“Mad Men” Director On Season 5 And Creating That Mad Look

As Mad Men moves further into the 1960s, Jennifer Getzinger, who directed Sunday night’s two-hour season premiere, hints at changes–in characters, sets, and of course, costumes–to come this season.

“Mad Men” Director On Season 5 And Creating That Mad Look
Jennifer Getzinger

Jennifer Getzinger has been with Mad Men since the beginning. She was hired as the script supervisor–the person who sits beside the director and polices the shoot’s continuity–for the series’ pilot, which shot in New York. When AMC decided to relocate the shooting of Mad Men to Los Angeles, Getzinger asked her boss, show creator Matthew Weiner, about moving there and moving up. “He knew from the beginning that I was at a place in my career where I was ready to move into directing,” says Getzinger, who had previously worked as script supervisor for such series as Sex and the City and The Comeback, as well as the movie The Devil Wears Prada.


Four seasons later, Getzinger is one of Mad Men‘s go-to directors. Sunday night’s two-hour season premiere marks the sixth (and, technically, also the seventh) Mad Men episode Getzinger’s directed. Last season she helmed the emotionally riveting episode “The Suitcase,” in which Peggy and Don spend a revealing night together in the office.

Though forbidden from revealing any plot points, Getzinger took time from prepping to direct her feature film debut, Neil LaBute’s Some Girls, to tell Co.Create about creating the look of the show and the subtle shifts in wardrobe, set design, and cinematography that help Mad Men progress through the 1960s.


“The production designer [Dan Bishop] and the costume designer [Janie Bryant] have been on the show since it started,” Getzinger explains. “They are so specific in everything that they do.” When she directs an episode, Getzinger sits down with the heads of those departments for presentations of what they’re planning for the week’s one-off characters and sets. She then comments on what she needs in order to make those scenes work. For instance, a jacket might get in the way of something the character needs to do. “It’s not necessarily about whether the style is right, or not,” she says. That’s already been determined in the writers’ room. “As the years are changing, there is so much research that goes into how people are dressing. Some characters follow the fashion trends and some characters don’t. Some characters are still dressing the way people dressed in the late ’50s or early ’60s.”

In the first season, Weiner wisely observed that few people dress exclusively in the style of whatever year it happens to be. “People dress in all different ways,” Getzinger explains. “A lot of times, it’s a weird amalgamation of different styles. In this new season coming up, some of the characters are changing,” she says, careful not to reveal any details. “There are some who maybe were very fashion forward or maybe were the ones who were always kind of wearing the more fashionable things, but because of things in their lives, they’re not anymore. Just because of the way their lives change they sort of maybe aren’t quite on top of it as much.”


“I always wonder if the audience could draw the office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce,” Getzinger muses. “People seemed to understand the layout of the original office–the Sterling Cooper office — better. I think it was because we had that big bullpen in the middle. So, people could get a general sense of it, even though we would cheat all the time with where offices were.” She explains that sometimes they would have characters walking out of an office that had actually been someone else’s in another episode. “Only occasionally would we do that. Usually for the more minor characters.”

As circumstances changed, the office setting changed as well. “This new office that we’ve had for a couple of years…it’s a very confusing place. It is built as one big office. You could walk around it and see exactly how it’s laid out. It’s shaped like a circle, but I think we just don’t use one side of it very often, so it can seem to people like an ‘L.’ The kitchen and Pete Campbell’s office–we don’t really use that part very much.”


This season, she reveals, there are a few new sets. “Some of them are very indicative of the time. Again, it always connects to the story; it always connects to the characters and the people. We had the people who are in these very up-to-date sets. That’s part of their story. They are the kind of people who would live in something that is very now.”


The way Mad Men is shot never really changes. It’s a classical style of shooting –no gratuitous camera tricks. “One thing that Matt Weiner always says is, ‘We put so much time and care and love into the design of these sets and the design of these clothes and the hair and these people that the frame is going to look full and rich. You don’t have to do some fancy camera move to try to add some excitement.’ So we try to really let things play in very classic ways. It is about finding these great graphic frames. There are so many amazing lines in the design of the sets. Especially the office. But a lot of [our] sets have that. We shoot a little lower [than most television shows] and so we always have ceilings–fantastic ceilings–so you can get these really beautiful, graphic shots. You’d be surprised how many sets don’t have ceilings.”

Getzinger continues, “I will say, I think things have changed a little bit this season in the way we shoot it, but not much. It’s very subtle. There were certain things that Matt was open to that he wasn’t necessarily open to in other seasons, but I can’t say what those are. When you try to explain these subtle changes we make to people who aren’t such huge fans of the show, they’re kind of like, ‘Well what’s the big deal with changing that?’ Unconsciously it affects what you’re seeing, but I think that the people who are true fans and study it, they see these changes.”


“The Suitcase” was right in the middle of last season, Getzinger recalls. “It was episode seven out of 13, which is kind of when everybody [behind the scenes] is at their craziest workwise, everybody is just kind of insane. There have been a bunch of episodes that have been shot and they’re frantically editing, but then the writer’s room is still in full swing trying to finish writing the last half of the season. So, when you’re there in production, it can often be a time when everything is just swirling.”

Unlike other Mad Men episodes, “The Suitcase” revolved almost exclusively around Don and Peggy. “That episode was written as what they call a ‘bottle’ episode, which means it’s an episode that’s small and contained to save money on a show. Often it only involves a few characters. They stay on all the standing sets; there are no new sets,” she says. “Of course, the episode started that way–with Don and Peggy in the office all night — and then it grew. They went out to a diner and to a bar and then they had phone calls with other characters. But it was still a small episode. It felt like this two-person play, in which Don and Peggy were talking about things they’d never talked about, really facing emotions they hadn’t faced before. And we were doing it while everybody else [on the production] was running around. We were just sort of making this little play.”

That “play” required the commitment of her leading actors. “Jon Hamm is a master at figuring out his drunkenness level, he’s amazing like that. It’s amazing to me how he is like, ‘I’m here and then I’m here,'” she recounts, laughing. “There were only a few times where I had to say, ‘A little more drunk, a little less drunk.'”


“It’s so amazing to work with them on that kind of stuff where it’s all about crafting these really delicate performances. I have to give them total credit for what they do. I feel like I’m just there to help nudge a little one way or another. That’s what it often is when you’re working with ‘The A-Team,’ as we call them. They’re so committed to the characters and to each other. I think two actors like that really bring out the best in each other. Jon and Lizzy have a close special friendship and connection just from being on the show together that I think really forms the relationship between Don and Peggy and is what gives it depth.”

About the author

Ari Karpel is a frequent contributor to Fast Company and Co.Create and an instructor at UCLA Extension. His writing about culture, creativity and celebrity has also appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Health, The Advocate and Tablet.