‘The Good Wife’ Series Finale: Director Robert King on How That Montage Came to Life

Good Wife Season Finale Dissected
Courtesy of CBS

Artisans break down the anatomy of a pivotal scene in the series finale of “The Good Wife.”

For seven seasons, “The Good Wife” was widely held up as proof that broadcast television can still deliver dramas to rival the best of cable. Although they were crafting a serialized procedural drama on the broadest broadcaster of all, CBS, showrunners Robert and Michelle King always brought something more to the process, including a highly cinematic eye. Robert King believes there has been a “dumbing down” of the perception of cinema, saying that the focus these days is on spectacle, but “really, cinema is just about telling stories through pictures, not words. I think that is something TV can do more of. I think there’s much more visual storytelling going on than there was 10 years ago, or any time before.”

One prime example: a montage in the “Good Wife” series finale in which Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) imagines herself coming home to her New York City apartment to the three very different men in her life — estranged husband Peter (Chris Noth), current lover Jason (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and deceased soulmate Will (Josh Charles). Robert King, who directed that episode, talks about five key crew members who helped pull off that sequence.

Denis Doyle, assistant director
“‘The Good Wife’ has always been an A.D.-heavy show. They’re some of the hardest working people on the set and least congratulated. This was a very important series of scenes, they were shot over eight different days. We needed to get Josh Charles to arrive at a certain time. Chris was going on to do “Tyrant,” so we needed to shoot his stuff right at the top. There was a need to combine all of these people and keep attention on the scene that was supposed to look like it was happening one after the other. It meant juggling days, and getting the Chris Noth stuff at the top of the schedule and the Josh Charles and Jeffrey Dean Morgan stuff to work at the end of the schedule.”

“This was a very important series of scenes, they were shot over eight different days. There was a need to combine all of these people and keep attention on the scene that was supposed to look like it was happening one after the other.”
robert king

Tim Guinness, director of photography
“Tim was crucial for the lighting — we’ve done these things that are in Alicia’s head before. The lighting here had a streak of romanticism with the blue that could not exist in the kitchen. It was painting with a slightly more primary color, as if it was the front of a romance novel, there was supposed to be an element of unreality. That had to be a mix because the first time she walked in the door you had to think, well maybe this is not fantasy, it’s only when you pan over to the guys that you see something heightened in the photography.”

Peter Nolan, camera operator
“We were very careful with the shot of Alicia leaning back in bed, dreaming, in reality. Tim asked if I wanted a crane and I thought we could do it on a regular dolly with risers. We had to match the speed of Julianna leaning back in bed thinking. The camera had to almost feel like a balloon rising above her. A crane probably would’ve been easier, but I did like that there was something ragged about how we rise above her. Sometimes it’s fun to have a camera move that shows its guerrilla roots. Peter created a very nice move that made it seem elegant with her leaning back and the camera rising above.

“Also, with Peter and his camera crew we tried two variations on Alicia’s approach to the door from outside, the one we repeat three times. One is what we use — a wide angle dolly in on the door with Alicia moving ahead of us going to the door — the other was a reverse on her approaching us and starting in extreme soft focus and coming into focus as she gets to the door. We tried both versions and I probably would’ve stuck with the out of focus thing but I believe it was Peter who advised ‘Why don’t you shoot it both ways?’ He advised doing the wide angle move in and that was the one we chose. The other one was wrong. When I saw it in the editing room it was very clear, partly because dreams are associated with soft focus, it was the wrong idea.”

Dan Lawson, costume designer
“He’s one of the heroes of ‘The Good Wife’ because of his wardrobes, which are not just based in making people pretty. Something that screams out in network TV is a lack of sensitivity for telling the story through wardrobe. It’s usually about dressing people like on soap operas, very heightened and very pretty. What I find Dan does is dress people based on the mood of what he thinks storytelling is. What was very key was the Josh Charles wardrobe, it was something Josh had worn before as Will, but was very much in this dream state of being the lightest of what the three guys wore. There was a sense that he was some imagination taken from when Alicia’s character had seen him at other times. You knew there was something off there. It was very light colored, almost tan, so it was very much coming from an imagination.”

David Dworetzky, editor
“I’d always wanted to put the Regina Spektor song as the framework to it, there’s something about the words that would feel like it framed the scene. A lot of the best scenes I felt were in ‘The Good Wife’ were the ones without words — and also the way the music hit with images. Dave, without my saying anything, went off to see how this would work. That was Dave playing in the editing room with how long images would play that would link us up with the music. We’ve done that a lot with ‘Good Wife,’ where the song comes along and changes our whole editing scheme so the visuals line up with music and duplicate the intensity of the music. What I really like is when (Alicia) goes to the door to close it in reality, and then she turns back for the bed. As she walks back toward the bed, she pauses and the camera moves in on her — that’s when Dave makes the music go from the very prosaic music coming from [her laptop] to this very warm and rich version of the song.

“There’s a lot of fun tools at work in [the sequence] that I think is about the great collaboration of a TV set. Yes, Michelle and I wrote it. Yes, we chose the song and the thought. The writers room had this thought too of bringing the three love interests together. But it was really a combination of all five.”