×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Emmy Hopefuls Hopscotch the Globe to Dazzle Viewers

With deep-pocketed streamers competing head-to-head with cablers and networks to create an ever-growing glut of programming in the peak TV era, shows must ramp up their production values if they hope to capture the attention of audiences and Emmy voters. Often that means going the extra mile with global locations.

In the case of Amazon’s “The Romanoffs,” creator Matthew Weiner’s follow-up to “Mad Men,” it was thousands and thousands of miles. Each episode of the eight-part anthology series was shot in a different city — sometimes more than one, with locations including Paris, London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, New York, Mexico City, Toronto, Miami, Prague and Constanta, Romania. And, save for two constructed sets, all the locations were practical.

“We could’ve shot interiors somewhere else and just done a Paris unit to capture a couple of days of exteriors, but it was really important for the storytelling to be in the places as much as possible,” says series co-executive producer Blake McCormick.

The Romanoffs” traveled with a core team of fewer than 20 people, including the showrunner-director (Weiner), a writer, two producers, a co-producer/UPM and makeup and hair department heads, as well pairs of production designers and costume designers that worked on alternate episodes. They would then flesh out the crew with a local production team.

“For Amazon, it was extremely ambitious and resource intensive, because in each of those cities, they had to negotiate production services agreements with the crews,” McCormick says.

For most of today’s film and TV productions, finding a location with a generous production incentive that can return as much as 30% on local spend is a top priority. But “The Romanoffs” only took advantage of incentives in a handful of locales, including Toronto and Prague.

The producers of Hulu’s limited series adaptation of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” including co-star George Clooney, considered shooting in Cornwall, England, to take advantage of the U.K.’s 25% tax credit. But after a rain-drenched scouting visit they quickly decided that they’d be better of shooting on the Italian island of Sardinia, south of the Italian island of Pianosa, where the novel is set. The climate was right and there was also a disused air strip around which they could build their World War II barracks (using vintage Army tents left over from another Clooney project, the 2014 feature “The Monuments Men”) and land the two vintage B-25 bombers flown in from the U.S.

For the interiors of the B-25s, they borrowed a two-piece fuselage (nose and tail) from a museum in Belgium and mounted it on gimbals on a soundstage at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, where they shot most of their interiors. The fuselage was an empty shell, so they had to outfit the interior with instrumentation, seats and weaponry.

“Luckily, interior of the planes was the last thing we shot, because it was an enormous amount of work,” says “Catch-22” production designer David Gropman. “We went to scrap yards and collectors [to find parts], and some things were built out of tin cans, new wire and cardboard boxes.”

On Amazon’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel “Good Omens,” production designer Michael Ralph’s most challenging build was a re-creation of a city block of London’s Soho neighborhood at RAF Bovingdon Airfield in England that could be dressed for both the 1960s and the contemporary era. The production also traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, where he re-created Christ’s crucifixion and Noah’s Ark and built a 12-structure village that was blown up for the cameras.

One of the advantages of shooting in South Africa is that there tends to be a large pool of multi-skilled labor available at a bargain price.
“The carpenter will end up being the person plastering the wall for you or welding the metal for the sub-frame of a gyro system underneath the floor of the set,” says Ralph.

The National Geographic limited series “The Hot Zone,” about early attempts to head off the Ebola virus, was also shot in South Africa, as well as Toronto (standing in for Washington, D.C., and surrounding suburbs). Similar to Ralph, production designer Emilia Roux built entire villages, and costume designer Ruy Filipe found authentic clothes to dress extras for Zaire in 1976.

Based in Durban, the production was able to get most of its equipment from Cape Town and Johannesburg, but there was some drama importing their prop monkeys from Canada.

“You don’t know if what you’re shipping is going to be caught up for weeks or months in customs, so one of our department heads from Toronto very heroically brought the monkeys in her suitcase,” says “Hot Zone” executive producer Kelly Souders.

On Netflix’s nature docu-series “Our Planet,” the crew faced some very real dangers on its four-year shoot, which employed 600 crew members filming in 50 countries. The greatest risk was working in the Arctic capturing footage of ice whales and polar bears while based on sea ice, which was forever threatening to break off and float away.

“Once you’re there, you’re effectively cut-off, so if you run into problems, you have to resolve them because no one’s going to rescue you,” says series producer Keith Scholey. Another Arctic challenge: “We discovered drones don’t like cold, but the crew got good at building a tent to warm them with a hair dryer.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Chris Butler Looks At The Magic Behind Animating 'Missing Link'

    Laika’s latest feature “Missing Link” raises the bar once again for the world of stop-motion, pushing boundaries in scope and visuals. The story of an unlikely friendship between Mr. Frost and his 8-foot yeti buddy Link is one of hope. “Missing Link” producer Arianne Sutner says the message of the film was to “leave people [...]

  • Joker

    How 'Joker' Production Designer and Costume Designer Brought New Color to a Familiar World

    The partnership between a film’s production designer and costume designer is an important one. One creates the outfits and the look of the character, the other creates the world that the viewer disappears into. Together, they collaborate to reinforce the visuals of the film. Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is a world where production designer Mark Friedberg [...]

  • Joker

    'Joker,' 'Game of Thrones' Lead Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Nominations

    The Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild (IATSE Local 706) has announced nominees in film and television categories for 2019. “Avengers: Endgame” picked up a nomination in the feature contemporary makeup category, while films such as “Downton Abbey,” “Bombshell,” “Joker,” “John Wick 3” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” each scored multiple nominations. On [...]

  • EnergaCamerimage Fetes Danny DeVito as It

    EnergaCamerimage Fetes Danny DeVito as Cinematography Festival Returns to Torun

    Poland’s EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival, Europe’s leading event celebrating cinematography, came full circle Saturday, opening in Torun, the Gothic town where the founders first launched it 27 years ago. The fest was based in Bydgoszcz from 2010 until this year, operating previously in Lodz. Kicking off with a video call to David Lynch, a longtime [...]

  • 'Ford v Ferrari' Centers on Characters

    Despite Death-Defying Race Footage, 'Ford v Ferrari' Centers on Characters

    Phedon Papamichael has built his reputation as a cinematographer with indie, minimalist shooting for directors like Wim Wenders and Alexander Payne: his work on “Nebraska,” to cite just one case, is a study in stark, deeply ironic black-and-white compositions that center on character contrast. So when he took up the challenge with director and frequent [...]

  • Christian Bale and Noah Jupe in

    'Ford v Ferrari' DP Phedon Papamichael Talks About Creating Racing Action

    “Ford v Ferrari” marks James Mangold’s fifth collaboration with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. It’s a relationship and collaboration that works well, Papamichael says, “We have similiar backgrounds; my father was a paint and production designer for Cassavetes, and his father was a painter.” Papamichael first worked with Mangold back in 2003 on “Identity,” and recalls, “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content