Spring 2019


Finding The Good Place

Director Morgan Sackett used a combination of in-camera and VFX techniques to bring "Janet(s)" to life

By Becca Nadler

Director Morgan Sackett, in blue booties, made sure to optimize actress D'Arcy Carden's time on set while filming "Janet(s)." (Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

The Good Place, a show about how to navigate a complicated afterlife, often pushes the boundaries of what a half-hour sitcom can do. One of the most challenging episodes of the series was Season 3's "Janet(s)," which featured one actress playing five of the show's six main characters for nearly the entire running time.

Directed by Morgan Sackett, the episode follows Janet (D'Arcy Carden, playing a humanoid version of the iPhone's Siri), as she is forced to alter the appearances of the main characters to match her own to hide them. "We knew this one was going to take a little extra time, just thinking about how we were going to accomplish it," says Sackett, whose credits include Veep and Parks and Recreation. "It was something different for all of us."

Because much of "Janet(s)" involves Carden playing four of the main characters in conversation with one another, Sackett also made sure to optimize her time on set. "We tried to make the days not that long because she had to say every word," he says. "D'Arcy and I had a lot of conversations … We had to figure out who [she acts] against, what's easiest for [her]. We wanted to make the show [about] D'Arcy's acting."

After some discussion, they agreed that the other cast members wouldn't be called to the set during filming. "She felt like she might get a little self-conscious trying to imitate (series regular) Kristen Bell if Kristen Bell was standing offstage," remembers Sackett. Instead, he had their casting director bring in a comic actress to read against Carden and used "either a stick with a piece of tape on it as an eyeline... or some extras that were dressed as [Janet] so that every shot wasn't a visual effects shot."

The Good Place (Photo: NBC)

The episode was purposely scheduled for after the Fourth of July break in order to allow for extra prep time, and a special rehearsal was filmed just before the holiday. "We had the entire cast come in and read their own parts," explains Sackett. "I had blocked it out already and had everybody do what they were supposed to do with their own characters, walking around with scripts."

He used three cameras to get wide coverage of the rehearsal—"sort of like the wide path on a multi-camera show"—and had his editor quickly assemble a rough cut of the episode. "It really did turn into a valuable tool for us to reference," he says of that rehearsal, which was played back via a large monitor on set during the shoot. "It was really helpful to show the crew before we rolled: Here's what this scene is with all of the people in it, now let's go make it with one person."

The episode's climactic moment was particularly complicated: a 360-degree shot of a kiss between two characters who initially look like Janet but then turn back into their respective actors. "It was really D'Arcy kissing a stick with white wax lips on it, and then kissing Kristen's lips, and it was very technical," says Sackett, who elaborated on the sequence during The Good Place's companion podcast. "They're just standing there [kissing each other], and I'm like, 'Move your head a tiny bit this way, this lip up a little bit, stand there.' I had an iPad that I was matching. There was an overlay."

Another scene required a number of puppies to suddenly appear in the void. "I think we had nine or 10 puppies on set," says Sackett. "We put puppies all over and [let them] do what they did, which is generally run in the wrong direction and run off the set. Then our visual effects guy comped them all in one at a time. Really fun. Distracting for everybody."


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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