CBS All Access’ “Why Women Kill” set its first-season action in three distinct time periods: the 1960s, 1980s and present-day, promising a titular payoff in each time period by the end of the season. In the finale, titled “Kill Me as If It Were the Last Time,” creator and showrunner Marc Cherry crafted an intricate slow-motion montage that weaved the pivotal deaths together across timelines. While the Pasadena mansion had previously been the only character that carried over from storyline to storyline, this montage saw all the central characters sharing the same space. Although it was staged like a play, it was not done entirely in one shot; director David Warren covered individual pieces and performers in closeup, with their period-accurate set dressing behind them. The sequence includes a tango, a tussle on the staircase and a fistfight that turns into a gun showdown — and, of course, the answers to whom the women were motivated to kill and why.
“The sequence was conceived on the page as a ‘worlds collide, overlapping event’ where all three murders had to happen, at least part of the time visually, at the same time. We had to choose one of the three sets — it’s the same house, but it’s dressed for different decades — and to realize that version, I had to stage it like a play so the timing would be the same and nobody would crash into anybody. Once I had that version staged, we realized there were three very beautiful angles in a wide shot where you could feel the multiple decades in one shot. That would drive where I would use the wide shots. Then when I went in and I shot coverage on all of the separate sets, it was set to the same music so that their blocking was exactly the same as what they did in the ‘worlds collide’ version so we could cut back and forth.”
“When it came to piecing everything together, there were a lot of blind cues: Somebody from the stairs can’t see when the gun’s on the floor, so I would verbally cue people three or four different times throughout the sequence. I had separate rehearsals with Lucy [Liu] and Jack [Davenport] to remind them of the tango vocabulary. There was a conversation about how good it had to be because the tango is very upright and strong, and Marc [Cherry] wanted it to be like he was giving it one last go, like a last burst of adrenaline. We softened everything a little bit and made it so she was moving around him at times and just enjoying their last embrace. In essence everyone had their own track, and they had to act like they were the only ones that mattered and not look at the others.”
Director of photography
“To help the audience focus on each time period’s story, medium and closeup coverage were shot separately in their respective houses. This kept each story’s narrative clear without having other actors dancing, fighting or killing in the coverage. For the montage, we locked off the wide shots to simplify the post VFX, but kept lots of movement and interesting angles in the coverage to complement our shooting style set during the season, including dolly, Steadicam and low-angle shots. Our formula of centering the actor in the frame, in extreme wide shots and in coverage, keeps the audience focused on that person, but also gives us a sense of the character’s place in that particular decade by using our widescreen format to incorporate much of Mark Worthington’s amazing set design and décor.”
“It was shot over a number of days, on different stages, and there was no continuous best take to use. It was decided early on not to use any sound effects or dialogue at all, with two exceptions: the click as Rob’s pistol doesn’t fire and then the first time Rob is shot. Everything else was music, which meant that Mateo Messina, the composer, was going to orchestrate the specific punches, stabs and shots. He volunteered to write the score as we edited it, which is not the usual way. During this process, sometimes we would change the picture to help Mateo’s timing, specifically for a punch to land on his orchestral hit. He would also accommodate our requests, and he told me later that we’d put him into unusual time signatures for a bar or two in order to stay with the picture.”