When music supervisor Robin Urdang read the first episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” she knew she was in for a challenge.
The pilot of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino’s hourlong comedy called for a song from Barbra Streisand, an artist whose work rarely clears for film, let alone television. It immediately set a standard for Urdang’s working relationship with the Palladinos and the level of communication and adaptability she’d need on the Prime Video series.
Urdang, along with supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Ron Bochar, production mixer Mathew Price, and the “Maisel” music and lyrics team of Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer, spoke to IndieWire as part of the season’s Consider This series about their Emmy-winning work on the indelible comedy and specific challenges and joys of Season 5. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to Episode 4, “Susan,” which features not one but three industrials: fully-staged musical performances to promote companies’ products that were popular when “Maisel” is set.
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“I saw an outline and I said to Tom and Curtis privately, ‘I think you’re gonna have something to do on Episode 104,’” Urdang said.
The duo had watched “Bathtubs Over Broadway” with Sherman-Palladino in the past and were not strangers to the concept — but it was still a jolt to create all the songs in just two to three weeks.
“Amy called us into a conference room about three and a half weeks before the first recording session was already scheduled,” Mizer said. “She showed us a set, she showed us drawings, and she says, ‘It’s about trash!’ You designed a set and you didn’t tell us what it was about?”
There is zero bitterness in Mizer’s tone; after joining the show in Season 3, he and Moore knew how to rise to the occasion and recognized the Palladinos entrusting them creatively, even on a tight timeline. “To get to collaborate with one of the great comedy writers, to actually send her jokes… anytime when the trash girls shout ‘Hoboken!,’ every time [it] made Amy laugh, just every time. And that’s my proudest moment.”
“Private Demolition and Waste Management” moved forward, with changes being made live on-set during filming.
“[Sherman-Palladino] was like, ‘I’m not sure, I think there’s a funnier joke and a funnier line,’” Moore said. “So we had to quiet everybody down, and Mathew’s in the back — we were all standing there around a laptop recording Emily Bergl [singing] a new lyric Tom had just written. And if I’m not mistaken, we never loop that. That’s it. What we recorded back there is what she lip syncs to, and that’s what’s in the final mix. It’s insane.”
“Maisel” rarely loops or re-records dialogue, so Bochar and music editor Annette Kudrak need almost every audible element of a scene ready when they get to work. The “trash musical” changed, though, across the two times it appears in the episode, the second of which intercuts between conversations happening outside of the actual performance.
The mark of a great sound team is that its work blends seamlessly into the production, so IndieWire asked the team for their favorite hidden gems of the season. Bochar previously told IndieWire how meticulous “Maisel” is about audience laughter, and the series finale was no exception.
“There’s one laugh in the Lenny Bruce spiel during the last episode of a drunken woman in the background,” he said. “We’d locked the mix except for this one laugh. It took nine laughs — nine additional laughs that we had to do, to get Amy to finally approve… everything was wrapped up, [but] we still had to deliver to Amazon. I’d have to like, from my phone, make a little video of it, send it off. ‘What about this one?’ ‘Okay, that one’s good, but can you move it just four frames later?’ Literally that’s what we did over the course of nine days with just one laugh to lock that last episode.”
“As production mixer, I count the number of people talking in a scene to decide how challenging the scene is going to be,” Price said. “The Testi-Roastial” (Episode 6) was a big challenge, as well as a six-person restaurant dinner in Episode 4.
“I love big spaces because I think there’s a huge psychological element to hear space that you’re actually in,” he said — but the big spaces on “Maisel” aren’t all soundstages. “I always like to get any singing as live as possible. Why worry about lip syncing if we can get a really clean live performance? It’s like any dialogue except they’re singing, so why not do it in the moment? So I put a hair mic in Leslie (Rodriguez Kritzer) who plays Carol Burnett and everything else was playback. She sang live for that and it worked out really well.”
Moore noted that he and Mizer wanted all the musicals in Episode 4 to sound like they had been written by different people, disguising themselves as songwriters of the era as they approached each piece (including Stephen Sondheim, and Kander and Ebb). They also wrote the music for “The Gordon Ford Show” band, which in one case meant creating a jazz cover of a fake sitcom theme song — a detail that Sherman-Palladino picked up on immediately.
Urdang was searching for Muzak for Episode 2’s airport scene between Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Lenny (Luke Kirby) when she found “Til There Was You” in a catalog — the same song that plays when the two characters dance together in an earlier season, one of Urdang’s favorite scenes.
“I get goosebumps just thinking about this,” she said. “I was like, ‘Okay, we have to use this in the airport.’ And we did and I actually got emails and texts… to me that was so amazingly powerful, because it didn’t mean anything to most people and nobody would recall this, but to me, and obviously to Amy and everybody else, it was a callback that either someone would understand or not. It was a piece of Muzak, but it it meant a lot to me.”
Tests, trials, and testi-roastials aside, the “Maisel” sound team had nothing but appreciation for their years on the job and for each other, taking every opportunity to appreciate the way their departments collaborate and collectively improve the show at large. As Midge and her show got bigger, the sound department was right by her side, flourishing over five marvelous seasons no matter how tricky — but exciting — the work.
“Never let them see you sweat,” Price said. “Even if you’re panicking on the inside, with a smile, it’s no problem.”
IndieWire’s Consider This Conversations brings together Emmy-contending cast and creative team members from television’s most prestigious shows to discuss some of the best art and craft of TV production of 2023. Follow them all here. And catch up on all the coverage of the spring 2023 IndieWire Consider This Event.