The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Cinematography – Tips on Filming a Blizzard in June

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Cinematography – Tips on Filming a Blizzard in June

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Mrs. Maisel!” As brilliant, smart, and witty as its main character Midge, the series is currently airing the fifth and final season on Amazon Prime Video. With long takes, vivid colors, and flattering lighting, the show often resembles a stage performance, but one that unfolds in real life. Wondering how to achieve this atmosphere? The director of photography M. David Mullen lets us peek behind the scenes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography. In the ASC Clubhouse Conversation on MZed, David Perkal talks about his visual approach, the inspirations, and the Emmy-nominated episode “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” Let’s talk about his exciting insights, such as filming a blizzard in mid-summer.

The series follows a New York housewife Miriam “Midge” Maisel, performed by Rachel Brosnahan, who discovers a hidden talent for stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her. The story unravels in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as Midge pursues a spectacular career in this field, with all the ups and downs along her way.

The ASC clubhouse conversation on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography with M. David Mullen
The ASC Clubhouse Conversation with M. David Mullen. Image source: ASC / MZed

The visual approach to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography

When M. David Mullen first met with the creator, writer, and director of the series Amy Sherman-Palladino, she already had a clear vision of the style suitable for this story. One of the big references was “Hannah and Her Sisters” by Woody Allen, where Amy liked the natural but attractive look of the cast and locations. At the same time, she warned Mullen, that she planned several complicated sequences in the pilot which would be choreographed in one move. For example, in the scene where Midge comes to her parents to tell them that Joel left, they continuously argue in different rooms of the apartment.

Continuous shots as big part of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography
A still from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, season 1. Image source: Amazon Studios

So, this was the initial visual approach that became the basis for the entire show ever since: the light, which was flattering for the cast, yet authentic and source-motivated, and a lot of camera movement. In the beginning, they had to shoot in a real location, and the biggest technical challenge was – how to get the action from one room to another and avoid light rigging on the ceiling coming into the shot. M. David ended up using a lot of LED blankets because they were thin enough to hide from the piercing camera gaze.

After the pilot episode turned out to be successful and Amazon Studios picked the series up, creators were able to build all the locations as stages. That allowed the crew to rig the spaces for different times of day and night. Additionally, they gained more freedom for 360 and similar challenging shots, although as M. David emphasizes, the rooms have solid double walls, so they still have to work within the space itself.

Artistic freedom in every shot

When they are not heading for an extended oner, Amy will still often ask Mullen to stage different cameras throughout the scene in advance. As he explains, she generally likes sequences to flow continuously, even in cases they plan coverage and edit in the end. For example, the scene may start with the Steadicam shot from the foyer down the hallway. As actors duck into the kitchen, there will be a B-camera waiting for them to perform in front of it. After that, the Steadicam will pick them up again and follow into the bedroom, where a C-camera is set and rolling.

What it meant for The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’s cinematography, is that they also had to light every corner for a long shot. And of course, the actors performed such sequences in one go, almost like in a stage play. Mullen remembers they once did a 12-page scene this way. Crazy! (And it essentially answers the question of how to achieve such a flow in cinematography and acting).

Creating a realistic blizzard feel

One of the Emmy-nominated episodes and finale of season 4, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” marks some significant events for the main character Midge. There is snow in every scene of the script, building up to the heavy blizzard at the end. A challenging task, as they were filming this episode in June, admits M. David Mullen.

Capturing a blizzard - tips from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography
A still from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, season 4. Image source: Amazon Studios

The filmmakers built most of the exteriors for this episode between two sound stages, dressing the storefronts against the walls of the original buildings. This way, they could shoot almost all the middle shots without extensions in the post. On the ground, the production design department laid real frozen ice, which they had to chop up overnight, combined with a few snow blankets to fill in the gaps. The falling snow was a mix of starch. Blended with melting ice, it eventually turned to glue at the end of shooting days, as Mullen remembers with laughter.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - previz
Previz shots for the blizzard scene. Image source: Amazon Studios / ASC / MZed
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - creating snowy atmosphere
Behind-the-scenes of the blizzard scene. Image source: Amazon Studios / ASC / MZed

But in the end, the effort was worth it. A huge part of what we see in the final episode was captured in-camera. VFX had to enlarge the snowstorm, repaint several too-obvious blankets, add some white hats on top of the cars, and take care of location extensions for the wide shots. But apart from it, the blizzard atmosphere was real, though not without helpful lighting.

How to light a snowy exterior

Mullen explains, that generally, he lit the snowy sequence at night with a very soft top or backlighting. He felt, during the blizzard, the light got very diffused as the snow acted like a filter. So, he backlit the front of Lenny Bruce’s hotel in the example below with three ARRI SkyPanels S-360C on a Condor. Then, the cinematographer added another ring of the same SkyPanels over the balcony to continue the soft top light on the snow.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - lighting for winter in mid-summer
Lighting the hotel scene. Image source: Amazon Studios / ASC / MZed

At the same time, the cinematographer played all those lights to a daylight balance of 5600k, while the camera was set to 3200k, just to make it feel more blueish and chilly. It’s not strictly realistic, Mullen admits, but he wanted to achieve this pervasive feeling of coldness in this episode. And so he managed.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - a still from season 4
A still from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, season 4. Image source: Amazon Studios

In the other street scenes, he supplemented SkyPanels with light balloons in between, to create a consistent top light. (You may see this setup on one of the making-of pictures above). The storefront windows, on the contrary, had tungsten lighting, so that the contrast between inside and outside would be even more drastic.

Filming in Carnegie Hall and unexpected issues

Yes, they actually filmed in and in front of Carnegie Hall. For the first time in history, the series production got three full days to shoot there, because the famous concert venue was closed due to COVID-19. (Usually, it’s always booked out and only allows very short shoots).

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - total blizzard
A still from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, season 4. Image source: Amazon Studios

In terms of light, M. David Mullen also went for backlighting with SkyPanels and put four of them on the Condor (which is basically the weight limit). In addition to this, he got a smaller Softbox with SkyPanels as a top light and used Carnegie Hall’s own lighting (which was 3200 LED with no color bias), adding some sources through the doorways, on the balcony, and in the lobby.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - Carnegie Hall sequence
Capturing exterior shots in front of Carnegie Hall. Image source: Amazon Studios / ASC / MZed

An unexpected issue occurred on the night of the shoot. They had planned a continuous shot, which would start wide and approach Midge, as she comes out of Carnegie Hall. The police blocked the road for each take and suddenly, the headlights of the stopped cars were creating unwelcome shadows on the actress. Mullen didn’t think of it when he was scanning the location during the daytime. They solved the problem with a quick line of grips, standing with floppies in their hands and blocking the car lights. But still, the cinematographer suggests keeping the traffic direction in mind when planning such a night scene.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography – camera and lenses choices

The show is shot on ARRI Alexa Minis with Panavision Primo lenses. Mostly, the cinematographer works in the wide-angle range here (they practically don’t do close-ups throughout the series): 24 or 27mm for Steadicam shots, and up to 40mm at the tightest for the rest.

Mullen also uses filters, prioritizing the Hollywood Black Magic diffusion filter, because he likes its blurring softening element. In the case of blizzard scenes, he went for a light Fog filter from Tiffen, which is a bit old-fashioned but makes the halation around lights have a little blue glow to them, adding to the overall wintry atmosphere, as you see in the film still below.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography - use of filters
A still from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, season 4. Image source: Amazon Studios

And some other learnings from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography

In the 81-minute discussion, M. David Mullen also breaks down the work of the camera and VFX departments throughout the show, explains why he likes to reduce the camera ISO to 500 whenever possible and goes into detailed tips on complex camera movements for some of the spectacular oners. If you want to learn more about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s cinematography, watch the whole ASC clubhouse conversation on

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Do you watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? What do you think about its cinematography? How did you like the tips on creating a film blizzard? Let’s talk in the comments section below!

Feature image source: Amazon Studios.


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