Artisans Unpack Prime Video’s ‘Swarm’ and More Emmy-Nominated Shows



The Emmy-nominated creatives behind Prime Video‘s shows have sat down for another series of Master Crafts conversations with Variety‘s senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay, drawing back the curtain on the complex process of bringing these wide-ranging series to the small screen.

In five separate conversations, Tangcay spoke with the teams behind “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Daisy Jones and the Six,” “Jury Duty,” “Swarm” and “I’m a Virgo,” broaching everything from last-minute script changes to set building. In another conversation, Tangcay also spoke with the “Gen V” team.

Here are five takeaways from the creatives behind Prime Video’s latest hits:

‘Daisy Jones and the Six’: Collaborative Problem Solving

Costume designer Denise Wingate, production designer Jessica Kender; music supervisor Frankie Pine; co-creator, co-showrunner and executive producer Scott Neustadter and executive producer Lauren Neustadter gathered to discuss their adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel about a 1970s band reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac.

Pine discussed how the COVID shutdown allowed for the actors — who were not all trained musicians — to keep learning their respective instruments while in isolation.

She shared, “When we finally learned that we were going to be really shut down, I fought to keep the band camp going in a virtual way so that our actors could still hone their craft and learn how to be musicians.”

Pine also shared that the actors did eventually gather together in person five days a week to rehearse in order to develop the chemistry of a real band — the group genuinely bonded and even remained active in a text group chat, “Daisy Jones and the 11.”

Lauren Neustadter had the idea for the actors to play a real set for the first time as a band at the venue SIR to feel more comfortable with performing. As Pine described, the band alleviated their nerves with shots of tequila taken out of Chipotle sauce containers.

Elsewhere, the crew practiced the art of creative problem-solving when a wardrobe choice caused an issue during filming.

When Wingate decided to switch things up with rock star Billy Dunne’s regular aesthetic and dress actor Sam Claflin in an embroidered shirt, others on set weren’t so sure it fit his character. How to sort out this sartorial conflict?

It was decided that Daisy (Riley Keough) would draw attention to the surprising shirt choice by making fun of Billy for wearing it, thereby acknowledging its unexpected presence onscreen.

“It’s such a good example of how closely we were all working together,” Lauren Neustadter said.

‘I’m a Virgo’: The Power of Abstract Thinking

Boots Riley’s comedy “I’m a Virgo” follows the life of a 13-foot-tall young man named Cootie (Jharrel Jerome) navigating the world after a sheltered upbringing.

Creator, writer, director and co-showrunner Riley was joined in conversation by costume designer Deirdra Elizabeth Govan, visual effects supervisor Todd Perry, director of photography Eric Moynier, editor Tom Eagles and production designer Maxwell Orgell.

“I like to look for contradiction,” Riley said of his unique concept. “I came up with the pitch before I even knew what it was about.” His idea began simply with the premise of a “13-foot-tall Black man in Oakland.”

Riley wanted to show Jerome’s larger-than-life character through in-camera techniques and rely less on digital effects.

Perry said, “These techniques have been around since filmmaking existed. So we were just harking back to those types of effects that were already established…Having someone closer to camera and making that look like they’re bigger than the other person has been around for a century. We reacquired that knowledge.”

Conceptualizing the Psychic Theater, a fantastical setting for the show involved a great deal of open-mindedness and persistent brainstorming. Riley and his team contemplated the feasibility of filming on 26 different on-location sites and building a variety of sets before settling on the black box theater concept for the storyline.

Riley said, “A lot of solutions to the things that we did throughout the whole thing was ‘Let’s just do the thing you’re not supposed to do and just go hard into that.’ And it changed the story a little bit. So the conceit was that it would be Psychic Theater, so it’ll feel like a black box theater, which is a thing that I’ve been running away from my whole life.

The team was able to find creative freedom through this approach.

Orgell responded to Riley, “You were trying to illustrate abstract concepts visually. I was thrilled when we started moving into a more abstract realm with it. You get to defy gravity or physics or logic, it can move and shift any way you want. So that’s a super fun challenge to try to approach.”

Govan added, “The beauty of it is that we took something that was so daunting and turned it into something that was very minimalistic but powerful.”

‘Jury Duty’: The Importance of Planning Ahead

The creative team behind the comedy “Jury Duty,” which follows the masterful manipulation of a man named Ronald Gladden into believing he’s part of a particularly chaotic group of jurors, discussed the detailed planning required to keep Ronald from learning his peers were actually actors.

Executive producer and showrunner Cody Heller, executive producer and director Jake Symanski, executive producer Nicholas Hatton and executive producer Andrew Weinberg spoke to what went on behind the scenes of their unique comedy.

One storyline involved shooting at the courthouse, a T-shirt factory and a Margaritaville trip all in one day. While this might not seem like too difficult a task, filming at multiple locations was complicated by the fact that Ronald couldn’t know the experience was contrived.

“All of our actors had one take to do it all. All of our camera people had windows as short as 15 seconds to move in and hide in the right place before Ronald walked in. It was a nail-biter,” Symanski said.

Hatton also described pulling off the Margaritaville scene: “That was one of the scenes that was truly hidden camera…but there were certain scenes that Cody and Andrew felt strongly would play out emotionally better if they didn’t feel the presence of cameras, which is a good theory. In practice, that’s bloody hard.”

Hatton revealed that “Jury Duty” was meant to be reminiscent of the classic 1957 film “12 Angry Men,” with Ronald intended to emerge as a noble hero amidst his fellow jurors.

On executive producers David Bernad and Todd Schulman’s brainchild, Hatton explained the show’s premise: “What if you did a sitcom but the person in the middle of it did not realize they were in a sitcom? And then from there, they very early on identified that they wanted to have this final heroic moment. And then ’12 Angry Men’ ended up being the model for it. And could you get this real person, this hero, to have that Henry Fonda moment of slamming their fist on the table and standing up for what’s right and truthful?”

‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’: Cast and Crew Bonding Over Time

Creator, executive producer, director and writer Amy Sherman Palladino unpacked the final season of “Mrs. Maisel” alongside executive producer, director and writer Dan Palladino, production designer Bill Groom, costume designer Donna Zakowska, director of photography M. David Mullen and director of photography Alex Nepomniaschy.

“We started this together, we still love each other at the end. Not many people can say that,” Sherman Palladino said. “At least we got to go out together, broken, but a family.”

The series, which wrapped up with the premiere of its fifth season, tracked the career of 1950s housewife-turned-comedienne Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), who makes a name for herself in the entertainment industry despite patriarchal obstacles.

“The closeness that we had off camera is part of why everything worked on camera,” Sherman Palladino continued, citing a sense of care and understanding between the cast and crew.

Groom also spoke to the fact that the team developed an artistic synergy over time, attributable not only to their familiarity with one another but to the scripts themselves.

Groom said, “At some point, it just was clear that we were just able to collaborate. I’ve said this before, but it’s all in the page. The page doesn’t say it’s a pink room, but the feel of it is in the writing.”

The team continued to praise each other and the work they had done together over the years.

Dan Palladino said, “Bill Groom created maybe my favorite set in that Gordon Ford set. We had partially created the studio because we wanted to slowly introduce Reid [Scott] as Gordon Ford, but then we had to build the whole back office because we knew we wanted a writers’ room and we needed a bullpen. And just that set gave us so many opportunities for walk-and-talks and shouting down and looking up.”

“I call him Harry Potter because I feel like he’s a magician,” Sherman Palladino said of Groom’s production design prowess.

‘Swarm’: Developing Audience Connection

Janine Nabers’ series “Swarm,” created alongside Donald Glover, takes a dark and twisted approach to the relationship between pop star and fan.

Showrunner, writer and co-creator Nabers was joined in conversation by costume designer Dominique Dawson, production designer Sara K. White and director of photography Drew Daniels.

Nabers said, “Donald and I were just really focused on creating a Black female character we just haven’t seen before on TV. We really wanted the audience to be with her on a journey but also pull away from her at times. We wanted her to be an unreliable narrator to her own story — and just the fun and complexity of watching someone go through this kind of grief, loss in the pilot and all the unexpected twists and turns of her character throughout the series.”

Dawson noted that protagonist Dre is a “sponge” and “is still finding herself”; as such, she thought she would mimic the style of the different cities she traveled to, and this informed her approach to her costume design.

Daniels discussed the sense of closeness the audience feels with Dre through the use of intentional camera angles and movements. Dre, who is obsessed with the popstar Ni’Jah, attends a concert and the audience sees her make her way through the crowd.

“What we had to do was give it perspective, so it felt like we’re with her and we’re seeing it with her. So it didn’t make sense to have giant sweeping wide shots or shots to really show off the set in that sense. Because all that mattered was we were with her, we’re following her, we’re next to her, we’re seeing what she sees. So it kind of guided the cinematography and helped cut costs,” he said.

Nabers also discussed how Dominique Fishback transformed into the role of Dre.

“It was a little kismet-y, honestly…The minute she is Dre she just is a completely different character. It’s fascinating, it’s incredible. For us, it was a gift. I think she’s one of the greatest actors of our time.”


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