As the titular Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) becomes a bigger name in standup comedy within Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the venues she plays get larger and the scope of those scenes, too, continues to grow. Pivotal to making that possible are both co-creator, writer, executive producer and director Amy Sherman-Palladino and director of photography M. David Mullen.
The duo had never worked together before “Maisel,” and Sherman-Palladino admits that in the early days of the pilot they “did have to get used to each other’s rhythms.” She considers herself a “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go” personality, while David “needs that moment to step back and think. He’s a quiet soul.” But they got into a groove quickly enough and found the “energy and flow” of the show that has more often than not included oners.
“We have a love of movement,” she says. “But we don’t just do the shot to do the shot. [We consider], is it telling the story the way we want to tell the story? If it is, then it’s worth the pain.”
The third season of the Emmy-winning comedy series begins with some of the most ambitious oners to date, including a 12-page scene during which Midge’s parents Rose (Marin Hinkle) and Abe (Tony Shalhoub) are fighting in their apartment and Midge comes in to find her clothes everywhere, as well as Midge and her manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), riding in a Jeep to an airplane hangar where Midge will perform as an opening act for Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain) as a preview to their USO tour.
In the latter, the camera follows them from the Jeep to inside the hangar, where Midge is escorted onto the stage to wave at the nearly 1,000 extras dressed as army soldiers in the audience and then back into the Jeep.
“The script didn’t specifically have a sentence saying it was a oner, but it flowed from start to finish,” Mullen says. “If it’s written as continuous, you know she would like to not cut it up, if it’s physically possible.”
For this sequence, the shorthand and close relationship Mullen and Sherman-Palladino have cultivated over the past few years came in extra handy, not only to nail down the Steadicam’s progress, but also for the seamless movement of a ramp in and out of the space, the lighting style and the use of so many background players.
“It was a very real airplane hangar in the daytime, so I knew the daylight coming in would overpower any stage lights,” Mullen says. “So I lit the stage as if it was lit from the windows and then scattered some Tungsten lights around the stage and the stands. I actually stole the idea from looking at the USO number in ‘South Pacific.’”
Adds Sherman-Palladino: “We literally measured how long the shot had to be and went out to a parking lot and figured out the beginning and what the hell [Steadicam operator Jim] McConkey was going to do. It’s one of the most rehearsed things we’ve ever done, one of the most coordinated things we’ve ever done. [But] we wanted to start with a big splash this season. I didn’t want people to know what to expect.”