‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Still One of the Most Striking Shows on TV—Here’s How

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The following interview for our Spring 2021 BackstageFest, a virtual celebration of the year's best and buzziest TV, was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has captivated audiences since its 2017 premiere. Set in a dystopian, fundamentalist society, the show has posed an exciting challenge for its creative team—and it’s safe to say that over the course of four seasons, they’ve nailed their vision. Known for its intricate sets, costumes, cinematography, and more, the Emmy-winning series is eligible in all major categories again this year. As such, cinematographer Stuart Biddlecombe, costume designer Debra Hanson, and composer Adam Taylor joined us during BackstageFest to talk about how they create such a distinct world.

Biddlecombe prioritizes the script and the overall story while filming “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
We intentionally make it very beautiful. It is part of our plan to show that contrast and juxtapose the horror, but also the beauty as well. On the flip side of that, we never draw attention to ourselves. That’s never our intention. The story should always come first, and we’re incredibly lucky to have such incredible scripts in every episode. It’s not my job to try and beat that. I always let the story do the talking. The story does that for me. The story is so good; I don’t have to do a lot. I just photograph what’s in front of me.”

Taylor consciously made his scores more melodic for Season 4.
“Overall for the season, I wanted to approach it more melody-based…. As the story has been progressing, my main feedback from [creator and showrunner Bruce Miller] was always just to be with June and score where June is and what she’s feeling, what she’s seeing. It’s always the approach of what’s going on with June and having access to [Elisabeth Moss] while they’re filming or even after. She’s involved in the music spotting sessions where we watch the episode and discuss where we want music and what we want music to enhance.”

Hanson says developing a sense of endless curiosity and expanding your knowledge through reading is a great start to becoming a costume designer.
“Ask questions. Knock on doors. Read history. Read psychology. And keep your eyes open to everything around you. Every visual. Communicate. Don’t close yourself. Be brave. [And] when I say history, I mean social history. There’s a wonderful set of books called ‘The History of Private Life.’ Buy them if you want to be a costume designer, and read them.”

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