The Emmy Winning Cinematography of Mrs. Maisel
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has comfortably positioned itself as an awards magnet. It’s a favourite of the Television Academy which have nominated it fifty-four times and served the gold twenty-fold. All this for a show that has only been on the air for three seasons. When a program enjoys this adulation, (the series also has a strong footing at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards), especially at this remarkable pace, its own hype usually generates into an unfortunate after-effect. The superficiality of competition discredits the actual work at play. This common symptom of award seasons is something that has seeped into Maisel’s reputation. Its award-winning cinematography stands as one of the finest examples of camerawork currently on television. It thrives on long takes and employs a thorough use of depth, and awareness, in a truly cinematic way. The video below blends scenes from the season two premiere “Simone” and season three’s “It’s Comedy or Cabbage.” Both episodes won cinematographer M. David Mullen an Emmy.
The long take is the unenviable but always spectacular product of the most precise cinematographers. Never is that more on display than in Mrs. Maisel. Done right, they are seamless and heightened world-framing devices that allow us to completely explore the characters and their surroundings. Think on a smaller scale — the Goodfellas “Copacabana” scene, or most recently in 1917 — a culmination of orchestrated sequences. Traditionally a cinematic element, it is reassuring that the technique has slipped into television, even if it’s uncommon. Fortunately, it’s clear that Mullen is more interested in creating a sweeping survey of the show’s gorgeous design and an ample stand for Sherman-Palladino’s famed back-and-forth volley dialogue, rather than showcasing the “most” runtime. Mullen’s takes allow the camera to ground itself in each scene, whether it be gliding through the vast lobby of a Floridian hotel, or through the sodium-lit streets of Paris and its bohemian nightclubs. In a sit-down interview with Indy Mogul, Mullen explains the dance of lighting and “choreography” it takes to set up a shot. Even more impressive is the camera’s focus, or lack thereof on space, a rarity in television, which usually has defined and systematic compositions for ease of shooting. Most of the characters that populate the show are framed from the waist-up - it's a move that sometimes creates an emotional dissonance but keeps the show's swift pace on its toes. This 180 on the classic television look, sided with the dreamy pastel strokes of the production are always refreshing.
There is no lack of phenomenal cinematography on television. It has become a common byproduct of the sheer amount of shows that currently air. To their credit, by using cinematic techniques and embracing an idiosyncratic scope, the camera department of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel have helped inch television cinematography over those blurred lines that separate the small screen and film.