURE EDITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

A scene from the show in which Piper (Taylor Schilling) is being starved by the kitchen's Red (Kate Mulgrew) "tells a tremendous amount without words," says editor William Turro. "Piper sits alone at a table, and her former girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) slips her some corn bread. Now it's about Piper making a decision about what to do because she knows that's against the rules. I had beautiful angles from where I could do pure visual storytelling: Piper looking at the corn bread, then looking at Alex, whom she despises, then deciding to throw it away. The beats had to be placed just so."

Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS/Masterpiece) 
OUTSTANDING CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

In a scene during which Sherlock [Benedict Cumberbatch] is shot, director of photography Neville Kidd wanted to convey "the sheer jaw-dropping shock of the moment." He used a combination of camera rigs, capturing the shooting from multiple points of view so this could be "studied" visually in Sherlock's retelling of the moment. "We have to constantly think how Sherlock sees the world, which is quite differently from the rest of the characters," says Kidd. "Lighting was also very important in portraying the shock of the moment. I wanted to keep the mood of the initial Magnusson assassination attempt and then ramp it up when Sherlock was shot and we started to enter his mind zone." It was important to separate reality from Sherlock, and lighting was to emphasize this -- darkening down the rest of the characters in the scene and spotlighting Sherlock. "When we entered his mind zone, it was crucial to visually stimulate the viewer as he approached impending death. It was all about contrasts."

The Sixties: The Assassination of President Kennedy (CNN) 
OUTSTANDING PICTURE EDITING FOR NONFICTION PROGRAMMING

Editor Chris A. Peterson wanted to give the doc series a narrative arc when he cut the assassination. "We wanted to make the audience feel what it was like to experience it as it unfolded," he says. It was crucial to find the right footage, some of which hadn't been seen since the '60s, and use it to create a feeling of tension, as if it were playing out in real time. "We also used raw-feed footage of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, when journalists were waiting in the Dallas police station for hours [ahead of the shooting] to build tension. We relied more on the video footage than the film footage that many other films have used. We thought it made it feel like you were there just a little bit more."