Sunday, May 9, 2021

Dickinson Behind-the-Scenes: An Interview With the Artisans [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image courtesy of Apple TV+)

Recently we had the opportunity to hop onto a Zoom call and interview some of the people who make Apple TV+’s series, Dickinson, such a success. We heard how much everyone loved their respective crafts, got behind-the-scenes information on how some of our favorite moments came to be (looking at you, “Split the Lark”), and had not-so-subtle hints that season three was going to break some more boxes!


One of the most impressive things about Dickinson is the incorporation of modern music with the 19th century story. Don’t believe Billie Eilish has a place in the life of Emily Dickinson? Think again! Ian Hultquist and Drum & Lace talked about the decision to integrate contemporary music into a period piece — something the show desired from the beginning.

“I think the trick was exactly figuring out how to implement that [juxtaposition],” Ian said. “At one point I think someone was suggesting having classical instruments, but playing hip hop. Or some people were saying it should be an all rap score.” He continued: “I think the trick for us was finding that fine medium.”

Drum & Lace noted that the choices that DeVoe Yates made as a music supervisor and the choices showrunner Alena Smith made as showrunner informed their decisions as composers. “We wanted to create something that sounded contemporary and fresh but also adds nods to bigger artists — something that sounded familiar,” she said. 

“We were given a lot of room to experiment,” Drum & Lace noted. “We’re really excited for how season two turned out and what season three holds for us.”

One of the biggest achievements in season two musically was “Split the Lark,” and the composers discussed how proud they were that everything came together the way that it did. “I think the most amazing part was knowing that it was going to be such a big plot point,” Drum & Lace noted. 

She noted that the first version of the song was relatively simple and scaled back — just a guitar and a voice. But then, Drum & Lace said: “We imagined it really like a Bond song. What is this sexy, beautiful ode to Emily’s poetry.” The composers noted that it was a really fun process to put the song and scene itself together. 

“It was so fun because it felt like a real collaboration between all parties,” Ian noted, “even [the] cast which we don’t get to do really often so that was exciting.”

As far as looking back on season one, the two composers noted that the Death scene was the most fun for them to work on, and Ian said: “That was one of the earliest things that we wrote.” The two also loved composing for the opening credits because they were left to their own devices and creativity.

Similarly, DeVoe noted that prior to Dickinson, he’d been working on a lot of projects with older music so the task to bring contemporary music into the 19th century was “exciting and daunting to be fresh with it but also be different from current shows. So it’s exciting.”


Even though Dickinson musically departs from the 19th century vibe, aesthetically everything — from costumes to hair and makeup and production design — stays relatively within the confines of what’s expected from a period genre. But that doesn’t mean these artists can’t push the boundaries and limitations in order to experiment and also pay homage to what’s happening in the characters’ lives.

“I always start with the period and what’s true to the period,” Jennifer Moeller, the show’s costume designer said. “And then I do sort of filter it through a contemporary lens. I sort of pick and choose the details that I feel will set well with the modern eye. … One of the greatest challenges, truly, is the resources.” 

Jennifer admitted that she gets a lot of questions about where she gets the clothes for the show. “People don’t always realize that we make the bulk of them. … All of Emily and Lavinia and the menswear? They’re all made. Finding material … is a real challenge. We go all over the world to find that stuff.” 

Ande Yung, the show’s makeup department head, talked about how collaboration is key between the departments and the actors, and that they always start out with a blank canvas in terms of makeup. “We think, ‘What’s appropriate for the situation they’d be in? … Sometimes Emily has a little more of a flush to her cheek to represent [that she’s a free spirit].”

Ande loved doing the makeup looks for “Split the Lark” because it involved collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera to research what kinds of looks would have been common for the time period on stage at an opera, and how they could do stage makeup based on that. “Being able to have some creativity was such a joy. I loved it,” she said. 

Neil Patel, the production designer for the show, also talked about his ability to play with modern elements of period pieces: “I made choices [for the Evergreens] that gave a kind of luxury and beauty for the set. … We avoid anachronisms but hopefully it feels fresh and appealing to the audience.”


When asked what they’re looking forward to doing that they haven’t done yet whether aligning with the period piece elements of the show or breaking the boxes, the artisans got quiet and then laughed, not wanting to reveal anything about season three of Dickinson

“We’re doing all those things that you’re talking about!” Jennifer said with a laugh.

It sounds like whatever is in store allows for the chance for hair, makeup, music, and production design in the next season of Dickinson will be amazing and so much fun.

Many thanks to the artisans for taking time for a Zoom call! Be sure to catch up on the first two seasons of Dickinson which are available on Apple TV+ now.


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