Brooke Kennedy and Christine Baranski on the set of The Good Fight (Photo: Elizabeth Fisher / CBS)
In the first episode of The Good Fight, a spin-off and sequel to the acclaimed legal drama The Good Wife, liberal lawyer Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) watches Donald Trump's inauguration with horror. In the premiere of the show's final season (Season 4), Diane wakes up to an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton won the presidency. Both episodes – and the 38 others that have aired so far – show a satirical sense that is as sophisticated as it is original; Series creators Robert and Michelle King consistently delve into issues related to race, gender, gender, class, and how to be informed and informed by the Trump presidency, with a perspective that eschews conventional wisdom in favor of amazingly unique insights and provocations. The season four premiere is a case in point: as Diane tries to navigate the new world she finds herself in, the episode shifts from wish-fulfillment to horror, with revelations both unexpected and wholly plausible – and often hilarious. The episode reflects the series' memorable premiere and looks forward to new directions for the series. It's full of rewards for Good Wife and Good Fight enthusiasts, but it also works as a standalone story and appeals to anyone looking for inventive political commentary.
It's also, like the series premiere it calls back to, brilliantly staged by Brooke Kennedy, a Good Wife alum who produced all of The Good Fight's episodes and established, shaped and evolved the show's cinematic grammar to make it one the most visual to make beautiful series on television. Kennedy began her career as a location manager for the New York classics Kramer vs. Kramer and Wolfen, before working as production manager for Michael Mann at Miami Vice and Crime Story. Her directorial style often plays out like a combination of the best of Mann and Kramer director Robert Benton. Like Benton, Kennedy has an infallible talent at finding the nuances of gesture, wardrobe, and performance that define and deepen character – every performance at The Good Fight, from the stars to the daily players, is remarkably structured and powerful. And like Mann, Kennedy pays attention to every detail in the frame and ensures that the frame itself finds the exact composition in order to achieve the maximum emotional impact and articulate the greatest possible number of ideas. I've been impressed with the elegance and economy of expression of The Good Fight since I was overwhelmed by Kennedy's work on this first episode and spoke to her over the phone about her approach at the DVD release of season four.
Filmmaker: I really love the graceful visual style of The Good Fight. What kind of conversations did you have with the Kings and your other staff in the early days of the series to set the tone?
Brooke Kennedy: When I put on a show, I often tell my creative partners, "If you take a documentary and name it, take Brazil and call that a 10, where are we on the scale?" This show is around eight, unlike Third Watch – that was like a three. Since this show was born from The Good Wife, we had a visual language that was elegant and classic. Fred Murphy, our original cameraman, loves great portraits. We want everyone to be in an attractive, stylized world.
Filmmaker: The style overlaps with writing to create a really interesting tone as there is a classic, low key visual approach but much of the content is emotionally painful or angry or funny.
Kennedy: A DP friend of mine wrote to me that the show's power lies in the fact that its surface is formal and conservative, but scratch that and you reveal a righteous rage underneath. I think that really sums up how we do things.
Filmmaker: How do the performances come into play? What kind of conversations do you have with the actors to help them balance genuine anger and reluctance?
Kennedy: Often an actor comes in and feels like they have to work to make the dialogue sound natural or to give it credibility. I say, "Don't play the jokes, don't play the drama. Just let the words do the work." I find it relaxes them and they move with it. We also have a phenomenal costume department. Once an actor walks in, we start to build his character in the dressing room. My biggest job is to make the actors feel comfortable and safe. It's actually quite simple because we all do it as a team. The leads – Christine Baranski, Delroy Lindo, Cush Jumbo, Sarah Steele – are wonderful for the guest stars. When I was doing The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies and I met and said, “What kind of show do you want?” She said, “I want actors to come to a show”, and this is what we built. It just makes it so easy. To be honest, it's like driving a Ferrari.
Filmmaker: I am sometimes amazed at the caliber of the actor with whom you can make guest appearances. Alan Alda, Margo Martindale, Rob Reiner …
Kennedy: These people are very easy to lead because they talk about actors who make good decisions. Your job is to be aware of the transitions in and out of things and maybe pull them back a little or ask them to emphasize a little more, but other than that, it's pretty easy.
Filmmaker: In terms of how you see the characters and their place in the overall setting – I speak both visually and in terms of what to expect from the performances – how much do you plan in advance?
Kennedy: I usually say I go into the shooting days and I know about 80% of what I want, but I love discovering the other 20%. I love it when an actor does something unexpected and I have to ask, "Is this real?" Maybe it is, and even if it's not what I imagined reading the script, I'll do it. Maybe it's better. Sometimes I read something and have an instant response to it and can see it right away. Sometimes it takes a little longer – a little casting, a little location work, just reading my head over and over, talking to actors about their ideas, hearing Robert express his thoughts on the script instead of just reading it. But really, I take a script and it's almost like a clam: I just listen to it and it tells me what to do.
Filmmaker: What about something like the season four premiere where Diane finds herself in an alternate reality where Trump lost the 2016 election? I thought you did some very interesting things there to convey your disorientation and to allow the audience to participate.
Kennedy: A lot has to do with sight. When Diane looks at someone, their view of them is perfectly clear and sometimes they look directly at her. Then when you come to her side, it's a normal shot with a different eye line – close, but different. I've done a lot to subtly keep the audience from feeling normal but not entirely normal. We ended up using color in ways we normally don't, which makes it more and more surreal. On this particular episode, Ron Garcia was the director of the photography, and Ron previously worked with Vittorio Storaro. Ron was very fond of the Lüscher color book, so we went through this book looking for colors that would improve Christine's journey. When she went into the woods, Ron created a very specific yellow that was inspired by his work with Storaro.
(Ron Garcia adds, "The gel you are talking about was a 'Vittorio Storaro Yellow'. I tried to get it in New York, but the gaffer got it in his Rosco Swatch book It was called Roscolux Cinegel R4515 CalColor R2003 Storaro Yellow. When I was working with Storaro, I asked him about The Last Emperor and how he got this yellow. He said he designed the gel that is now in the arsenal that is what I wanted in the Since they couldn't find it in time, I improvised with the gaffer and mixed what they had in the truck, combined a straw and a CTO to try and get the Vittorio Storaro -Gel and chose a color temperature that compensated and it wasn't the same, but the colourist made up for it and got to the yellow brooke I was talking about. ")
On each episode, I just take my cue from the script and think about where to go and what needs to be highlighted, and I talk about that with the DP. I'm not a dictator, I don't go: "Okay everyone, I'll make it pink." That's not how it works.
Filmmaker: How does your background as a location manager play a role in this? When scouting, what factors determine whether a location is suitable for the show or not?
Kennedy: When you start preparing, you begin the process of sizing the script. You take this one-dimensional piece and create a world. And just like there are great day players, there are certain locations that will really sell it. When you have an actor who has never been there and who says, "Oh, I feel good here. Yeah, I think he belongs here," that's important. And a lot has to do with asking questions like: Where does the light come in? Which direction? We start with that. And then we love depth of field, we don't like anything flat. You'll find that we live in a pretty elegant world. So restaurants are better restaurants. It is not Third Watch, where we lived in a cop's world.
Filmmaker: Glad you mentioned depth of field because that is one of my favorite things about the show, how much you always have in the frame. But it seems to me that it would be really difficult to put all the parts you need into a television schedule because so often you have so many actors in a scene and their reactions are all important, especially in something like the courtroom scenes. How do you approach these?
Kennedy: The first thing I do is try to imagine the behavior of each actor on the scene. Are they really going to sit across from each other and not move? Doesn't one look at the other while they talk? Are you on the phone? What is the choreography of human behavior? Then so often at rehearsals actors do things they don't know they are doing and I say, "That's great, just do it like that." When they're relaxed, they bring in more of their own choreography, then I layer that into the scene. There was an episode I did with an actor playing a judge who was standing in an unusual location during rehearsal and it worked because he was supposed to be inexperienced – the episode was about Trump appointing people that didn't belong in the bank. It was great and I just gave him a little guidance so that the blocking works within the scene as it was designed.
When we're in the courtroom, do I wonder whether the lawyer is walking around and going to the judge or playing in front of the judge, or is this a hearing where everyone just sits there? That anchors the scene. We take photos with three cameras and only in one direction. If we have five scenes in a day, we shoot all five scenes in one direction. Then we turn around and shoot everything in reverse. It's very hard for the actors, but they got really great at it. So you shoot three cameras and move around with those sizes to get all the looks, which is really important on this show. You can talk to an actor about it and just say, "Let's swing this over here and make the connection between the defense and the prosecutor." And sometimes we do a 360 where all the lights are hanging and you really move the camera. I'm just trying to understand what the story is and what kind of energy it needs at a given moment, and then the actors and camera have to hit it.
Filmmaker: I will assume that one of your roles as a producer will guide the other directors on the show to protect the consistency of the visual style and performances. What do you say to the guest directors when you put on your producer hat?
Kennedy: First, the kings are very involved. We have concept meetings, we show the directors the shows we like best and what they have recorded. We are very involved in the casting. We're doing a series, not an episode. When it comes to the camera, there are a few rules that you need to follow in order to break. We don't make handhelds unless there is a reason. That's one thing I learned from Michael Mann. You have to have rules. I'll also go over all of the actors and little nuances I know about them … but really, I deal with other directors the way I deal with actors. I see what they can bring to the special show and try to promote it. If it doesn't fit our narrative perfectly, I'll say, "That's a great idea, but if you did it just a little bit like this and we kept the camera lower, it would work great." And usually they say, "That's fine. Great, I know what to do."
Filmmaker: Ever since you raised Michael Mann, I have had to wonder what kind of things you learned to work for him that you still use as a director.
Kennedy: Oh, just pass on those gifts from the days of working with him. What Michael taught me is that everything is history. It doesn't matter if it's the pen someone is holding, the glass they are drinking from, the weapon, the color they are wearing – whatever it is, everything is history, history, history. And the other thing is, choose a point of view and stick with it. At that time we made films and clarified our guidelines. The framework needs to be designed and you have to make decisions about that framework. I also learned a lot from Bob Benton without realizing it. When he watched him in the courtroom on Kramer and saw how gentle he was with actors and how he had a vision, he knew that every actor has his own way of working and you have to create that trust between everyone and figure out how to get there where to be & # 39; go. On TV, we have to do this in seconds. With guest stars, I go to the hair and makeup trailer and say, "Is there anything you want to talk about? Are you comfortable here?" My first job as a director is to create a safe environment, and I feel that too EP. For my crew, for my guest directors, it's important that everyone feels in a safe environment to do the work they need to do.
Filmmaker: Speaking of sure, you are now preparing for a new season and obviously everything is different with COVID. Have you already got a feel for how COVID will change production?
Kennedy: Well, we won't be moving up until January. We're so political that we didn't want to move up before the elections. The Kings made what I think was a really smart decision to open up the writing room once the election is complete and see how the outcome will affect our stories. You know, the series premiere was originally written with the assumption that Hillary would win – that opening scene with Christine watching Trump's inauguration came later. We already shot the episode when Trump won, and it was written for a world where Hillary was president. We were there for Christine's new office, this big, big conference room. It was night and it was Delroy's second day at work with us and all the lights were out. This office was very large, it covered the entire floor. Like the 36th floor or something or the 50th, I don't know. Every time I stepped away from the camera, my entire crew was in the dark on their screens, watching the elections. I kept saying, "Put it away, I don't want my actors to think about it until this scene is done." And of course they knew. I walked aside with Christine to say something and she said, "I know, I've been looking." But they are professionals, they keep going.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently available on DVD and streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.