“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel to the favorite HBO series “The Sopranos,” but it appears in many different sleeves in New Jersey. The film is set in the apartment building and in the 1960s and 70s in New York rather than in the sprawling MacMannon where Tony and most of his crew show up.
It is a city located at the edge of a knife, with violent racial tensions and inequalities that are about to erupt into dramatic clashes of unrest. “It’s time before they all move to the suburbs,” says Bob Shaw, the film’s production designer. “They were still clustered in the old neighborhood, living in an ethnic enclave in this narrow space.”
A major problem for Shaw, director Alan Taylor and “many saints” writer and “sopranos” creator David Chase was that the city of Newark changed so much over the next few decades – houses were demolished and replaced by apartment buildings or decorated with vinyl siding. Era – they needed to shoot most of the film in the Bronx.
There were some scenes, however, in which “many saintly” creators believed that Turnpike could not be replicated. Shaw and his team worked to recreate the 1967 riots while shooting at Branford Place, a prominent shopping district where they decorated with bars and delis and retro signs for period-appropriate theater marquees. The car was set on fire; Smoke machines were used; And the National Guard uniform-wearing actor took to the streets in tanks and jeeps. Although filmed in 2019, the sequence resonates even more emotionally in the wake of the assassination of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests published in the summer of 2020.
“It was such a sensitive element to our country and our whole identity,” said Kramer Morzenthau, the film’s cinematographer. “We knew we had to be right, and we knew we had to be right. Sadly, what happened in 1967 is still true today.
Although the setting may be more urban than the series, there are familiar signposts out there. An important scene where Tony was supposed to sit with Dickie at Holstein’s door, the dinner where the Shoprano family had dinner at the end of the series before the show’s infamous fade. There was very little work to be done to decorate the space other than the decor of the restaurant with period-appropriate awnings. Shaw was also tasked with rebuilding the back room of Satriel’s pig shop, a little inadequate hangout for thugs who make up the Dimio crime family.
“The physical buildings – the walls, the windows – we haven’t changed much,” Shaw says. “The whole thing was the retro of the series, so we just removed a few layers of dust and 30 or 40 year old stuff on the walls and shelves.”
The crew’s quest for historical accuracy extended to the film’s shooting method. Morzenthau used dark shadows in the prescribed sequences in the 1960s and tried to evoke the look of Kodachrome photography at the time. As the film moved into the 1970s, the photographer injected more pastels, greens and blues into the palette, a compliment to the flashy style of costume and decor featuring the disco era.
Focusing on the whole project was an intense feeling of responsibility. “Sopranos” isn’t just a favorite. It is considered to be the greatest show and spark of all time that inspired the renaissance of television.
“There was a lot of pressure to do something special with this film, because it’s the legacy of the show,” Morgenthau said. “It’s almost a part of America right now.