Interview With Vinyl Director Nicole Kassell
What were you favorite scenes to direct in "Cyclone"?
Oh, I loved it all. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot with this script. Directing the David Bowie scenes was probably a highlight of my life, for sure, as well as the Buddy Holly shoot in Coney Island. Those were two big set pieces. Getting to work with Bobby Cannavale and Carrington Vilmont [Ernst], and having Olivia Wilde's thread as a counterpoint to Richie's mania was also really fun.
How did you approach filming Ernst, as his true form isn't revealed until episode's end?
I treated him as though he were real, but was definitely concerned with identifying the tricks that would only be revealed on the second viewing. Things like, he never actually touches someone. As you watch it the second time, he's always only seen from Richie's point of view. Even in that introductory scene where we travel into Richie's study, we don't reveal Ernst until Richie hears him and turns. I filmed it in a way where you should think he was sitting there the whole time. Also on a second viewing, you'll see other actors looking at Richie like he's being odd, though it had to be very delicately done. They couldn't look at him too strangely.
What goes into filming a car crash sequence like the one in Coney Island?
Many, many, many meetings. Storyboards, too. Very specific storyboards. We filmed part of it on location, part of it in the studio and part of it using a green screen. For example, the actual impact was done with dummies and cameras rigged to the car, as we wanted to show the audience the absolute brutality of the accident.
Technically speaking, it was so much fun to film, but at the end of the day, it's also just heartbreaking. It really is a loss of innocence for all of these characters, and sadly, I think many of us understand these moments where you're too young for someone to die, and how that just changes everything.
There are interstitials in every episode, though each director handles them a little bit differently. How did you approach the Buddy Holly scene?
While the location itself was already called out in the script, I worked with the DP to design the overall look: the slow open, the fog and how wide the shot is. That all came to me based on the fact that Ernst himself is a ghost, as is Buddy Holly, in a sense. He too, was a tragic, premature loss.
Are there particular directing styles, or those of your idols, that you like to incorporate into your work?
When I'm directing my own material, I have my own heroes for sure, and Scorsese is one of them. I realized in preparing for this, films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino and Goodfellas are all in my "film" DNA. For this show, I got to study the pilot and the previous episodes leading up to mine, and it was so fun to channel that language, along with the period of the 1970s. Things like whip pans or whip zooms, unless it was a very stylized piece, wouldn't likely appear in my own work. For this, it was about embracing the look of the show, and Scorsese's language. That was just a blast.
You also directed an episode of The Leftovers: Season 2's "No Room at the Inn," which interestingly enough, is also about a unique duo.
That too was a deep character study, which I loved. It's been so great to work so deeply with actors like Chris Eccleston, Janel Moloney and Bobby Cannavale. With Janel, even though her character remains silent in her wheelchair, we still discussed "What's she doing here?" in every scene. I love working with actors -- I try and get into the space where they need to be so that I can work with them on that. For both episodes, it felt like I was making a movie.
As a female director, what are your thoughts on the traditionally male-dominated entertainment industry?
It all comes down to opportunity. As you can tell, I've had extraordinary opportunities and fortunately, the work speaks for itself. I've had incredible mentors and champions, too. Do I think there's more opportunities that I could have had? Very possibly. But that's true for all filmmakers. The way I try not to get down about it, is to focus on the work, which often leads to new and greater opportunities. I'm very excited to hear this volume of conversation about it though, because we do want to see the studios and the networks hiring a whole range of human beings.
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