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The making of “The Sopranos” has been meticulously documented, and one of the best resources for learning about it is the book “Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of the Sopranos,” which is mostly transcribed from an accompanying podcast series hosted by “Sopranos” stars Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa. When the two discussed “College” with the episode’s director, Allen Coulter, they learned that a big part of the series’ style came from Coulter’s lack of television experience. When Imperioli pointed out how much he loved the episode’s camerawork, Coulter explained:
“What was an advantage to me was, I really hadn’t done that much television, so I hadn’t been indoctrinated in the way that people shoot TV. What I did was a minor-key variation on David [Chase, the series creator], who did all those years of television and then wrote ‘The Sopranos.’ I think, given his wonderful caustic nature and his deep cynicism, he somehow resisted being seduced by the world of television. That’s why ‘The Sopranos’ looks nothing like television up until that point. I was not on that level, but I really didn’t watch television. I shot it as much as I could like a little movie.”
There are numerous handheld and perspective shots that put the audience in the character’s perspective, and they give the episode a much more cinematic look. Coulter’s direction is a little looser and a lot more experimental than most TV at the point, where a handful of standardized, still-camera shots were the flavor of the day. When you compare “The Sopranos” to its popular contemporaries like “The West Wing,” the difference in creative vision is as clear as day. HBO commercials used to claim “It’s not TV, it’s HBO,” and “The Sopranos” definitely lived up to being something more than simply television.