Adrienne Mitchell and Jane Maggs Talk Bellevue’s Aesthetic and Working in TV
Last week’s Bellevue concluded with a discovery that shifts the narrative to a murder mystery and the myriad secrets and lies that were complicit in its occurrence. The eight-episode season is just two episodes in, and we’ve only seen the edge of the abyss. In the next part of my interview with series creators and executive producers Adrienne Mitchell and Jane Maggs, we talk about the show’s distinct look, how they have navigated the television industry so far, and what’s being done to bring the next generation along.
As she mentioned in our last segment, Mitchell worked on Bellevue from the ground up, and part of that was utilizing a very specific color palette and unique landmarks to build the aesthetic, something she also did on a previous series. “On Durham County and Bellevue, I had a similar approach. I did a lot of the visual design. There always seems to be a focal point. With Durham County, it was the hydro tower,” she recalls.
“With this, it’s the black mountains, the abandoned mines, and how they strangely, through nature, looked like these incredible sculptures with dark purple and red rivets that were created by rain and snow but were looming behind the workers’ houses that were there for convenience from the heyday of the mine. That became the center and everything would bounce off of that.”
“For a contrast to that, we’d look for warmth in environments that were more natural. When we’re in the town, we would bring up the dark purples and cool reds to indicate the world of the town that’s desperate for something beautiful and life-affirming but can’t [attain it] because their economy [is] so impoverished. That’s why they’re so invested in Jesse as their star hockey player, because they need that.”
The series is landing at a potent time, within the current climate of women rising up and finding their voices. Maggs hopes viewers respond to Bellevue‘s story. “I think something that feels even more heightened at this point is the theme we’re exploring…the horrifying trickle-down effect of intolerance spoken by people in positions of power and how it affects the world around it,” she says.
“I think that’s obviously a big part of the political culture in the States in a pretty unpleasant way. That’s the sort of negative side. In the entertainment world and the me too movement, things are trending more positively. [Bellevue] is very female-driven [and] so I think in that respect, it’s probably a resonant time for that type of project to come about.”
Mitchell is proud of her track record with her production company, Back Alley Films, which has worked very hard to foster safe spaces within their productions, and create opportunities for up and coming artists. “We’re not bullies. We’re not people who want to work with bullies, sexual predators or anyone who makes anybody uncomfortable. I think there’s an atmosphere there that makes people understand who we are and what will and will not be tolerated,” she explains.
“We’ve had the fortune of working with a lot of female executives in the broadcast industry who are the decision makers and that’s certainly been a key element as well. There’s that spirit of bringing people up into the industry, bringing diversity in, in terms of gender and racial background in all creative elements.”
“That creates an element of, ‘This is who we are and this is what we’re like and anything inappropriate will not be tolerated,’ and it works quite well. We have really promoted a lot of female writing and directing talent and will continue to do so.”
Mitchell also credits the Canadian creative unions and guilds with stepping up. “All our unions have been in huge and extensive conversations around policy and revising policy and coming up with support systems and committees,” she shares. “We’re very proactive about bringing new voices on board. I think for people starting out and wanting to do it in a safe way, look at the unions and guilds. That’s a great first journey into it.”
Maggs is comparatively new to TV writing and producing, and has spent most of her career so far on Canadian-based productions like Bellevue, Season 1 of Cardinal (available in the US on Hulu), and now on Season 2 of Netflix’s Anne with an E. She considers herself extremely fortunate that her path has been positive.
“My personal experience has been really largely working with women in a more dominating way than men in the TV industry,” she points out. “Until I went to the States, [I] didn’t realize how unique that was. [Having] more women than men in a writing room and a female-dominated shoot [take predatory behavior] off the table. I’ve also worked with wonderful men. I’ve been really lucky and charmed.”
Bellevue airs Tuesdays at 10 pm/9c on WGN America. If you missed the first two episodes, they’re online now at WGNA’s website. Here’s a sneak peek of “The Guy with Fire in His Eyes” and a couple of interviews with the cast.
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