Creating that ‘Mad’ look

Director Jennifer Getzinger, who has helmed some of ‘Mad Men’s’ very best episodes, visited Israel recently and spoke to ‘Post’ about her career... and Don Draper.

June 24, 2013 23:44
'Mad Men’ director Jennifer Getzinger.

'Mad Men’ director Jennifer Getzinger 370. (photo credit: Courtesy PR)

There’s a lot that’s surprising about Jennifer Getzinger, one of the most successful television directors in the US, who has directed episodes of many popular cable and network TV series, including Mad Men. The finale of Season 6 of Mad Men aired yesterday in the US, but Israeli fans will have to wait a week for it to be broadcast on HOT.

It would be a huge surprise if Getzinger were willing to give details about the finale, but she’s not. However, it’s very unusual that she has taken time out to come teach at the Cinema of the South Festival in Sderot.

The festival, which ran earlier this month, took place at the Sderot Cinematheque and was sponsored by Sapir College, where Getzinger is a guest of Sapir’s School of Visual Arts. She gave a public master class on directing, as well as a smaller workshop for handpicked film students.

“I’m going to have them direct some scenes from Mad Men,” she said, over a glass of wine at the literary café Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem, just before heading south.

“I think it will be a challenge for them to really direct the scenes, and not just try and repeat what’s been on the show.”

Getzinger, who had never been to Israel before, is touring the country for a few days before heading to the Negev. She was undaunted by the prospect of visiting a city that has so often been the target of missiles fired from Gaza. Her friend, Cindy Chupack, a producer on Sex and the City, where Getzinger has also worked, was a guest at the Cinema of the South Festival.

“She told me the students are amazing, so engaged, that it was a warm environment. And she said, ‘You’re not going to believe the quality of the student projects.’” Intrigued, Getzinger decided to accept the invitation, after she had been working nearly non-stop for months, including directing two episodes of Mad Men’s Season 6, one of which has yet to air.

It has not been an easy year for her, since her brother, Scott Getzinger, a prop master on movies such as Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, was killed in a car accident in Connecticut in April 2012.

“I took some time off after that,” she said. “Then I went back to work and now I’ve been working so much, when this trip came up I really wanted to go.”

Getzinger, who studied film as an undergraduate at Boston University, took a very focused approach to her career, deciding early on that she wanted to direct. She has made some short films. But she knew that in the world of big-budget films, she would have to work her way up.

“I started out working for [B-movie master] Roger Corman,” she said. “That was where you started.” Then she began working on movies as a script supervisor for such films as Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.

“The script supervisor is responsible for the continuity.

You have to pay as close attention to every shot as the director does, you have to pay attention to every detail.”

Although her dream was to work in movies, when she got the chance to work in TV, she took it.

After working as a script supervisor on such acclaimed shows as Sex and the City and The Sopranos, she met Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, who was just putting together the pilot for the first episode of that show about an advertising agency in the Sixties, which has become one of the most acclaimed dramas in the history of television and has won 15 Emmys.

“He offered me a job as script supervisor, and I told him I really wanted to direct. He said, ‘I can’t promise you that,’ but that if I moved to Los Angeles and started working on the show, there was a chance.” She took the gamble, and left New York, where she had been living.

This move paid off big time – in the second season, Weiner gave her the opportunity to direct.

“He fought for me. He believed I could do it. He’s definitely been my champion,” she said of the famously demanding Weiner.

Weiner’s gamble on the neophyte director paid off as well – Getzinger has directed some of the show’s most wonderful episodes, including the Season Four episode, “The Suitcase,” which reveals the show’s iconic ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) at both his darkest and his most vulnerable. She also directed the much-loved “A Little Kiss,” episode, which features actress Jessica Pare singing the sexy French song, “Zou Bisou Bisou.” She now works on a director for other shows as well – she’s got episodes of Law & Order SVU and Revenge coming up.

At Mad Men, she’s become adept at using the details to keep the emotions real.

“One of the challenges on ‘The Suitcase’ was the levels of drunkenness,” she explained. “Jon Hamm is very good at that. Don is drinking the whole episode, and then there’s the part where he gets so sick that he’s sobering up, but by the end, he’s almost a confessional drunk. You film it out of sequence so you have to always be aware of how many drinks they’ve had in each scene.” But the technical aspect lets the more transcendent work flow. “Jon Hamm brings a lot to it. The whole cast does.”

Realizing Weiner’s vision is always key at Mad Men. “I love how specific he is, we know what we’re aiming for.

But within his vision I have room to try different things.”

The preparation for the show is so detail-oriented that “we get the weather reports. We’ll see what the weather in New York City actually was for, say, May 17, 1968.”

Another pleasant surprise about Getzinger is that she is not daunted by meeting fanatical Mad Men admirers.

“It’s a funny thing, but I’m also a fan,” she said. “I watch every episode at least a couple of times.”

And she was as happy as any fan to dish about the characters.

“I definitely identify with Peggy [played by Elisabeth Moss]. She cares so deeply about what her career will be. She’s such a great character, she stumbles and falls backwards,” she admitted. “And there’s something very admirable about Joan [the office bombshell played by Christina Hendricks]. She’s such a different woman than I am, but she knows what she wants. I strive to handle myself the way Joan does.”

Next, Getzinger said something especially surprising: She doesn’t hate Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the entitled, perpetually scheming executive.

“He’s misunderstood,” she said. “I love his story.... People think he’s just the evil account guy. I wish people saw more sides to him. He’s not just one thing. He used to be more idealistic and he does work harder than almost anybody else... I get very attached to the characters.”

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