John Patterson

Everybody here has a neurotic obsession with some aspect of The Sopranos. Mine happens to be its lineup of directors. John Patterson directed every season finale of the show up through Season 5, after which he sadly passed away from cancer. Needless to say, he was an integral creative force on the show, and I've found myself wondering what the final season would be like if John Patterson was still around. His absence, and Allen Coulter's, was essentially filled by Alan Taylor, who did some great work, but I still find it interesting to wonder how Patterson would have handled some of the Season 6 episodes. I also think that maybe, if Patterson was still around, Chase might have handed him the reins on the series finale. Chase did a good job, and it was fitting for his directing work to bookend the series, but I feel like Chase and Patterson made a sort of "director-writer" dream team, and a version of "Made in America" written by Chase and directed by Patterson might have been even better than the one we got.
Taps, lights out, 2200 hours. What's missing? Give up? Television.

Re: John Patterson

I'm curious, Zwingli. Since you're somewhat versed in the study and comparison of directorial styles, would you care to venture and share some imaginings of where Patterson may have gone with it?
Let's hear the Zwingli version! Maybe you could collaborate with Roc Anthony and present an animated version...

Re: John Patterson

Billyv wrote:I'm curious, Zwingli. Since you're somewhat versed in the study and comparison of directorial styles, would you care to venture and share some imaginings of where Patterson may have gone with it?
Let's hear the Zwingli version! Maybe you could collaborate with Roc Anthony and present an animated version...
Oh man, Patterson's directorial style is actually hard to pinpoint, while with Tim Van Patten you can say "dynamic", with Allen Coulter you can say "atmospheric", with Alan Taylor you can say "streamlined". I guess Patterson kind of merges all of these together.

Maybe the best way to sum up Patterson, particularly while directing a finale, is his ability to pull back and observe the big picture. He makes the most of the background of his shots (think the boardwalk sequences of the Funhouse dream, the Jackie Jr. whacking in Boonton, any scene of the beach house in Whitecaps, the Blundetto whacking and ending sequence of All Due Respect).

One technique I've seen at least twice in a Patterson episode is a sudden, dramatic pull back and upwards from a scene at the conclusion of a story arc - AJ and his friend leaving the schoolyard after the fight's called off in "Meadowlands", and Sal Vitro mowing Johnny Sack's lawn in "Where's Johnny?". This technique might have been used well in Paulie's final scene of the series, sunning himself outside Satriale's, as opposed to the sequence of widening shots Chase used.

The use of background could probably also be employed in several scenes from MiA. The destruction of AJ's car was amusing, but could likely be shot better, maybe at a location where the surrounding scenery could be emphasized and make AJ and his girlfriend feel smaller/more vulnerable. Maybe also in the final scene with Junior? On the other hand, that scene might have been meant to feel claustrophobic.I'm sure he would also have fun with the death of Phil Leotardo, which I have to say was a beautifully staged scene that did incorporate the use of background really well.

It's honestly been a while since I saw "Made in America", but it's an episode that would have suited Patterson's directing style really well.
Taps, lights out, 2200 hours. What's missing? Give up? Television.

Re: John Patterson

Hey, thanks for the feedback guys. TV direction is really fascinating to me, particularly on Sopranos, which was probably the highest quality and most cinematic series of all time.
Taps, lights out, 2200 hours. What's missing? Give up? Television.

Re: John Patterson

Yeah, this is an interesting topic. The style of the show seems to me pretty consistent regardless of the director, but there are still individual differences between them that can be easily found. I've noticed that Patterson likes zooms, or slow (and not-so-slow) pull-ins, to emphasize a particularly dramatic moment. Think the somewhat quick pull-in on Carmela in All Due Respect when Chris tells her over the phone that Adriana broke up with him. Actually, I think Patterson's fondness for zooms and generally movement of the camera instead of more static shots is part of what makes I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano so uncharacteristically awkward -- it's the only ep of his that I don't think is very well-directed, what with the slow-motion or freeze-frame effect during the scene where Altieri is whacked in the hotel, and a bunch of strange and obtrusive zooms throughout (like, for example, I find the zoom-in on Chris and Paulie as they repeatedly shoot Palmice strange and unnecessary). I'm probably rather alone in this, but I just find that ep a tad stylistically awkward, and overall not quite the classic it's cracked up to be (then again I think the same of most of Season 1!)

You say Alan Taylor is "streamlined," but I would say more "philosophical" as most of the ep's he helmed seem to be the show's more reflective and intellectual hours: Kennedy and Heidi (one of the most brilliantly directed episodes of television, ever, no doubt), Stage 5, The Ride, The Fleshy Part of the Thigh, Kaisha, Strong Silent Type. But he can surely do the action-packed stuff as well, seeing as he directed Blue Comet to perfection, and knocked off more standard/minor ep's like Rat Pack and Pax Soprana with aplomb.

Allen Coulter's episodes seem to be some of the more cinematic and visually brilliant of the show: Isabella, He Is Risen, Irregular Around the Margins, The Test Dream, University, Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood, College, etc.

Overall, I'd probably say Tim Van Patten's my favorite of the non-Chase directors, with Patterson coming closely behind; he just has so many great ep's to his name, and almost all of them stand out for being some of the most emotionally charged and overall intense hours of the show: The Second Coming, Members Only, Long Term Parking, Cold Stones, Second Opinion, Whoever Did This, Amour Fou...

Also, I really enjoyed cinematographer Phil Abraham's turn at directing in Remember When (one of my favorites), and would have loved to see Alik Sakharov try his hand at directing one as well; although both are brilliant DPs, Sakharov's episodes tend to be even more visually striking than Abraham's, even more Gordon Willis-esque in their shadowy darkness, which I love.

I gotta disagree, though, that anyone but David Chase should have directed Made in America. Chase's direction is absolutely brilliant: cinematic and multi-layered and intelligent, and I think it was perfect for him to bookend the series like that by directing and writing the pilot and finale; the show was his baby, he understood it the best of anyone, so I can't see why anyone else should have been given the reigns to direct its most pivotal, final chapter.

Re: John Patterson

Again, nicely written and interesting perspective, misterie.

I had an opportunity to take a course in directing as well as another in acting for film in 1997 which was taught by a Theater and sit-com director, Doug Rogers. He was a wonderful, captivating instructor with a through understanding of the Masters, the history and development and evolution of film direction, styles and technique.
I've also read a couple books on the subject and consciously examined various directors and specific works with that sort of analysis and critical eye in mind.

Usually, though, I watch and become absorbed in a captivating work without thinking about it much, and then reflect with the appreciation that it was well-done.
I was aware that Patterson had directed the season finales before his death, and also appreciated Van Patten, Coulter, Taylor as strong and solid contributors, as well as some of the work of others on the series. I regard Patterson and Van Patten as the top 2, with a personal leaning toward Van Patten which could also be attributed in part to the episode scripts.
Still, being removed from viewing the series and never having consciously learned Patterson's style, I appreciated zwingli's imagining of what this prominent and involved contributor may have done a bit differently with the finale. If anyone else were to have directed, it would have had to be him. And if anyone ever re-makes The Sopranos into a feature film or re-makes Made In America, in proper tribute to the work it would have to be an extremely talented, capable and influential director.

However, I agree that Chase and only Chase should have directed the original finale, not only for the bookend, full-circle effect which Zwingli also mentioned appreciating, but, as noted, the series was His work, His baby, His art and His way. (Tho, who's to say that Chase wouldn't have chosen Patterson to direct "MIA" if he'd had the option, that Chase wouldn't have wanted the collaborator he respected and loved to complement His vision?)

Re: John Patterson

Oh boy, I'm glad we've got a discussion going. Misterie, when I describe Alan Taylor's direction as "streamlined" I'm speaking entirely in terms of the way those episodes were directed, i.e. their form rather than content. He absolutely helmed some of the show's more philosophical and existential episodes, but that quality I would credit to the writers. I say "streamlined" because those episodes, in many ways, emphasize the surreal passage of time, and Taylor does a great job bringing that quality forward. "The Ride" and "Kaisha" both feel like incredibly long episodes, though they're still within the hour range of a Sopranos installment, because they do such a good job economically covering long periods of time. "Kennedy and Heidi" gets a lot of its surreal quality from the way its storyline transforms over time, ending in a place nobody could have predicted. "The Blue Comet" gets its impact from its abruptness, and the sense of an unstoppable, universal force moving forward. Taylor taps into the vibe of these episodes through his excellent use of temporal pacing, which is present in his editing, his camera movement, his lighting, everything. Look at the scene preceding the crash in "Kennedy and Heidi" - it's a powerful, anxiety-inducing scene, and a huge amount of that effect is derived from the background visual of the trees by the road whipping by in a blur of color, lit by the car's headlights, behind the darkened figures of Tony and Chris. Or in "The Blue Comet", how every scene feels so short, making the episode seem fleeting, like the entire show is slipping through our fingers as it nears its ending.

On a related note, directing and writing are cousins, but ultimately very different craft. And while Chase clearly grew more than competent as a director by the end of the series (his directing work on the Pilot was iffy, and MiA was light years better), John Patterson was a consummate expert, and ultimately the man who, as a director, could craft an aesthetic that most effectively took the written themes of the show and processed them into a great cinematic experience.

Though I also agree with you about "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano", for the most part, as well as the first season in general. The whacking scenes in that episode were all a bit awkward. The frame-by-frame slow motion in the Altieri hit, and the strange docudrama-style jerky zooms when Tony shot Chucky Signore, followed by the use of "It's Bad You Know", just ruined my immersion. I didn't really have a problem with the Palmice hit, but some of the other whackings throughout that season also seem to have aged poorly. Brendan Filone, for example. The sequence of extreme "Psycho"-style closeups just feel overwrought, when the original Moe Greene special was striking in its unflinchingness. Of all the seasons, 1 has the most of these badly-aging moments. While some episodes, such as "Isabella", manage to avoid these problems, "Jeannie Cusamano" is honestly littered with awkward kinds of moments like that, which is strange because Patterson took the show to a whole new level of quality with his next finale, "Funhouse". Plus he directed some of the show's most effectively-shot whackings later on - Jackie Jr. and Tony Blundetto come to mind, in particular.

As far as Tim Van Patten and Allen Coulter, I think they each did interviews about their directing style, in which Coulter said he tried to put the viewer in the character's headspace, and Patten said his intent was generally to make the scene as visually "in-your-face" as possible. These each kind of sum up the feeling I get from their respective episodes.
Taps, lights out, 2200 hours. What's missing? Give up? Television.
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