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HomeAwardsEmmy Coverage Part 2: Analysis

Emmy Coverage Part 2: Analysis

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The top vote-getters for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards reads almost like a nuptial cliché: something old (Will & Grace), something new (Desperate Housewives), something borrowed (Warm Springs, for its familiar place in history), something blue (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, for its portrait of the perennially maudlin comic genius).An impressive 16 nominations apiece were handed out in the miniseries or movie-of-the-week category, to Warm Springs and The Life and Death—just one better than the tie for most nominations among television series, which Will & Grace and Desperate Housewives share. Below the Line writer Bruce Shutan profiles crew members from the top nominated TV shows.Tony Askins, director of photography, Will & GraceAlthough Will & Grace DP Tony Askins, ASC, retired just prior to the show’s final season, he may be in the enviable position of going out on top. He was given creative license from the very beginning to shoot the show the way he envisioned it, using both dramatic and humorous lighting effects that would change from one week to the next to avoid repetition.“They turned me loose, which was really nice and worked out well,” says Askins, pleased by his good fortunate to have worked with the legendary James Burrows and honored to follow in his father’s footsteps behind the camera. “I’ve been blessed with my career to do a show that was such a big hit and be able to stay on it for seven years.”One of his biggest challenges was shooting an exterior scene that was supposed to take place on a yacht inside the breakwater with an ocean background but ended up halfway between Catalina Island and the LA mainland. The discussed solution was to shoot four cameras from a 60-foot barge, though there was concern about the behemoth vessel tearing apart the roughly $5 million luxury boat.“Being in the ocean constantly, the boat would be moving and we had no way to cover this so we could get master shots from the barge,” he recalls. “We had a Boston whaler out there, and I suggested that we tie buoys between the back of the boat and Boston Whaler and put planks of 4×8 sheets of plywood and all four Steadiam guys on the whaler and shoot it that way rather than away from the boat. We were running out of time, and it was right down to the wire but actually turned out really well. We couldn’t afford to go back there again.”Catherine Adair, costume designer, Desperate HousewivesOn Desperate Housewives, arguably the most talked about series of the ’04-’05 season, costume designer Catherine Adair is charged with dressing her Fabulous Five females in a way that respects their individuality. “The challenge and joy with each of my ladies is that their characters are so intricate and different,” she says.With Teri Hatcher’s Susan, the aim is to showcase her artistic and eclectic nature, while for Felicity Huffman’s Lynette, it’s a matter of juxtaposing how a powerful businesswoman struggles to raise four children. With Marcia Cross’ Bree, she set out to preserve her view of life as ordered, tidy and beautiful, while Nicollette Sheridan’s Edie must maintain the sheer joy of knowing she could conquer any situation. With Eva Longoria’s Gabrielle, the primary themes are money, fun and the importance of always being accessorized.She approached their male counterparts in much the same spirit, noting how they’ve become so genuinely real. “You can’t leave my hunky guys out of the equation,” she quips. “They’re just fabulous, and I love dressing them.”Adair credits the show’s scribes with helping set the stage for her clothing contribution. “When you have good writing,” she says, “the key for those character traits and personalities are spelled out and you just have to look for them and superimpose onto that the actor or actress who brings that character to life. Then it becomes much easier to paint the picture when you have wonderful words on the page.”Adair, whose TV credits include The District, describes episodic television as extraordinarily difficult and is heartened to see such worthy work being done in this area. “It’s an incredible feeling and is a huge honor to be acknowledged by one’s peers,” she observes. “I’m very proud to be part of the show and a crew above and below the line that works very hard with tremendous enthusiasm 10 months of the year.”Joe Pavlo, visual effects supervisor, The Life and Death of Peter SellersMore than 60 individuals were credited with turning out north of 400 visual effects shots on The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, including everything from treating 35mm film to resemble home movies and cleaning up grainy stock footage to constructing grand fantasy sequences. “I don’t think there’s a single scene that hasn’t got the hand of visual effects touching it,” says Joe Pavlo, the project’s visual effects supervisor.From a technical standpoint, he considers the morphing of several luxury cars on display in a showroom into voluptuous female models one of his biggest challenges and accomplishments. Interestingly enough, the roughly minute-long virtual environment was the first VFX scene to be shot and last to be finished about a year later, but it was in danger of being cut because of budgetary concerns.“It was a pretty tall order,” he says. “We had no set—just the actors and a blue screen. There were no cars or furniture. Even people walking past the showroom windows were CG. The whole scene is classic Peter Sellers because you never know whether this is really happening or it’s all in his mind.”Pavlo, who’s finishing up a feature film called Firewall starring Harrison Ford after working on the first season of the new HBO series Rome, is glad the Peter Sellers biopic was so well received and remembered by Emmy voters seven months after airing. “The first time I read the script I thought it was a fantastic show and really wanted to be a part of it,” he says.But Pavlo can’t help but laud the “terrific work” of all VFX nominees. “It’s amazing how mature visual effects have gotten,” he marvels. “We’re all doing things now that we never dreamed of just five years ago. The standards are so high that it’s almost like we’re all on an even playing field. But I think we were nominated for visual effects because our team was essential to the storytelling. It’s not about the technology or technique. It’s about the best way to tell the story.”Bruce Broughton, composer, Warm SpringsWhen Bruce Broughton scored the FDR-inspired Warm Springs miniseries, his objective was to satisfy the minimalist desires of director Joseph Sargent and at the same time provide the rich Americana feeling sought in bringing to life this critical chapter in the nation’s history. “It was a very big and emotional personal story, which had to be scored in a way that supported but didn’t overtake the drama,” he explains. “Fortunately for me, the picture was clear in its structure and realization to make this not an impossible task. I found the story to be very well researched and well produced.”The result: an understated and high quality to the music that his peers considered entirely supportive of all the high drama that connected major historic events such as the Great Depression and World War II.Broughton, whose recent TV credits include the Emmy awarding winning Eloise at Christmastime and Eloise at the Plaza, says he has received more positive feedback about this score and the project itself than anything he’s done in recent memory. He lauded HBO for continuing to set a gold standard for television and enjoyed working with Sargent and others. He’s currently working on the feature film Bambi II.Since judging t
he Emmys or any other awards competition is highly subjective, there could be a fine line between clutter and quality. Look no further than the CSI franchise, which has a 40 percent chance of winning in one of the sound categories.The series brand is very much on the aural radar of sound editors and mixers at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, with both CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami nominated for outstanding sound editing for a series and the former earning kudos for outstanding single-camera sound mixing for a series. There’s no such presence below the line for Law & Order, a rival police drama that also features two critically acclaimed spinoff series.Mark L. Lanza, a sound editor and mixer, last month expressed concern that despite CSI’s worthy nominations, franchise traction may serve to keep other terrific shows from being recognized. But there’s also another side to the awards equation when factoring popularity into the mix.“It’s almost harder to get nominated when you’re in the top ten,” counters Ann Hadsell, the supervising sound editor on CSI: Miami. “If you’re looking at ratings, then there are a lot of these top-rated shows that don’t have kick-ass soundtracks like CSI, 24 or Lost—shows that are nominated and deserve to be there.”Still, she can think of at least one snubbed series that deserves recognition. “Cold Case is a great sounding show that’s well mixed and edited and probably should have been nominated,” she says.Eileen Horta, a Television Academy governor in the sound editing peer group, reports that the issue of possible franchise dominance has never been raised before her executive committee. “It just so happens that for this season we have two shows that are part of a franchise series, but people haven’t looked at it as a concern,” she explains, adding that steps were taken in recent years to close voting-block loopholes.With regard to multiple nominations, Horta points out that voters recognized the same sound supervisor for three different movies of the week (Mark Friedgen, also Joy Ealy, Mike Dickeson, Gary Macheel and Anton Holden)—all of which she believes are well deserved.Mace Matiosian, the supervising sound editor on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is hard pressed to explain his show’s nomination alongside CSI: Miami after winning an Emmy in 2003 but having been passed over last year. But he trusts the voting process and isn’t concerned about the CSI franchise crowding out other worthy contenders “because it’s a very level playing field and the other nominees all work on good shows.”He also mentions that his peer group decided five years ago that a layer of quality control was needed to address concerns that the voting had become too much of a popularity contest. That’s when the executive committee agreed to scrutinize the top vote getters to ensure that only the best shows would be placed on the ballot. Members of the peer group’s executive committee also agreed not to judge their own show to avoid any conflict of interest.

Written by Bruce Shutan

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