‘Mare of Easttown’: Building an Authentic Community Through Craft

Craft Considerations: Watch editor Amy E. Duddleston, costumer Meghan Kasperlik, and production designer Keith P. Cunningham explore their powerful, yet subtle use of craft.

Mare of Easttown Kate Winslet Craft

HBO

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work that we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with HBO, for this edition we look at the subtle craft of “Mare of Easttown” with the limited series’ Emmy-nominated editor Amy E. Duddleston, costume designer Meghan Kasperlik, and production designer Keith P. Cunningham.

Creator Brad Ingelsby’s scripts for “Mare of Easttown” were filled with local details, imbuing a fictional town with memories of the working-class Philadelphia suburbs where he grew up. Combined with series director Craig Zobel’s naturalistic approach to filming on location, this meant a premium was put on research and getting regional details right. Yet capturing that authenticity was simply a jumping off point for the artisans behind “Mare of Easttown.”

In a story of one community’s interconnectedness — about people who were raised, and are now raising their kids, in the same town — these details would also become the building blocks costume designer Meghan Kasperlik and production designer Keith P. Cunningham used to carve out the individuality of each character in Ingelsby’s deep ensemble. And as you will see in the first video below, editor Amy E. Duddleston would have to carefully fine tune a rich tapestry, balancing the demands of what she referred to as a “family drama wrapped in the conventions of a murder mystery.”

The Editing of “Mare of Easttown”

Duddleston had the unenviable task of not only balancing dozens of principal characters, but keeping the viewer grounded in how their lives overlapped. While Detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) was sorting through dozens of local connections to figure out who murdered Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny), the audience had to understand how those pieces fit together.

When production unexpectedly shut down — with approximately two-thirds of each episode in the can — the editor got an unorthodox opportunity to tighten the complex ensemble piece when she was tasked with editing all seven episodes with the footage they had. “It was tremendous because we got to hone the scripts,” said Duddleston.

Once seeing the cuts, it became clearer what elements of story were essential and which were not. During this process, Duddleston found Ingelsby, who wrote every script, to be a surprisingly open collaborator. “Brad really embraced it,” said the editor. “He was all in: open to taking things out, or removing dialogue, that we could see weren’t needed in the bigger picture. Anything that would make things clearer.” As a result, when production resumed, with two months of shooting left, the creators had new focus on their essential story and what they still needed to maintain a narrative drive and keep the first six episodes under an hour.

In the video above, Duddleston breaks down the unique balancing act of cutting the first episode, where she not only had to introduce every major character (sans Evan Peters’ Det. Zabel), but also find ways to build Erin up as a co-protagonist and entrench the viewer in our hero’s point-of-view.

The Costume Design of “Mare of Easttown”

From the Philly accents to what beer Mare drinks (Rolling Rock), regional details were essential to creating a convincing atmosphere that viewers would want to visit — and scrutinize. From a craft perspective, the northern Pennsylvania-based press focused their praise on the costumes designed by Meghan Kasperlik and her team.

A handful of local papers told the story of how the Los Angeles-based costume designer parked herself outside its hometown taverns, hardware stores, and Wawa convenience stores to study residents’ functional approach to their wardrobes. But according to Kasperlik that research was simply step one. The costume designer would hire a local shopper to buy up dozens of t-shirts from local bands and businesses, and she would drill Ingelsby about each character’s specific job in order to properly age and individualize their clothes.

In her early conversations with Winslet — in which the star detailed her intention to show her character’s hair color roots and make her skin texture look worn — Kasperlik knew she had a willing collaborator in unearthing Mare’s emotional burden through costume. That did not mean it was always easy to convert the star into Mare; Kasperlik admitted the character’s date-night outfits were her two hardest pieces of wardrobe in the entire series.

“Kate is so stunning, it was like, ‘What can we get away with without making it look too nice?'” said Kasperlik. “We even tried some simple dresses from Target, and it was, ‘Yeah, you look too good.'”

In the video above, the costume designer breaks down how she worked with Winslet to create Mare’s “armor,” as well as her efforts to capture the complexity her daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice).

The Production Design of “Mare of Easttown”

Prior to working with Ingelsby on “Mare,” production designer Keith P. Cunningham became familiar with how the writer used his blue collar characters’ homes to capture their emotional journey with their collaboration on the 2020 film “The Way Back.” Then, Cunningham was forced (due to budget constraints) to translate Ingelsby’s Philly-based script into a California setting. For their HBO series, he had the rare opportunity to shoot on the actual location.

Through extensive scouting and a reliance on local crew, Cunningham learned how each home had a base of older furniture, inherited from parents and grandparents, with a layer of contemporary items on top. The production designer and his set dressers worked tirelessly to find the right combination of texture, tone, color, and pattern to capture the story of each family, but also supply a quick read that instantly orientated the viewer as the series jumped from home to home.

Cunningham admitted he was terrified to purposefully design interiors that weren’t pretty or coordinated. “Mare of Easttown” is set in the unremarkable locations of everyday working-class folks; it doesn’t offer the kind of period, fantasy, or lavish setting that traditionally proves to be catnip for an incoming art department.

Still, exploring the layers of these characters’ lives offered an equally rich palette. “Shooting in this location gave us some great opportunities to make the normal look more cinematic,” said Cunningham.

In the video above, watch how the production designer did exactly that by using the spatial layout of each home to visually tell the story of the Sheehan and the Ross families, as well as how he collaborated with Zobel to create dynamic compositions that added depth and drama to every scene.

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