‘Succession’: Crafting a World for the Roys to Destroy

Craft Considerations: Watch how a director, cinematographers, and production designer of "Succession" Season 3 use the show's visual style to undermine the Roy family.

'Succession' Season 3: Crafting a World for the Roy Family to Destroy

“Succeession”

Screenshot/HBO

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with HBO, for this edition we look at how executive producer and director Mark Mylod, cinematographers Christopher Norr and Patrick Capone, and production designer Stephen H. Carter expanded the scope and cutthroat character psychology in Season 3 of “Succession.”

“Succession,” more than any television show in the last several years, has gotten tagged with the term “Shakespearean” — in part because that’s what people say when a show is meaty and good. But it’s also shorthand to describe the show’s blend of abusive family drama and exquisitely sharp humor, driven by both the writing and the show’s visual style. “Succession” not only dangles the question of who will Daddy Roy kiss but visually undercuts the privileged bubbles in which the Roys live. It does this through sets that flatten the pleasure of wealth while capturing its soulless aesthetic, camerawork designed to react almost as another member of the ensemble, and a shooting style that departs from traditional coverage methods to support the performances. Maintaining that rich style, which does so much storytelling on its own, during the twists and turns of Season 3 as well as the restrictions of shooting during a pandemic was a huge challenge for the “Succession” creative team.

In the videos below, you’ll see how they met that challenge. Director and executive producer Mark Mylod discusses the process behind finding and scaling up the show’s level of intensity as it heads towards huge confrontations and betrayals; cinematographers Christopher Norr and Patrick Capone discuss seeking out cinematic moments of stillness that complement the show’s visual language, using their cameras to create power dynamics among the characters; and production designer Stephen H. Carter talks about growing the complexity of the show’s settings in ways that help push the characters forwards (or backwards).

The Directing of “Succession”

Director and executive producer Mark Mylod was determined to hit the ground running in Season 3. He saw as a challenge both the unexpected restrictions of shooting safely during the COVID-19 pandemic and the natural evolution of a television series in its third season. “When you get a show that thrives on a messy or jagged edge in terms of its rhythm, what can often happen is that in successive seasons, those edges get rounded off,” Mylod said. “So I find a big part of my job is actually to be the guardian of that jagged edge, to keep it messy.”

Mylod continually resists the urge to build tight or prettily composed frames, instead fostering a set that supports shooting in as close to 360 degrees as possible so that actors feel free to move and react spontaneously; equally important to Mylod is that the camera operators feel free to find organic moments that hammer home a dramatic or comedic point by looking at its ripple effects or peripheral reactions, which ultimately help give each scene meaning.

The finale “All The Bells Say,” has a number of dynamic-changing moments Mylod helped guide, but one of his favorites was a simple one, where the camera operator found Willa (Justine Lupe) taking a huge glug of wine as Connor (Alan Ruck) brags about her accepting his marriage proposal. “Justine was maybe 25 yards away and wasn’t on camera but stayed in character and…Greg, our camera operator, somehow spotted her in his peripheral vision,” Mylod said. “It’s honestly one of my favorite moments in ‘Succession’ because that moment encapsulates everything that we’re trying to do in terms of the way we make the show.”

The Cinematography of “Succession”

Cinematographers Christopher Norr and Patrick Capone have mastered the show’s method of shooting, in which camera operators are almost members of the ensemble, moving and anticipating the story as each scene unfolds and finding moments of surprising, authentic reaction. But too many snap zooms and too much off-angle coverage can spoil the broth, and they spoke about finding balance and even a few heightened, cinematic moments.

Of Episode 7’s epic party, Norr said that a deliberate change of visual pace is what hammered the ending home. “There’s a lot of chaos in the party and Lorene [Scafaria], the awesome director, we both decided let’s now go cinematic and smooth,” Norr said. “That stillness added [to the level of] drama and sadness to it. It was the only way that could end.”

Meanwhile, Capone had the challenge of warping the lushness of the Italian countryside to match the characters in the season’s last two tumultuous episodes. “They would take me to these locations and [Mark Mylod] would say, ‘You know, we can’t make this look like a Merchant Ivory film.’ I said, ‘Well, then don’t bring me to La Foce with all these beautiful hedges,'” Capone said. “We figured out a way that we weren’t going to affect the light or the environment that much, but we could affect where we put the camera.” Where Capone and Norr put the camera often tells us all we need to know about which characters are aligned with each other, which characters have power, and which have been set completely adrift.

The Production Design of “Succession”

Production designer Stephen H. Carter has, by this point, nailed down the look of the incredible wealth that the Roys move through with such blitheness. The world of “Succession” is pleasant but cool, filled not with the characters’ personality but with anonymous, inoffensive props likely chosen by an interior designer. In Season 3, however, Carter got the chance to expand the complexity of the sets and inject some character into them, particularly through the showcase of Kendall’s 40th birthday party.

“Kendall’s birthday party Is a great example of one where we’ve gone a little bit off the normal ‘Succession’ menu and let ourselves have some fun with what is the extent of Kendall’s megalomania and the extent of his lost grip,” Carter said. That lost grip took up a whole set of gallery spaces on location at New York’s The Shed event space, and four or five different rooms on the show’s sound stages in Queens.

Carter was guided, he said, by thinking about how Kendall might go about asking his handlers to plan the look and the feel of the party. “[We treated] it as if, you know, a team of party planners and Bushwick, Brooklyn artists had been hired to come in and decorate and work their magic,” Carter said. Where Kendall would insert himself would be telling of the ways in which he can’t escape the specter of his family. “The recreation of his office at Waystar Royco, but set into this hellish sort of Inferno, I thought that he couldn’t resist. You know, even though it’s supposed to be a birthday party, he’s still taking political swings.”

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