Former resident wins Emmy for ‘Mrs. Maisel’

Former resident wins Emmy for ‘Mrs.  Maisel’By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime followed up on the success of its first season with another eight Emmy wins last month. While it missed out on Outstanding Comedy Series to “Fleabag” (another Amazon endeavor), savvy Ridgecrest residents likely honed in on the Best Cinematography race where former resident M. David Mullen took home the Emmy.

“I was a bit in shock when my name was called out because I had some stiff competition,” said Mullen. “All the nominees were strong this year, but I thought ‘Game of Thrones’ would win.”

This year’s award marked Mullen’s second Emmy nomination and first win.

“I couldn’t have done this without the support over the years of my parents and my family. And it all started when I picked up an 8mm movie camera in my freshmen year at Burroughs High School as part of a talent competition in the state Latin Convention.”

Mullen brought his first cinematic attempt – a Monty Pythonesque spoof on the Trojan War – to the California Junior Classical League Convention as a teenager, after which he was “hooked” on filmmaking.

After the Mullens moved to Virginia where David finished high school and started college, they returned to California where he completed his Master of Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts. Since then, Mullen has shot dozens of movies and nearly 100 episodes of television.

As a Director of Photographer, Mullen is in charge of all things related to the photography of the production – “from camera placement and movement, lens and filter choice, to lighting, and through final color correction,” said Mullen.

“I work with the director and assistant director on planning how a sequence will be shot, and then I have to figure out how to light these setups for the mood desired. I have to figure out how to achieve any complex camera movements, and I have to do all of this in a cost-effective and timely manner.”

He didn’t forget to mention that he can’t accomplish this without a team of camera operators, electricicians and grips, gaffers, assistants and others.

Mrs. Maisel is a mid-20th-century period comedy-drama series that tells the story of New York housewife-turned-comic Miriam “Midge” Maisel. The cinematic style of “Mrs. Maisel” includes lots of color, long tracking shots and very few “close ups” – giving the show a very “Broadway” feel.

“We mainly tried to avoid the cliché of a faded, honey-colored period look with static framing,” said Mullen. “The main goal was to be lively and energetic. We looked at a lot of 1950s-period movies and advertising to get a sense of the design aesthetics of the period, something that I call “industrial optimism” – a sort of positive, post-WWII energy that was taking place in art and commerce.”

He called the color schemes “aggressively pastel,” for the way they leap out against the neutral, dingy backdrop of urban New York City. He also cited Woody Allen’s “romantic, yet naturalistic look for New York City” as an inspiration.

While Mullen said he still enjoys the look of films, he finds the immediate “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” quality of digital photography to fit well with the demands of shooting television.

“With digital cinematography, you see the results on the monitor live so there is less stress about how the footage is going to look the next day. Also when something goes wrong with film, the problem can happen in any number of steps from the camera, to the stock, to the processing, to the transfer, to video, etc., so it can be hard to track down the culprit.”

The majority of this year’s nominees came from digital streaming services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. These formats, like “premium cable” channels such as HBO and Showtime, allow long-form creators a unique way to tell their stories.

“The biggest difference between network television and premium cable/streaming is that for the latter, you shoot a whole season of a series before it gets shown to the public. It can be treated artistically as a whole piece, rather than be modified weekly as ratings come in after broadcasting an episode.

“The pay-cable channels and streaming services tend to try a wider range of programming in order to entice viewers, which can allow more interesting stories to be told. The budgets tend to be all over the map too, but some shows get enough money to do more ambitious things visually.”

Mullen’s camerawork can also be seen in CBS’s “Extant,” NBC’s “Smash” and Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” as well as in some episodes of “Westworld,” “Designated Survivor,” “Mad Men” and “The Good Wife.” Some of his movie credits include “Twin Falls Idaho,” “Northfork,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “The Astronaut Farmer,” “Jennifer’s Body” and “The Love Witch,” for which he was awarded the Dublin International Film Festival Award for Best Cinematography in 2016.

Mullen said that two things that shaped his style of cinematography are growing up in the wide-open spaces of the Mojave Desert and the influences of Japanese art and cinema from his mother’s side. He said he spends a lot of time reading and watching movies between projects. He also enjoys traveling with his wife and visiting his parents in Ridgecrest (this reporter remembers spotting Mullen once at the local Starbucks).

Mullen is now on a break, awaiting Season Three of “Mrs. Maisel,” which will air this December.

Pictured: Cinematographer M. David Mullen (right) is shown on set with the cast and crew of Emmy-winning series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” — Photo courtesy of Amazon

Story First Published: 2019-10-04