12 Shows Greatly Boosted Their Emmy Nomination Counts With Artisan Nods

Crews made big contributions to a dozen shows that copped five or more Creative Arts nominations in major categories

Below-the-line categories offer a great opportunity to boost a show’s Emmy nomination counts. Here are 12 shows that benefit this year from artisan categories.

Big Little Lies
Hair department head Michelle Ceglia knew from day one that “Big Little Lies” director Jean-Marc Vallée preferred to shoot in natural light and that put her in a bit of a quandary. Just how do you do “realistic” hair for such glamorous actresses as Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley, especially if they’re (largely) playing wealthy Monterey, Calif., housewives? “That was the overall look of the show,” says three-time Emmy winner Ceglia, who this year earned one of the show’s six Emmy nominations. “You had to keep everyone real within reason. That is, ‘realistic’ for Jean-Marc but well-put-together for Monterey.” Fortunately, everyone could let their hair down for the extensive “trivia night” party full of Audrey Hepburn and Elvis costumes that took 11 nights to shoot. “It’s hard to know everyone’s level of ‘natural,’” says Ceglia, who discussed the look extensively with her fellow artisans. “Stylized, you know what you’re going for, but ‘natural’ takes time to find.”
– Randee Dawn

The Crown
On the one hand, Oscar-winning production designer Martin Childs, similar to his four other fellow Emmy nominees for “The Crown,” had an advantage in telling the tale of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign: a good deal of her public life has been captured on camera. But “Crown” is no biopic and that left Childs to interpret many areas, from suffusing early episode sets with the grayness of post-WWII Britain to showing a long row of rooms that separated the queen’s bedchambers from Prince Philip’s. “It was representative of their marriage and arrangement,” he says. He also sought out or constructed rooms with large windows that allowed for natural lighting, following the cinematographers’ preferences. “You have to keep communicating constantly,” he says. “If you’re going to say [to director/executive producer] Stephen Daldry that you’re going to make Churchill’s room a post-war wreck, you want to make sure he says, ‘Yes! And make it more so!’”
– Randee Dawn

Dancing With the Stars
When you’re doing a show featuring competitive ballroom-style dancing, costumes are naturally going to have a starring role, but “DWTS” costume designers Daniela Gschwendtner and Steven Lee (who coordinate women and men’s costumes respectively, and picked up one of the show’s seven Emmy nominations this year) say their outfits are more than just attention-grabbing spangles and feathers. “The dance is the story they’re telling,” says Lee, whose nomination went to a Halloween episode that allowed for even more extreme outfits than usual. “With the lighting and the costumes and the hair, we don’t have a written, scripted story. So we tell it visually.” They also have to do it on the fly, with parameters including set design that change weekly. “We do it by outthinking all the problems that could come up in the show ahead of time,” Gschwendtner says.
– Randee Dawn

That three of the five Emmy nominations for single-camera editing for a limited series/movie this year went to “Fargo” indicates the extent to which careful cutting contributes to the show’s distinctive style. Curtis Thurber, who earned one of those three — the show itself picked up 10 below-the-line nominations — notes that while they’re not specifically harking to the studied, longshot-dominant style the Coen brothers brought to the film the series is based on, they’re not immune to it, either. The meditative quality of the long cuts and broad vistas (rather than intimate talking heads) comes from the series’ conceit that it is a “true story” being told in a “real” environment. “We’re going to the most cinematic look,” says Thurber, noting that doing so showcases other artisans’ work, including production design and cinematography. “We’re not acting like you’re watching this on a small TV screen. We want to make this feel like it could be part of a canon of movie sequels.”
– Randee Dawn

Production designer Judy Becker got to re-create film history, depicting the world both in front of the camera and behind it for FX’s “Feud,” depicting the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Crawford’s home couldn’t have been more different from the Davis digs. “[Exec producer] Ryan Murphy and I talked about how we needed to distinguish their worlds visually,” says Becker. “While Crawford’s was based on her reality, color palette and glamour, Davis’ was not glamorous. She was making the statement, ‘I’m not a glamour girl.’” Becker also got to re-create a Hollywood set of yesteryear, most notably that of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” For that, the designer referenced original color photographs from the sets. The 1963 Academy Awards backstage also made an appearance, as Crawford walks actor Maximilian Schell through a very long Steadicam shot backstage — on a set Becker re-created at the Santa Monica Civic Center — the site of that year’s ceremonies. “There was nothing there,all of that had to be built.”
– Matt Hurwitz

National Geographic
Albert Einstein’s late-life cloudlike hair may have been a thing of magic, but “Genius” key hairstylist Davina Lamont knew full well the iconic physicist had to be grounded in reality. For one thing, as star Geoffrey Rush noted, Einstein didn’t care about his looks, he cared about his work. That left Lamont, who earned one of seven below-the-line nominations for “Genius,” to follow the mandate of keeping things “natural” as they followed the great man from the late 19th century and well into the 20th, going from “fluffy” into an era of hair creams and gels. “The idea was to keep it natural-looking and un-hairsprayed,” she says. Lamont was also responsible for keeping an eye on Einstein’s expansive mustache, which had to gray as he aged. The natural synergy flowed across the board, she notes: “We’d see each other’s work on any given day and go, ‘Wow, it’s like we’re in each other’s heads!’” she says.
– Randee Dawn

Planet Earth II
BBC America
BBC’s sequel to the award-winning documentary series “Planet Earth” again celebrated the inherent beauty found worldwide, with the map-hopping production capturing magnificent sights and sounds that most could only dream of encountering in real life. The show received multiple Emmy noms for factual photography, as well as in sound → and editing. “Working on ‘Planet Earth II’ was a major career highlight,” says Emmy-nominated cinematographer Mark MacEwen. “Filming the Komodo dragons for the ‘Islands’ episode was really special for me. I dreamt of dinosaurs as a child and these are still the closest things to a dinosaur today, and to get the chance to film them fighting for the opening program was an amazing experience.” He adds, “It’s not easy to navigate the jungle normally and even harder when trying to follow animals with huge cameras and stabilizing technology.”
– Nick Clement

Saturday Night Live
The Peacock’s longest-running program, “Saturday Night Live” has to rely on top-flight artisans in order to pull off its weekly feat of combining daring social commentary and side-splitting humor in multiple rapid-fire video segments. Pacing is a key creative element here, and senior editor Adam Epstein, who is Emmy-nominated for his work, says the show “is a special work environment. Everyone there is so fast and efficient without ever sacrificing quality. There are true pros in every department.” And as with any live, on-the-fly programming, creative obstacles constantly arise and are conquered. “On the film pieces, our main challenge is always the schedule, as most people don’t realize that almost all the shorts are shot the day before they air.” Epstein adds, “It’s always an intense edit, though getting to hear a live audience react to something you finished 15 minutes ago never gets old.”
– Nick Clement

Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley” is a true water-cooler program that keeps the tech sector buzzing as well as appealing to people who are just looking for something funny. Much of the show’s continued success can be attributed to the sharp editing. Its scripts are so joke-filled and the performances of its talented ensemble are so quick that “Silicon Valley” needs to have pinpoint cutting in place for the constant stream of barbs and zingers to land with maximum comedic impact. Emmy-nominated editor Tim Roche says, “I would say one of the biggest challenges we face is balancing comedy and plot. Over the course of four seasons we realized that pushing story trumps the punchline or the joke, so when we start cutting dailies, we always find these wonderful moments that the actors improvise, and the true gems stay in the episode.”
– Nick Clement

Stranger Things
The surreal aesthetic quality of “Stranger Things” feels cinematic in that a massive world has been created, with seemingly endless possibilities on visual and narrative levels. Emmy-nominated editor Dean Zimmerman says: “Working on ‘Stranger Things’ is in the top three experiences of my career. The environment fashioned by the Duffer brothers and [production company] 21 Laps Entertainment allowed me to be creative, especially [because it allowed me] to play in my sandbox and get as dirty as possible. That was unparalleled for me, to be able to expl ore and utilize my talents. It really made the entire process a joy to go to work every day.” Zimmerman applauds the creative collaboration among the Duffers and producer Shawn Levy, calling it “effortless and totally organic.” He adds, “Our vision for the series was unwavering, and working with Netflix yielded a perfect storm.”
– Nick Clement

The HBO comedy series has been one of those hits that every network dreams of creating. A smart, relevant look at contemporary politics that takes a caustic and over-the-top hilarious view of Washington, D.C.-based shenanigans, the show wouldn’t be half as pointed as it is without the invaluable contributions of its artisans. “ ‘Veep’ probably has the highest word count per minute of any show on television,” says Emmy-nominated editor Roger Nygard. “Stylistically, one of our mandates as editors is to maximize the jokes per minute. The writers create an abundance of crazy stuff, and we are challenged to work with it as much of it as possible.” Editor Eric Kissack, also up for an Emmy, says, “The biggest challenge of editing ‘Veep’ is having too many good jokes. The writers create about twice as many jokes as can fit in an episode.”
– Nick Clement

The pilot production designers Nathan Crowley and Zack Grobler had two worlds to deliver for HBO’s acclaimed series. “This was two stories: the workings of the park underneath and the park above,” says Crowley. “It’s like a period movie and futuristic movie, all in one.” The world below, of Westworld’s operations center, was rooted in the look of L.A.’s Pacific Design Center. “I’m a great modernist,” Crowley says. “I love clean lines and perspective. You never knew where the end of the set was. The underneath could go on forever.” The contrasting world above was shot on standing sets at Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studios in Santa Clarita, as well as numerous locations throughout Southern California and in Utah. “In the original movie some of the settings almost look like little sets,” Grobler says. “We wanted to create a much more realistic look. The show’s ‘guests’ want to feel something realistic. It’s almost like live theater, where you feel part of it.”
– Matt Hurwitz

(Pictured above, from left: “The Crown,” “Big Little Lies,” “Stranger Things”)

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