17. October 2021

Fact, fiction, comedy, soap, power dynasties: unpacking Succession


After a nail-biting season finale worthy of the very best dished up by America’s Eighties-era dynastic soaps, the satirical media drama Succession is about to unveil its third blockbuster season. And every of its episodes is a rigorously crafted meeting of writing, efficiency, sound and design that builds on the one earlier than it.

The present’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, is deep in post-production of the ultimate episodes, however took time to unpack the constructing blocks which have helped elevate Succession from mere media cleaning soap to real white-knuckle power drama. (And one in all HBO’s breakout hits.)

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and his father Logan (Brian Cox).

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and his father Logan (Brian Cox).Credit:HBO

We start by tackling what the digital camera doesn’t see. I ask him how vital to a present like Succession is the time spent modifying the episodes?

“I think we obsess about the written word and the lines, and so we take many, many drafts and work on them in the room, and then on the page and on the day,” Armstrong says. “But because we overwrite a bit, and because the takes are quite loose, we end up with very long episodes.”

A typical episode, he says, is about 90 minutes lengthy earlier than it’s lower all the way down to the hour format: “There’s a good deal of reshaping and cutting.” (The prolonged cuts will almost certainly by no means be seen, he says.) “So the edit is a not-much-talked-about but incredibly important part of the process. A thousand decisions a day are made by the editors and they’re usually really smart ones.”

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong (right) with actress Sarah Snook.

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong (proper) with actress Sarah Snook.Credit:HBO

Fact or fiction?

“Two things are true,” Armstrong says of the present’s delicate dance between satirical fiction and ripped-from-the-headlines particulars of real-life media dynasties. “If you’re writing a show about modern media moguls, Rupert Murdoch and his family are an incredibly important model and some of their disputes and the dynamics have been very vivid.” (It’s ironic, too, that the present in Australia airs on the Murdoch-owned Foxtel.)

“But it’s also true that the same is true of Sumner Redstone and his family, Conrad Black going to jail, Robert Maxwell and his extraordinary family, the Mercers and Breitbart emerging on the right,” Armstrong provides. “Even the Fairfax family, and the mining magnate Gina Rinehart [moving into media ownership]. If you’re interested in dynasties and how family wealth cascades down, there were a lot of models.”

The backstories

Aside from the present’s writing workers, the present’s long-arc story plotting makes use of a handful of media consultants who lend the present their insider data of the enterprise and the households that rule it, Armstrong reveals. They are Wall Street Journal author Merissa Marr, enterprise author William Cohan and media government Jon Klein.

“We have the landscape in our heads, but we couldn’t write it without the knowledge of the media and business landscape,” Armstrong says. For lots of the present’s twists and turns, because the household battle for management of Waystar RoyCo, “you can get these rather byzantine processes,” Armstrong says. “They help us get all that detail right. And knowing that we have them gives us the confidence the business stuff that we portray [is accurate].”

The set and places

Unlike many hour-long scripted American dramas, Succession has only a few standing units,” Armstrong says. Most of the scenes, together with these on the household’s multi-million-dollar yachts, penthouses and places of work, are filmed at numerous places beneath the steerage of director Mark Mylod and manufacturing designer Stephen Carter.

“We have a lot of discussions about this, and the filming style is documentary derived, so the writing seeks to sort of give you the feeling of having a peek behind the curtain,” Armstrong says. “And that’s our creative touchstone, when we talk about the sets, what is it really like? And what it is really like is, sometimes, rather more anodyne and international hotel-ish. If you have seven homes, every room is not a beautifully curated expression of your personality.”

The filming places must be actual, Armstrong says, “which means there is a lot of money. All portrayal can have a sort of element of glamourisation, and we don’t want to glamourise or de-glamourise it. It just should be what it is, which is the spaces you end up in with a lot of money, and their private jets, and their homes that feel quite a lot like international hotels.”

Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) in Succession.

Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) in Succession.Credit:HBO

The rating

One of essentially the most shocking issues about Succession is that the present’s composer, Nicholas Britell, is the man who additionally did the scores for Moonlight, The Underground Railroad and the Disney reboot Cruella. Signing him, Armstrong says, was an surprising boon of getting Adam McKay direct the Succession pilot. “He’d worked with Nick on The Big Short and so when we were talking about the score, he was like, Nick’s the best.”

“Nick used to talk about this waltz that was an unsteady three-beat, like the three central kids [of the Roy family], never in time with each other,” Armstrong says. “So it became this kind of wonky, percussive, New York sound that I just immediately responded to and loved. Even in the edit, I usually watch the credit sequence for the episode and I still enjoy it. It’s a tonal reminder of what the show is, right?”

Shakespeare or cleaning soap opera?

The query is a straightforward one: is Succession a reboot of Dallas or King Lear? The reply might be just a little little bit of each, although Armstrong confesses to be extra accustomed to the tonal notes of Shakespeare than with the historical past of Eighties-era American soaps. The key, Armstrong says, is to give attention to “the most dramatic moments in these characters’ lives”. The problem is to obviously commit to 1 or the opposite.

Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) in a scene from Succession.

Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) in a scene from Succession.Credit:HBO

“The things that happen to these corporations are dramatic, and the things that happen to the people in their lives are dramatic, so I think, in a way, the challenge is to keep on incorporating how incredibly fast the media world, especially as tech collides with it, is changing, and the impact on the people in it,” Armstrong says. “As long as we follow the stories that we’ve set up and have the courage of our convictions, it feels like we don’t have that [uncertain] tension.”

The impression

Succession doesn’t command Game of Thrones-esque scores for its US community HBO, nevertheless it does command the lion’s share of the media noise machine. In half that’s because of the means the Trump presidency reshaped the best way the media noise machine works within the US, however additionally it is, Armstrong says, as a result of no person loves a peek into the world of the media greater than the media itself.

“Honestly, I think there might be an element that we’re a media show, and the media is very interested in the media,” he says. “When I talk to people who love the show but are not journalists or people who work in film and TV, it seems like people connect with the familial relationships, the portrayal of psychology and, hopefully, the multifaceted nature of the characters that we intend to show.”

Succession (season 3) premieres on Monday, Foxtel on Demand at midday and Fox Showcase at 8.30pm

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Joanna Taylor

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