Dawn Wilkinson: Locke & Key

Director Dawn Wilkinson on putting her creative stamp while directing Locke & Key.

DGC Ontario Production Locke & Key, adapted from the comic series of the same name by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, now available on Netflix. Director Dawn Wilkinson directed two episodes of the series, along with fellow Members Tim Southam and Vincenzo Natali. We caught up with Dawn, who has been busy directing American shows like All American, EmpireThe Good DoctorWhy Women Kill and The Resident, to discuss the series.

Director Dawn Wilkinson on the set of Locke & Key

How did you get involved with Locke & Key?

I directed Reverie for Amblin Entertainment and NBC Universal in 2018. The episode had a lot of VFX and dramatic emotional beats and it brought me to the attention of Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill. In our Skype meeting I was intrigued by their take on the adaptation, in particular Darby Stanchfield’s character Nina. I have done a few TV episodes now that deal with death and grieving in one form or another and I seem to have a knack for it. I loved the idea of exploring grounded emotions in a magical world.

You directed Episode 7 & 8 of the series. Can you speak more on putting your own creative stamp on a show that’s been established?

I work to understand the voice and style of what is intended. I did that by talking with producing Director Tim Southam about the shooting style and visual design of the show and what was working. I also visited the set and shot a scene early in prep which helped to give me a glimpse into the production style, an opportunity you don’t always have. Then I do what I always do. I read the scripts by Michael D. Fuller and Vanessa Rojas and visualized the story, feeling the emotional journey of each of the characters and figuring out the best way to communicate how the story makes me feel to the audience. Then I tackle shot listing and/or storyboarding the most technically complicated sequences first with the goal of not losing the perspective on the story that moved me in the first place.

A scene from Locke & Key

Can you speak more on your creative collaboration with fellow DGC Ontario Production Designer Rory Cheyne?

Rory is a collaborative artist and storyteller. He knows that part of creating the Production Design is understanding how the camera and light is going to move through the space he’s designing. We would talk about the tone of a scene and the perspective I wanted to bring to it, and he would make sure that the set would be designed to facilitate that. It’s an added challenge when you’re dealing with VFX set extensions and I remember on one of our scouts that Rory was flying his drone in order to photograph where the set extension would be so I could see it from that perspective even though in reality the building was not there, and would never be there in real life. This is a fascinating process, especially when you are working with a Designer who is thinking about how to give the Director all the tools she needs.

A scene from Locke & Key

What was the most challenging part of Locke & Key?

Locke and Key had some classic “challenging” production realities: night shooting and a young cast combined with stunts and visual effects. The most challenging part is working within the child hours when you have a visual design where precision filmmaking is required. In order to work out choreographed camera moves and still provide coverage you have to know what you’re doing because there’s no time to figure things out on set. DP Colin Hoult and I walked the sets and talked through the blocking of scenes in advance and my team of 1AD Chris Agoston and 2AD Shannon Hawes did a great job of scheduling things to give me the best chance of achieving what I set out to do creatively. The fact that I have experience directing young actors came in handy because I know how to get the best performances as quickly as possible.

A scene from Locke & Key

What did you take from your previous TV work to Locke & Key?

I’ve had a couple of opportunities to use a Techno Crane previously so when I was asked if I needed this piece of equipment I was able to identify the scenes and explain the reason why. On The Gifted and Beyond I had sequences where VFX and Special Effects had to be combined so I understand better how to plan for this in prep. One of the things that appealed to me about Locke and Key is that it’s based on the graphic novel written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I really enjoyed the stylized aspect of the three episodes of Riverdale that I directed. As a format, a comic book adaptation calls for a kind of visual inventiveness that is not always necessary in other genres.

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