Antonio Gambale and Justine Seymour.
Costume designer Justine Seymour was strolling with a friend to have dinner at a Berlin restaurant when her phone pinged with numerous congratulatory messages: She had just scored her first Emmy nomination, for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for Netflix’s Unorthodox.
Composer Antonio Gambale was working in Paris but deliberately took an afternoon nap and turned off his phone when he knew the nominations were to be announced as he had no expectations.
When he checked his phone to see the time, he was inundated with messages and phone calls: He earned two noms, Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score) and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for the same Netflix series.
“More than any personal feeling of wow, what made me most happy was realising how much of a reach the show had and how many people loved it,” Gambale told Emmy and Oscar-winning director Eva Orner in an Australians in Film webinar.
Inspired by Deborah Feldman’s bestselling memoir of the same name, the four-part drama, which garnered eight Emmy nods, follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro (newcomer Shira Haas), a 19-year-old Hasidic Jewish woman living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Esty struggles to conform to her community’s expectations, even consenting to an arranged marriage, but eventually she finds the courage to escape. Moving to Berlin, she starts over but it isn’t long before her past life catches up with her.
Seymour, who was jointly nominated with Simone Kreska and Barbara Schramm, had read the book on the recommendation of her daughter Marlene Melchior, who had interviewed Feldman for NPR Berlin.
Unorthodox showrunner/writer Anna Winger contacted Seymour while she was working in Jordan on Messiah, the Netflix series created by Michael Petroni, so she flew to Berlin to meet the rest of the creative team.
Subsequently Melchior wrote and directed the documentary Making Unorthodox for Netflix.
Gambale was invited by Winger to go through a pitching process after he received a few pages of the script and the Bible. Attracted to the project because the producers emphatically did not want a Jewish Orthodox-inspired score, he put together a bunch of demos and later met with the team in Berlin.
Asked by Orner about the biggest challenge she faced on the primarily Yiddish-language production, Seymour said: “It was a European budget, which was much smaller than an American budget, so I was very very tight on everything.
“About 80 per cent of the women’s clothing was second hand so I trawled through Picknweight shops every day, got a massive amount of wardrobe which I then separated out to characters.”
The composer was hired early in the process as Winger was adamant she didn’t want to use temporary music during the edit. So he worked in his studio in Paris during production and watched the footage shot each day online to get an idea of the tone and the costume design.
“In the score I had little micro-themes that recur in different ways,” he said. “In the opening titles I had motifs to remind everybody that ultimately this is a chase story with excitement and drama. It makes the music feel like a concerto. Overall that gives you a much more powerful impact.”
Amusingly, Seymour and Gambale’s paths didn’t cross and they did not discover they both worked on the show until afterwards.
Among the other Aussies in contention for Emmy Awards are Hugh Jackman, Sarah Snook, Hannah Gadsby, Toni Collette, Cate Blanchett, Greig Fraser and Tony McNamara.
The Creative Craft Emmy Awards will be presented virtually on September 19 US time. All nominees have been asked to pre-record their acceptance speeches.