Typing Faster

October 26, 2009

Research In Mad Men

Filed under: Craft, Mad Men — petertypingfaster @ 12:20 pm

Here’s a great article from the New York Times about the the research process in Mad Men.

THE IDEA “I wanted Betty to get involved in civic matters,” said Matthew Weiner, the creator of “Mad Men.” “That’s what happens after you have a child. When you have a huge group of educated women who are not working, you get things done.” He said that notion was inspired by the short story “An Educated American Woman,” by John Cheever, himself a resident of Ossining. (The Drapers’ address, Bullet Park Road, is also a Cheever homage, to the novel “Bullet Park”; there is no such road.) All Mr. Weiner needed was a cause for Betty, at right above, to get behind in 1963. “My research department discovered that,” he said. “I gave them a very specific task.”

THE SEARCH Brett Johnson, 27, a script coordinator, is the show’s unofficial head researcher, spending hours reading old newspapers to meet the writers’ narrative needs. “We got all the microfiche of all The Ossining Citizen Registers from 1963 and literally read for 50 hours at the public library,” he said. “The task was find something that Betty would need the help of the governor’s office. But not something so big.” Mr. Johnson dismissed a controversy involving Sing-Sing, the prison, deciding that would not interest Betty. A local dust-up over the construction of some sort of plant near a scenic bridge was considered, but its outcome could not be determined in the papers. Then he struck civic gold. “There was a reservoir,” Mr. Johnson said. “The water was decided to not be clean in, like, 1962. They were going to replace the whole thing with this water tank.” He has never set foot in Ossining, but he has looked at the tank via Google maps. And he had a little help on location.

THE LOCAL Norman McDonald, 75, president of the Ossining Historical Society, has become a de facto (and unpaid) props and locations consultant for the show. “They call with the darnedest questions,” he said. “They wanted to know the background color of the street signs in 1963. I told them it was black, and I couldn’t sleep that night because I thought it might have been green. Then I started asking around, and no one knew. That’s the type of question.” Starting with his own vague recollection of the reservoir issue, Mr. McDonald fleshed out Mr. Johnson’s reporting. He also shared his recollections on the layout and appearance of the city’s meeting room, down to the nameplates for the commissioners. Mr. McDonald said he has never watched “Mad Men,” but he did stay up for the Emmy awards, rooting for the show.

There’s a bit more detail in the rest of the article. Definitely a cool way to work!

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