Sarofsky’s “The Staircase” Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson

The eight-episode limited series “The Staircase” produced by Sarofsky is released on HBO Max Original.

Inspired by a true story, “The Staircase” explores the life of Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), his sprawling North Carolina family, and the suspicious death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson (Toni Collette). Created by Antonio Campos who also directs six episodes, “The Staircase” is co-produced by Annapurna Television and written and executive produced by co-showrunners Campos and Maggie Cohn. For the series’ captivating main title sequence, Campos, Cohn, and their colleagues turned to one-stop cross-media production company Sarofsky.

Cinematically introducing the series’ main credits, the narrative begins with blackness, as a white line traces a set of stairs. Switching scale with sleight of hand techniques, the line-work becomes a three-dimensional floor plan, rendered with photorealistic glass. Inside the see-through walls are human forms resembling Michael and his family members. Prowling on voyeuristically, glass furnishings and artifacts refract kaleidoscopically, varying between sharpness and abstraction, until light patterns resolve into darkened stairs. From a top-down view of the glass 3D house, cutaways juxtapose up with down, man with woman, and togetherness with isolation, finally withdrawing to fully view the series’ iconic setting, then soaring back in to find the simple white line of the notorious staircase, and the series’ title.

Sarofsky's "The Staircase" Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson
Sarofsky's "The Staircase" Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson

In Campos’s words, “It was always our hope that the main title sequence would help establish the complicated family dynamics at play while capturing the show’s themes. The sequence does that, but more importantly, by presenting these Escher like impossible spaces and portraying the interior of the house as a maze – which is constructed and then deconstructed over the course of the sequence – it really presents a lens through which the audience can view the series in a visually exciting way.”

Working in close collaboration with Campos and Cohn, this project was another tantalizing assignment for Executive Creative Director Erin Sarofsky, Creative Director Stefan Draht, Managing Director/Executive Producer Steven Anderson, and team Sarofsky. By Sarofsky’s account, preliminary discussions with the showrunners led them to focus on a few specific angles: First, they wanted to explore the home both as an investigator, and as a place where a family was raised; second, as a complex story with varying theories contributing mystery and complexity at every turn; and finally, the fact that everything in Michael’s life feeds the mystery around this staircase.

Sarofsky's "The Staircase" Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson

“Thematically, Antonio and Maggie were focused on the layering and complexity the show wrestles with,” Draht began. “Aspects of this include the lack of clarity around the main plot, the importance of the characters’ varying perspectives, and family dynamics. The idea of using the staircase as a visual element was an open question, which prompted us to think about ways to avoid obvious solutions.”

Among the concepts presented, show executives immediately embraced a representation of the family home as a glass model. To humanize the concept without spoiling narrative or plot, Sarofsky’s creatives diligently translated relationships and interactions into moods and abstractions. “Antonio and Maggie were great collaborators throughout the process,” Sarofsky added. “Antonio consistently pushed us to investigate even more surreal and Escher-like approaches, describing the goal as wanting viewers to sense the complex journey to come, while trusting that the show will lead them through.”

Sarofsky's "The Staircase" Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson
Sarofsky's "The Staircase" Explores The Mysterious Life Of Michael Peterson


Images with courtesy of Sarofsky


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