Dear Emmy Voter,
I get it. There’s a lot of pressure in voting. How do you vote for the best work being done among your peers? And how do you choose the best shows among different formats and genres? And how do you accomplish all that while maintaining your job and other personal duties? And how do you stay aware of the history of #EmmysSoWhite and your responsibility to change that trend? And, most of all, how do you deal with the fact that there’s no way you can watch every show but you want to make sure your votes are fair and balanced — and not just for your best friend’s latest gig?
I don’t envy the position you’re in. It’s a lot to consider. But I’m here to help.
I want to tell you about a little show that deserves your attention for a number of categories: Into the Badlands. A series on its final season with not a single Emmy nomination to its name. Yet. But you could change that.
I’ve done all the research for you, so you can just sit back and embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Emmy history by following my advice. Yes, you read that right: make. history. How, exactly? Let’s take a look
History-Making Opportunity #1: Help “Choreography” Break Out of its Dance-Only Box
By voting for Into the Badlands for Outstanding Choreography, you will help viewers and industry professionals alike expand the definition of “Choreography” beyond the confines of dance. I wrote a piece after Into the Badlands failed to score any Emmy noms last year that covers some of this idea, but here’s the facts: every single Emmy for Best Choreography for a Scripted Series – both wins and nominations – have been for dance choreography. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars, and America’s Best Dance Crew constantly dominate the list of winners and nominees.
But come on! It’s 2019! Time to BREAK. THAT. BOX. And YOU, dear Emmy voter, can be a part of that historic and inclusive break.
Martial arts choreography has much more in common with dance than might be apparent at first glance. In fact, much of the history of Chinese martial arts choreography comes from Chinese opera traditions. I’ve written about this before, and if you’d like to dive deeper, check out this piece where I lay out a bit of the history of that aesthetic, and this piece where I lay out some of the characteristics of a choreographic approach to action, particularly in comparison to a stunt-centric approach.
THIS is choreography:
What’s more, it has all of the basic hallmarks of a dance routine and then some. There’s the push and pull, the synchronicity, the flow, but also the character and narrative development, the cinematography, the acting, etc. I mean just look through this “20 Choreography Terms All Choreographers Should Know” and you’ll find virtually all of these concepts present in the sequence above.
And in the one below, which is also choreography:
And this is choreography, too. Beautiful, bloody, and brutal choreography:
Just because the dancers aren’t smiling the whole way through – and are often covered in blood – does not make it any less choreographed. The performances above require a very similar set of skills, abilities, and mindset as those on display in shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.
I mean it’s not like there’s no precedent here. The Hong Kong Film Awards have been giving out awards specifically for action choreography since 1983. And they’re not alone. Now, in that case, they specify the ACTION component of the choreography. The Emmys make no distinction, but neither do they specify the need for it to be about DANCE choreography.
Can you imagine the incredibly inclusive message even a nomination in this category would send? With the recent debut of Warrior on Cinemax, and the upcoming Wu Assassins and live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix on the horizon, we are going to be seeing a lot more intricately developed fight choreography on our small screens. As of right now, and as of right now the majority of the masters with the expertise of martial arts choreography are people of color.
Again, this is not about stunt coordination (which Into the Badlands should absolutely have in the bag). That skill set is slightly different, as I’ve written before.
“Lewis Tan’s Fight Camp” did a great job of giving the run down of how the show’s fight choreography comes together. In it, you’ll see our performers in the same kind of mirrored studio space as you would any dance performer. You’ll also see the “instructor’s” steps being repeated and memorized by the “student” until it is ready to be “performed:”
Now, I get it. I’m guessing the peer group in charge of creating the nominees for Choreography are people with years and years of experience in dance, which is why the nominees and winners are always skewed in that direction. So, please consider this a plea to expanding your consideration of choreography among your peers. Greater inclusion – of skills, abilities, populations, and traditions – benefit everyone.
So let’s talk about stunt coordination.
History-Making Opportunity #2: Help Expand What We Think of When We Think “Stunts”
By voting for Into the Badlands for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, you will help viewers and industry veterans push the conventional boundaries of what stuntwork can accomplish. I’ve written before about the characteristics of a more “stunt-centric” approach to action, and the clip I used from The Bourne Ultimatum is still applicable here. Take a lot at this sequence:
This is not choreography. Yes, there is technically some fight choreography in a very basic sense, and they had to “choreograph” in the very general definition of “planning out moves,” but this sequence is a straight-up STUNT sequence. And it’s a very well-made one. Personally, I don’t care for all the cuts, but that’s the generally established conventions for this aesthetic. Yes, Paul Greengrass’s Bourne movies take it to a bit of an extreme, but it is what it is.
But stunts can be more than high falls, hard punches, people on fire, gun shots, and car crashes. Please understand that I am in no way diminishing the incredible, difficult, and grossly undervalued work that stunt people do. What I’m trying to do is expandthe scope of what we typically think about when talk about what they do. Part of this is a cultural break, but part of it is a weird recirculation of what gets celebrated as great stuntwork over time.
Just look at the Outstanding Stunt Coordination winners and nominees from the past few years:
- 2018 – Winner: Game of Thrones
- Other Nominees: Blacklist, Blindspot, The Punisher, and Westworld
- 2017 – Winner: Luke Cage
- Other Nominees: Blacklist, Blindspot, Gotham, MacGyver
- 2016 – Winner: Game of Thrones
- Other Nominees: Blacklist, Gotham, Daredevil, Rush Hour
- 2015 – Winner: Game of Thrones
- Other Nominees: Blacklist, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, Walking Dead
I could go into specifics about why each show does this or that better, but I really don’t want to feel like I’m bashing the incredibly hard work of other people. There is, of course, that unfortunate effect of any awards show – by pushing for one to win, you’re essentially pushing for several others to lose. I hate that about contests.
The best I can do is SHOW you the difference in style of stunt and stunt work across these different shows.
Here’s the Emmy submission video for Blacklist’s stunt coordination. I chose this show because it won this award in 2014 and has been nominated every single year for the past 5 years. So, according to the rules of the Emmy game, I presume it’s doing something “right.” Take note of how many of the stunts highlighted are car crashes, punches, gun shots, and fires. Mostly one-off moments in the show created for a single moment of impact.
With a slightly different intensity, here’s the action reel for James Lew’s work on the first season of Luke Cage, which won Outstanding Stunt Coordination in 2017. The emphasis here, largely because of who Luke Cage is, rests on really hard hits, throws, falls, and a ton of gunfire:
Finally, please watch last year’s Emmy submission for Into the Badlands. In it, you will see an approach to stunt work and stunt coordination that not only excels in the hard hits, throws, falls, and crashes that are more traditionally celebrated by stunt awards (especially in the US), but also the addition of choreographic work more in line with Eastern action aesthetics.
There is truly no other show like Into the Badlands on American screens right now. None. That won’t always be the case. We’ve already got Warrior over at Cinemax, and will be getting Wu Assassins on Netflix soon. But neither of those would have been possible without the doors opened by Into the Badlands. And one of the major ways it has excelled above and beyond its contemporaries is in its incredible stunt coordination.
Pretty much all fight choreography is also stunt work. But not all stunt work is fight choreography. Time to open our minds about what they can each mean!
History-Making Opportunity #3: Championing a Show With Genuine Diversity and Inclusion
Let’s face it. Even with the strides we’ve seen in representation on TV in recent years, it’s still true that #EmmysSoWhite. And not just the Emmys, but pretty much all American awards shows – and shows in general – are struggling with this. Too many writers’ rooms continue to struggle with how to create and maintain multi-dimensional, non-stereotypical characters who come from historically marginalized groups.
But have you SEEN what Into the Badlands has accomplished?? Just look at this beautifully diverse cast of characters representing all of kinds of age groups, physical and mental abilities, races, ethnicities, sexualities, and cultures!
What’s great about this diversity is how it exists externally in the cast and crew, but also internally within the world of the narrative. And it does all this without EVER – not ONCE – ever calling attention to the “difference” of that person. The particular aspect of their identity that might stand out (even narratively) as being different or Othered in other shows does not ever come to define them. It’s who they are, and they live within that world without anyone thinking any less of them because of it. And it never comes off as didactic in any way.
The diversity and inclusion on this show are so intentional and far-reaching that a vote for Into the Badlands in ANY category is ultimately a vote for greater inclusion in the American television industry.
But what if you’re not in the business of “making history?” You just want to vote for the best. Well, I hear you dear voter, and you’ll be happy to know that Into the Badlands has plenty of other categories to offer its excellence in. The show does so many things so well, that I can use one example to support a vote for a number of categories.
Additional Categories to Consider Nominating Into the Badlands For
- Outstanding Cinematography
- Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costume
- Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More)
- Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series
Just look at these beautiful images! Look at all of the detail in lighting, costumes, character design, cinematography, and production design! Some of these look like paintings! You really gotta click on these to get the full effect.
Here’s a closer look at a side-by-side of Giovanni Lipari’s sketches and final character look (all from this great piece by Liz Shannon Miller at IndieWire. Each piece of costuming says so much about each character, their history, their traits, where they’ve been, where they’re going, their dreams.
I could write a whole post about how some of the recurring characters’ costumes have changed from season to season, and what it says about their particular journeys and arcs…and maybe I should….but it’s time to wrap things up!
Bringing It All Together
I think the best evidence that brings together ALL of my points above are seeing it all in action. The following two clips shared by Vi-Dan Tran show the amazing work done by the all of the incredibly talented departments of the show. When I – and many others – say that there is no other show like Into the Badlands, we mean it quite literally, as you’ll see below.
In this split screen, we get just a hint of all the work that goes into creating mere seconds of this show. On the top, we see the final cut of the program. On the bottom, we see the fight unit pulling levers, throwing and catching cameras from one floor to another, moving reflectors and bodies, and continuously moving to create an incredible shot full of creativity, technical expertise, and good old-fashioned movie magic. There’s so much going on that you might need to watch it a couple of times.
And in this clip, we see a back and forth between the final cut of the fight and what the actors’ stunt doubles did to make it happen. Notice the incredible costuming, the detailed production design, and all of the moving pieces – both literal and figurative – that have to perfectly come together to deliver a killer fight sequence that – again – ALSO MOVES THE PLOT AND CHARACTERS FORWARD IN CRUCIAL WAYS.
So, Emmy voter, if you skipped this article all the way to the end, please at least watch the two videos directly above and consider voting for Into the Badlands, because if these clips don’t make the case for the show to win an Emmy – or at the very least a nomination – for Stunt Coordination, Choreography, Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design, and Technical Direction, I don’t know what would.
Thank you for reading.