Awards Daily talks to the costume designer, editors, cinematographer, and music composers from Showtime’s Yellowjackets, about how 5 key scenes from Season 1 came together. *Spoilers Ahead*
There are so many moments from Season 1 of Showtime’s Yellowjackets that fans will never forget, and paired with the direction and performances, much of this is because of the exceptional crafts on the show. Here, we break down five key scenes with behind-the-scenes info from costume designer Marie Schley, editors Plummy Tucker and Kevin D. Ross, cinematographer C. Kim Miles, and music composers Anna Waronker and Craig Wedren.
“Pilot” – The Cold Open/Ritual Scenes
Is there a more memorable cold open than a teenage girl being trapped in a pit of death? Or a more memorable scene than a group of soundless people in ritual furs, eating what appears to be said teenage girl?
“They had written for the hunter character at the very beginning to be wearing a Coed Naked Soccer T-shirt,” says costume designer Marie Schley. “It’s the epitome of the ’90s to me. It ignited my imagination. I knew there were lots of layers here we were going to play with.”
Schley decided it would be interesting to have each person represented by an animal in the ceremony, with Misty being revealed as a wolf, and other smaller animals like a rabbit, a possum, a squirrel, and a skunk in attendance. But who would be the highest animal in the order?
“We only knew one of the characters, which I think most of the audience has guessed now,” says Schley. “That Lottie was the center queen—we were calling her ‘the oracle’ at that point. We had to name everybody because there wasn’t a character that went to any of them. We had to be very careful about not giving anything away. Even the hair that’s on the antler queen’s costume, it had to look a little generic so people were guessing.”
Plummy Tucker, who serves as editor on the pilot, credits how well the scene came together to the script and director, Karyn Kusama.
“I was like, ‘Who is it [“pit girl]’? And they [showrunners Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson] were like, ‘We’re not sure yet!’ It’s evolving and they weren’t planning to reveal that in the first season. Karyn is an amazing director and we’ve worked together for years and years and years—I’ve cut all her films. We have a good back and forth. She got great footage—it’s really amazing—and it was just as scripted really. Obviously where you use the shots is important, but it’s what Ashley and Bart had in mind initially, to tease this idea of bird calls that sound human and you’re like, what’s happening? And then you wonder for the rest of the season, who’s the girl that ends up on the spikes?”
Editor Kevin D. Ross, who worked on “F Sharp” as well as other episodes, watched the pilot and thought he had figured pit girl out.
“It’s Lottie,” he said. “And they were like, ‘Really?’ I was going by facial structure. I was wrong. I don’t know who it is.”
Episode 1/Episode 2 “Pilot”/”F Sharp” – The Crash
Tucker was tasked with editing the pilot, which established a lot of the rules for the Yellowjackets universe in terms of connecting different timelines.
“It became clear that the most important thing was to connect the teen version of our character with the adult version,” says Tucker. “It’s hard to know until you have the footage or know how the footage is going to be shot, what the best way to connect that is. We were introducing all the teens and then connecting them with their adult character. But it became clear that it was important to cement that sooner.”
The pilot ends with the plane crash, and the second episode, “F Sharp,” picks right up with what Tucker started, only now guided through Ross’s editing hands. Tucker and Ross know each other through their circles, but didn’t do any kind of hand-off or discussion between the episodes.
“You can see where it was going,” says Ross. “I tried to mimic Plummy’s style in the situation of cutting back and forth between present day and past.” Though they had to change the dates from 1995 to 1996, because COVID set everything back by a year. “My plane crash, which picks up from Plummy’s, starts from the perspective of Misty, so it’s a little bit different. That’s not how it was in the pilot, but we tried to work around making it match. My director originally imagined it as a slo-mo, lyrical, Misty-creeping-through-the-plane, but we wanted to make it faster-paced and jump-cutty, so the style of that changed as well to make it more dramatic.”
Cinematographer C. Kim Miles says that they had a particular plan for the plane crash worked out well ahead of time, backed by rigorous storyboards.
“We knew that being inside a confined space such as the airplane fuselage would present a series of challenges to the cast and crew. Not only was the environment claustrophobic to begin with, it was also eventually going to be filled with smoke and flame from the special effects department, which made visibility a real concern within the set, particularly in the event that egress became necessary, especially considering that the set was dressed with all manner of razor-sharp twisted metal and broken plastic.”
On the day of filming, communication proved to be a challenge between cast and crew, so they had to make specific arrangements to make sure everyone knew what was happening in the scene and coming up next.
“This sequence was shot in April or May, I believe,” says Miles, “which in Vancouver is still a somewhat cool time of year; an often-overlooked mercy when you’re involved in such demanding filmmaking. On top of all this of course were the demands on the cast; recreating a terrifying experience like this is exhausting; from the physicality of thrashing about and screaming to the mental fatigue of trying to create a believable performance in a situation that few if any of us can draw from real-life experience.”
Episode 6 “Saints” – Baptism
“It’s like an operatic David Lynch something or other,” says music co-composer Craig Wedren of the sequence in Episode 6 where Lottie gets baptized while Shauna tries to do a do-it-yourself abortion.
“How often do you score an outdoor abortion into an underwater religious ritual?” says music co-composer Anna Waronker. “And they wanted it to be as strange and out there as possible. In some ways, it was effortless to come up with stuff that was so unique. Weaving it all together was what took time, but it was very fun.”
While music composer Teddy Shapiro and his collaborator Caroline Shaw produced the music for the pilot, Wedren and Waronker took over duties for the rest of the series, taking the echoey theme and “fucking everything up exactly where it needed.”
“We just went crazy with weirding it up and incorporating some of the elements Teddy and Caroline had,” says Waronker. “We started piecemealing things in a really, really interesting way that became woven into what we did.” Which included making voices more of the instruments, as you can see (and hear) in the Baptism sequence.
“Kudos to the creative producers, they just kept encouraging us to play,” says Wedren. “And then everything we did, they’d say, further, further, further. We would just sit there and growl into a microphone or use a synthesizer that sounds like an airplane that’s always crashing.”
“One of the hooks of the score is me screaming into a guitar, I think,” says Waronker. “I think that comes up whenever the symbol comes up.” Or what they call “the witch screech.”
Shooting-wise, cinematographer Miles says that he and camera operator, Daryl Hartwell, partnered on the Baptism scene.
“We knew we needed to shoot the sequence in a way that didn’t detract from the nuance of the performance,” says Miles. “This was a pivotal moment in the series; the deification, in a way, of Lottie is a consequence of this outwardly peaceful sequence. We wanted to capture the serenity and majesty of the environment; we wanted to be patient and respectful in capturing this moment. We did know that we wanted to split the surface of the lake, so we did add equipment that would allow that but otherwise we really didn’t do anything that we wouldn’t have done if it were set anywhere else. We just tried to maximize the beauty and serenity of our surroundings in keeping with the story.”
Miles describes the scene as an awakening for each character, moving from one phase of existence to another.
“Shauna has arrived at a point in her life in which the frivolousness of youth is suddenly confronted with the spectre of consequence. Lottie is searching for meaning and is looking for some sort of higher reason for their predicament. Each has to confront reality in a way that offers little evident choice, and each has a decision to make that will have permanent consequences. Sophie Nélisse’s performance in this scene was consistent with the rest of her season, which is to say that she brought a carefully considered, honest, powerhouse of a performance to a very challenging scene. Her delivery was nuanced in the face of horror and heartbreaking in its release.
In each scene, the power of nature is omnipresent; in Lottie’s scene, it is one with the illusion of salvation of which she is so desperately in search, while in Shauna’s scene, the forest is mute, indifferent witness to her futile human struggle of life against consequence.
That being said, we knew that the two scenes would play against each other in hard cuts, and we wanted to preserve some editorial agility should the scenes need to shuffle against one another for pacing or whatever other reason, so we shot them as complete scenes in and of themselves and let the intercut work itself out in post.”
Episode 9 “Doomcoming” – Cold Open and Orgy Mayhem
In the cold open of “Doomcoming,” Adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) stabs Adam (Peter Gadiot), interspersed with flashes of her past clipped into her thought process, something that wasn’t originally scripted or planned.
“When we cut the scene, we were just like, this just needs something more,” says editor Kevin D. Ross. “We need to get into this manic state that Shauna is reaching and what her motivation is to remind the audience. So we came up with little snippets of it. I pitched that to Ashley and Bart, and we did it and we fine-tuned where we put those little cuts.”
He also threw in a huge season finale spoiler.
“One of the things I thought was most fun was that I put a snippet of dead Jackie in the snow.” Of course, they made sure audiences couldn’t see her face. “It’s in [Shauna’s] past but we haven’t seen it until Episode 10. I think that really helped sell that scene.”
Then, later on in the episode, Ross edited what can only be called “the orgy” scene following a mushroom trip at Doomcoming, where the girls seduce Travis before chasing him into the forest like an animal.
“We were always trying to push it as much as we could,” says Ross. “The girls were wearing these black contact lenses to look like monsters. It was disturbing, especially because of Travis’s state. There’s nothing titillating or erotic about it, because it’s so creepy. This is some teen’s biggest fantasy, but it’s all gone wrong.”
Even though she didn’t edit this episode, editor Plummy Tucker recalls seeing it and noting that “it’s creepy when you see it in reverse [the women chasing the man]. We’re all so conditioned and it’s beautifully done.”
While Travis is living both his best dream and worst nightmare, the score also gets amped up with growls, voices, screams, and electric guitars.
“The mushroom trip—that was an epic process,” says Wedren. “It was a 15-minute cue. You have about a week to compose an entire episode, and there’s nearly wall-to-wall music in this show. So to compose a 15-minute cue, get notes and revisions on it, and have everyone be happy with it in a week is insane. Fortunately that episode kept getting pushed, so we ended up getting some padding. But that one took a couple of weeks to get just right.”
Episode 10 “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” – Reunion Entrance
If only we all could show up to our reunion with The Offspring as our soundtrack.
Cinematographer Miles says that for this particular scene in the finale, where the girls reunite for their 25th reunion, they wanted to shoot a slow-motion power entrance for the ladies.
“Director Ed Sanchez had particular music in mind for the sequence and we just wanted to have a little fun and button up the absolute absurdity of the sequences leading up to the moment,” says Miles. “When else could you combine overcoming the childish trepidation of making an entrance to prom with a victory walk after having disposed of a body?”
The scene is a culmination of everything the ladies have gone through in Season 1, with the surviving Yellowjackets showing up as a force to be reckoned with, despite their conflicting situations.
“’Reservoir Dogs-style’ I believe the script said,” says Miles.
To complete the scene, you need a killer look, with costume designer Marie Schley pulling a beautiful Chanel shirt for Taissa (“which is keeping with her bougie lifestyle”), a dress for Shauna that looked like something her husband bought for her (“so slightly off”), and a dress she made in collaboration with Juliette Lewis.
“She had come up with idea that she wanted [Nat] to look punk but in that Debbie Harry way. We brainstormed and I created this one-shoulder dress. It looks sort of like a garbage bag with a shimmery quality, which I like.”
And as for Misty, like her character, Christina Ricci was crafty and self-sufficient: she picked out her own outfit because she was 8 months’ pregnant at the time.
Yellowjackets Season 1 is available on Showtime.