How Succession Created Kendall Roy’s Version of Burning Man

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“I kept thinking of Burning Man,” says director Lorene Scafaria of the Succession episode “Too Much Birthday” (Season 3, Episode 7), which depicts Kendall’s lavish birthday party inside a massive event space. “This was from the mind of Kendall Roy, these are the rooms that are being built up, and they’re going to be torn down.” 

Scafaria is largely known for her film work, most recently the barnburner stripper-thief drama Hustlers. She doesn’t do much television, but was a big fan of Succession and was eager to work on it. “I called everyone, trying to put it out there that I was really interested in directing an episode if they’d have me,” Scafaria tells V.F.‘s Still Watching podcast this week.

And what an episode she was handed! “Too Much Birthday” is, in Still Watching hosts Sonia Saraiya and Richard Lawson’s estimation, the saddest episode of the show ever, in which wayward Kendall (Jeremy Strong) throws a mortifying (and mortifyingly expensive) 40th birthday bash and has a miserable time. 

The elaborate party includes an entranceway that is made to look like a vaginal birth canal. Scafaria relished working with the production designers to create such over-the-top environments. “Which shade of pink is the right shade of pink?” is a question they had to figure out. “The canal was something that was built,” Scafaria says. “But if you can believe it, those legs were rented.” She’s unaware what other potential application those legs might have.

It’s not just Kendall who has a terrible night at this cursed bacchanal. The lone Roy daughter, Shiv, vents out her frustrations in one scene by doing a frenetic dance, which Scafaria couldn’t wait to shoot. “When I saw this on the page I felt spoiled,” Scafaria says. “I couldn’t believe that we were going to get to see Shiv cut loose like this.”

The scene was designed for the natural abilities of Sarah Snook, who plays Shiv. “Sarah is an incredible dancer,” Scafaria explains. “I believe this even came from the writers some night going out with Sarah and seeing her on the dance floor in real life, and what an explosive, expressive, incredible dancer she is.”

Scafaria couldn’t let herself get too caught up in the moment, though. “I had to remember that we needed to stay true to the visual language of the show and not turn this into J.Lo’s dance [from Hustlers].”

You can listen to Scafaria’s full interview on this week’s Still Watching episode, or read a transcript below.

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