On the surface, “Night Sky” sounds like a typical sci-fi series — the elevator pitch would be “elderly couple finds a portal to another planet” — but the Amazon Prime Video series is much more than that: It’s a road trip show, a mystery thriller, a family drama, a love story and most poignantly, a meditation on aging. And co-creator Holden Miller did not approach it as a sci-fi series.
“It really started off with that relationship drama or dramedy, whatever you wanna call it — something that captures the ups and downs, the sadness and the humor and really was about a long-term love relationship between these two characters, Irene and Franklin, and what was happening to that relationship as they were aging and approaching the kind of final act of their lives and the questions that were raised by that process. What are we doing here? What is it all adding up to? What does it mean to share your life with someone else?” Miller tells Gold Derby during our special fun “Making of” roundtable discussion with six creatives from ‘Night Sky’ — co-creator, showrunner and executive producer Daniel C. Connolly, plus four crafts artisans — director and producer Juan Jose Campanella, cinematographer Ashley Connor, production designer Scott Kuzio and editor Josh Beal. “Those are such huge questions that it felt like the story needed to have this science-fiction aspect to it to allow us to bring that to the fore and add adventure and mystery and romance and spectacle and fun to it.”
Set in Illinois, “Night Sky” stars Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons star as Irene and Franklin, who had discovered the underground portal in their backyard decades ago. Since then, they’ve been taking periodic trips to look at the stars on the unnamed planet in a completely furnished room with La-Z-Boys. Despite this, the show does not spend as much time on the planet as you might think, calling for a more grounded (literally) look with a hint of the great unknown out there.
“I think that was the trick of the show — to balance out the sort of sci-fi elements with the personable, intimate nature of the story. For me, that was always at the heart of what drove the story. We talked a lot about how the sun and the moon played an element into these people’s lives, so all the lighting and the design and the wood all sort of played into this natural element. We designed the sets to have large windows. I’m not a DP that has done a lot of moonlight, but we knew we wanted the celestial to play such a role, ” Connor shares. “I think that’s the fun part of building this world — it’s reality but it’s not. We really wanted to give it a sense of wonder and magic to our exteriors and to their experience of the world. In our daytime interiors, which were so beautifully built, we let hard sun and hard light play a role.”
But the series would not not work at all if not for the performances by Spacek and Simmons. The Oscar winners had never worked together before, but immediately after their first scene you feel a lifetime of history between them. Spacek was at “the top of our lists,” according to Connolly, and her joining gave the show was a “confidence-builder” that they could attract actors of her stature. Spacek and Simmons were so tremendous together that Beal, who worked on their previous series “Bloodline” and “Counterpart,” was just watching good take after good take.
SEE ‘Night Sky’ cinematographer Ashley Connor on combining Spielberg and Haneke to create the Amazon drama
“They both have very different acting styles, which is very interesting to watch,” he says. “My guiding thing with the two of them is… when you’re dealing with a talent like that, I just wanna stay out of the way. It makes it a pleasure. Good actors, I cannot sing their praises enough and I so admire their contributions.”
“The only good surprise you can have on a set is by an actor,” Campanella adds. “Every other surprise is bad news. It’s the one piece of the puzzle that you never fully see until the cameras are rolling. But we talk about camera tests and we know about the lighting… but you have no idea what’s gonna happen with the actors. They can give a different reading. You think the scene is going to be moving and then it’s so much more than that. Those are the moments when you really feel that privilege to be there. Most of the people in the world are going to see it on the screen, but there are only 50 of us in the whole world who see it live. And this is something I’m thankful for every day that I’m working — when that magic happens. Luckily we had a lot of that.”
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