Tag Archives: Ronald D Moore

Out of time

As the time-travelling romantic drama returns for a fourth season, DQ visits the set of Outlander to find out the secrets behind ‘the biggest show ever made in Scotland.’

If you love your period drama costumes to be pristine, look away now. You’re not going to like the following: the costume department on Outlander deliberately sets out to do damage to the immaculate outfits they have spent weeks creating. It’s all in the cause of art, darling.

Co-costume designer Nina Ayres is taking Drama Quarterly on a fascinating tour of her department at Wardpark Studios, the vast former circuit board factory in Cumbernauld on the outskirts of the Scottish city of Glasgow, where Outlander is filmed. She shows us room after room filled with rails carrying clothes with signs such as ‘1970s Ladies’ Stock Blouses’ and ‘18th Century Ladies’ Bum Rolls’ before welcoming us into her secret lair: the ageing and dyeing department.

Time-travelling 20th century doctor Claire Fraser is played by Caitriona Balfe

In this room, a small army of women work diligently with dye, mud, sandpaper and even cheese graters to age the previously spotless costumes worn by the characters in this hugely popular drama, which began its fourth season – ‘Book Four’ – on US cable channel Starz yesterday and rolls out on Amazon Prime Video today.

Based on the immensely successful bestsellers by Diana Gabaldon, which have sold an eye-watering 28 million copies worldwide, the show focuses on a time-travelling 20th century doctor called Claire Fraser (played by Caitriona Balfe) and her 18th century Highlander husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan). In this season, they are trying to carve out a life for themselves in the hostile environment of colonial North Carolina on the verge of the American Revolution.

Ayres explains there is very much a method to her apparent madness. “Every costume in Outlander comes through the ageing and dying department – even the posh stuff. We use grease, sandpaper, cheese graters and a spray gun to spray mud,” she explains.

“Everyone was so much dirtier back then than we are now. Every outfit on this show has to have life in it. It has to have a wear to it. In the 18th century, nothing was new. Everything was repurposed. We call the people in this department the women of mass destruction!”

A poster on the wall of the costume department bears this out. It reads: “There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.”

It is this very attention to detail that has helped make Outlander a global hit. Made by Tall Ship Productions, Story Mining & Supply Co and Left Bank Pictures, in association with Sony Pictures Television, each episode is watched by more than five million multi-platform viewers around the world.

Outlander S4 director Jennifer Getzinger on set with co-executive producer Maril Davis

Created by Ronald D Moore (Electric Dreams, Battlestar Galactica), Outlander takes a similar degree of care over its props. Walking around the two gigantic warehouse-sized prop stores at Wardpark Studios, producer Michael Wilson points out piles of farming implements, champagne bottles, period furniture, Scottish flags, station signs, street lamps, chandeliers and (fake) dead stags. Stacked neatly in one corner are hay bales with the warning notice: “Not for horse consumption.” (They have been treated with distinctly un-horse-friendly fire retardant.)

Wilson proceeds to gesture towards the love token that Jamie gives to Claire in this season: an 18th century medical box. “Some girls like diamonds,” he reflects. “Some girls like medical boxes.”

There are four different versions of the medical box, including an ultra-light one that Claire can carry on her horse (which, don’t worry, has not been feeding on the prop hay bales).

The production has had an enormous effect on filmmaking in Scotland, which makes the perfect backdrop for everything from the 18th century Highlands to colonial North Carolina.

Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe and co-star Sam Heughan

David Smith, a director at Scottish Enterprise, confirms: “Outlander makes a significant contribution to the almost £70m [US$90m] in film and TV production spend in Scotland last year, as well as employing around 300 crew in Cumbernauld and taking on nearly 100 trainees to develop their industry skills.

“Scotland’s tourism numbers are also being boosted, with Outlander showcasing Scotland’s landscapes and tourist attractions and some attractions reporting a 92% rise in visitors.”

Wilson underscores that Outlander has transformed employment prospects in the industry in Scotland. “When we walked into these studios five years ago, they were empty warehouses. Now this is the biggest show ever made in Scotland.

“The majority of people on this production are Scottish, but in the past they had to work outside this country. Shows that required their skills weren’t made here. Now they can’t believe they are getting employment in their own backyard.”

Outlander has taken on 23 production trainees this year. The assistant script supervisor on this season was a trainee last year. Wilson, who has also worked on such renowned Scottish productions as Taggart and Rebus, stresses: “It’s about building crew bases in Scotland. Also, you have to give something back.”

Sam Heughan plays an 18th century Highlander

The show has also attracted a very dedicated – and vocal – fanbase. It might seem overwhelming to some actors, but in fact the Outlander cast say they embrace the fans’ passion.

“99.99% of them are positive and fantastic,” affirms Balfe, who has won several gongs for her performance as Claire, including two People’s Choice Awards and a Scottish Bafta.

“It’s lovely to see people connected to what you’re doing and see your work having an effect on them. It’s so nice to be part of a community. Someone showed us a video of the Outlander babies. The show had something to do all of them being born. It’s crazy to think that has happened because of something we’re in – it’s wild!”

The very high production values have clearly played a major part in the fans’ love of Outlander, but several other key factors have helped make it such a gigantic, ocean-going hit.

“At its heart,” Balfe muses, “Outlander is a beautiful love story. That is an element which everyone can connect with because it’s something everyone is yearning for or has experienced or has lost. But the show has many other appealing aspects as well. It’s wonderfully written – without that foundation, you can’t go anywhere. If you have got a great story, you’re good to go.”

Outlander made a major contribution to the £70m spent on film and TV production in Scotland in 2017

The final reason for the popularity of Outlander may be that, in these turbulent times, we yearn to lose ourselves in such a richly imaginative, fictional world.

Balfe concludes: “Outlander offers a sense of escapism, which a lot of people need right now. Life is really tough for people at the moment. They’re struggling to make ends meet. That is one reason why the opioid crisis is spreading throughout the world.

“People are feeling disconnected from each other, and the idea of community is breaking down. So shows like Outlander, which have at their centre the idea of family and community, are something that people are really longing for.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Keep dreaming

The creative team behind Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams discuss the origins of the ambitious sci-fi anthology series and reveal how they brought together a host of A-list actors, writers and directors for the show.

To say Philip K Dick adaptations are a fixture on screen at the moment is akin to saying the sky is blue. The late sci-fi writer’s work is hot property.

The Hood Maker, the first episode in the series, featured Noma Dumezweni and Richard Madden

The trend was set two years ago with global giant Amazon launching original series The Man in the High Castle. Based on Dick’s novel of the same name, a third season of the show was greenlit earlier this year. Looming large on the horizon too is Blade Runner 2049, the much-anticipated follow-up to the revered 1982 movie Blade Runner, also based on a Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

And now Channel 4 has jumped on the bandwagon with Electric Dreams, a sci-fi anthology series of 10 hour-long episodes, drawn from a selection from the 120-plus short stories the author penned during his life.

The genesis of the Sony Pictures Television coproduction came five years ago when Michael Dinner, writer and series executive producer, was approached by US prodco Anonymous Content and Dick’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett with the idea of doing a series based on one of the short stories. Two weeks later, at a screening of episodes The Hood Maker and Crazy Diamond, Dinner recalls: “I had the nerve to call and say, ‘How about all of them?’”

The Hood Maker, the season premiere, debuted on September 17 to broadly positive reviews. In the pantheon of stars on board the show, Holliday Grainger (who also stars in BBC1’s Strike, the adaptation of JK Rowling’s three crime novels written under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym) is not perhaps the biggest name; but her turn as telepath Honor is balanced and full of range for a character essentially supposed to be a dispassionate drone. Her rapport with co-star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) is full of feeling and has depth, which is impressive since the episode unfolds at 100 miles per hour.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston (right) stars in Human Is

The acting line-ups for the nine other episodes are star-studded. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Timothy Spall (Mr Turner), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Terrence Howard (Empire), and Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) are but a few of the recognisable faces on screen.

Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), who stars alongside Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) in Crazy Diamond, says the adaptability of the sci-fi genre allowed the actors to bring individuality to their roles and not feel restricted by the character in the original script.

“It’s a strange read, the script; I couldn’t explain it, but I liked it,” she says. “The whole thing is very odd – we’re odd, and the style is odd, but it’s exceptionally playful.

“What this genre allows is that nobody can come and say, ‘That’s not really believable,’ because what is believable? You can always insist on things being the way they are – this is the way we choose to interact and have emotions.”

Noma Dumezweni (Harry Potter & the Cursed Child), who features in The Hood Maker, says the stellar casts caught her eye, and that this unique quality, along with the individuality of each episode, is the series’ strength.

“Just watching these two episodes, I can’t wait to see the others because they’re so fucking individual,” she says. “For me, there is no meaning; Electric Dreams is the thing that’s holding this all together. I want to see what each director’s done with their vision.”

Steve Buscemi alongside Julia Davis in Crazy Diamond

It’s not just in front of the camera where there is variety. Electric Dreams is made up of five UK and five US productions, has 10 different writers, 10 different directors and multiple executive producers. It is unsurprising, then, that Dinner calls the episodes “little movies.”

“I had this crazy notion of doing an anthology show, but one that encompassed 10 different unique points of view, not done like traditional American television,” he says. “So, then I solicited friends [to help].”

Dinner turned to veteran sci-fi producer and screenwriter Ronald D Moore – the “resident sci-fi geek” at Sony’s studio lot – before bringing on board Cranston, who happened to be moving into an office below Dinner’s, and who too is an avid Dick fan.

“We went after writers whose work we really liked. Some of them brought with them the stories that were favourites of theirs, and we also curated stories and sent them to writers. We put this all-star team together,” says Dinner.

“[We had a vision that] each show would have a diversity of viewpoint and we’d really give artists who came and joined us the opportunity to bring their own vision and interpretation to it,” Moore adds.

Along with Moore and Dinner, Maril Davis (Tall Ship Productions) exec produces. Cranston, who stars in episode Human Is, is also exec producing on behalf of Moon Shot Entertainment, along with James Degus. Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions and Anonymous Content’s David Kanter and Matt DeRoss also have executive producer credits.

Impossible Planet deals with space tourism

So was having so many bodies on each show – literally thousands of miles apart from each other at any given stage – a challenge for the producers? Though he is satisfied with the outcomes of each individual project, Dinner says it was tricky at times.

“We were crazy because we were shooting on two continents, almost simultaneously,” he says. “We started shooting in Great Britain about five weeks earlier than the US. There were a lot of producers, so people would come and go to [and from] Great Britain.”

Moore jokes that they undertook such an extravagant project “because we’re insane,” but concedes the complexity of the series was tough.

“It’s a lot of ground to cover and I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is to produce a show like this,” he says. “Every episode is a new cast, new locations, new costumes, new sets, everything. It’s hard to produce. It’s unique, I’ve never done anything like it. I suspect none of us have.”

It seems like a bit of a departure for C4 too. Electric Dreams was commissioned by outgoing chief creative officer Jay Hunt, Piers Wenger (who is now at the BBC) and Simon Maxwell, head of international drama. Earlier this year, Maxwell said the budget for Electric Dreams was “significant” and that the show would have been unaffordable without forming a coproduction. Amazon Prime has the US rights.

It is not solely monetary success C4 needs. There is perhaps some pride to salvage owing to the big hole in the channel’s scheduling left by fellow sci-fi show Black Mirror, which moved to streaming giant Netflix last year. However, there is confidence among Dinner and Moore their show can emulate the dramatic success of its predecessor. Indeed, the former believes they have brought a cinematic experience to linear television.

“With each one as we finish it up, it’s thrilling. I’m as excited about the other directors’, the other writers’ [episodes] as I am about the one I did,” he says. “It’s fun to work with the talent and work with people we really admire, [bringing together] directors with writers and writers with directors.

“We get to make 10 movies in a season. The ability to 10 stories and do 10 movies is awesome.”

Given the series is only a 12th of Dick’s short story output, do the producers have hopes they could be future Electric Dreams series?

“Five years ago, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to invite people to play in our sandbox?,’” Dinner adds. “We wondered if people would come and they did. If it’s a success, more people will come to the sandbox.”

tagged in: , , , , ,

Starz shines in Golden Globe nominations

Outlander
Outlander is based on novels by Diana Gabaldon

It’s very much in vogue to talk about the quality of scripted series coming out of HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, Netflix and Amazon. But this week let’s raise a glass to Starz, which has picked up Golden Globe nominations for two dramas: Outlander and Flesh and Bone.

When Starz made its first meaningful move into original production with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it didn’t look like it would be a contender for industry gongs. But under the leadership of Chris Albrecht and Carmi Zlotnik, the US channel has really raised its game – delivering shows like Power, Black Sails and, coming in 2016, The Girlfriend Experience – as well as the above-mentioned series.

Outlander, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures and was developed for TV by Ronald D Moore. Moore also heads a writing team that, in season one, included five credited writers (Moore, Toni Graphia, Ira Steven Behr, Anne Kenney and Matthew B Roberts).

Moore, who wrote the opening two episodes of season one, is still just 51. But his extensive writing credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica and Syfy series Helix. He was also reported to be working on a TV reboot of movie A Knight’s Tale for ABC.

Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama
Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama written by Moira Walley-Beckett

Flesh and Bone, meanwhile, is an eight-part miniseries about the dysfunctional but glamorous world of ballet. Created by Moira Walley-Beckett, it started airing on Starz on November 8 and is currently five episodes through its one and only season. Walley-Beckett’s career to date has seen her win a Primetime Emmy for her work as a writer on AMC’s Breaking Bad. She was also a writer-producer on ABC’s short-lived period series Pan Am.

Elsewhere, fans of Fox thriller 24 will be delighted to hear that the show’s star Kiefer Sutherland is to headline a new ABC series entitled Designated Survivor. The drama, which has been ordered straight-to-series, focuses on a junior US cabinet member who is unexpectedly appointed president after a huge attack kills everyone above him in the line of succession. The production company behind the show is Mark Gordon Co Studios (Quantico) and the writer will be David Guggenheim.

Guggenheim’s major credits to date are movies – most notably the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. He is also working on a sequel to Safe House and a new instalment in the cult Bad Boys franchise. The drama is ABC’s first new scripted series for the 2016/17 and follows on from a decent showing for Quantico.

Kiefer Sutherland as 24's Jack Bauer
Kiefer Sutherland as 24’s Jack Bauer

If this is the golden age of TV drama, then one has to ask why so many old movies and TV series are being revived. Still, it’s good news for writers. The latest beneficiary is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a former Lost writer (seasons one and two) who was been signed up to write a reboot of NBC’s cult series Xena: Warrior Princess.

The chances of Xena getting into production seem pretty good for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of the current trend towards action-adventure shows with female leads. Secondly, because the show is popular internationally, suggesting a successful reboot could be a money-spinner for NBC’s distribution division.

Another show to secure a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes is Fox’s ratings hit Empire. Unsurprisingly, Fox has asked the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels to come up with a follow-up series. Daniels, who is currently casting the pilot, is co-writing the new series with Tom Donaghy.

Although the programme doesn’t yet have a title, it will follow the fortunes of a girl group hoping to make it in the music business. Donaghy started his career as a playwright but, like many of his peers, is now active in TV. Credits before now include The Whole Truth, Without a Trace and The Mentalist.

Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?
Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?

Another project in the news this month is Lookout Point’s Parisian fashion drama The Collection. Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the eight-hour show has been picked up by Amazon and will be written by Oliver Goldstick. Goldstick’s credits include Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and, notably, Pretty Little Liars (PLL), for which he has written 30 episodes. He also co-created the short-lived PLL spin-off Ravenswood with I Marlene King and Joseph Dougherty.

One project in search of a writer is AMC’s new adaptation of Joe Hill horror novel NOS4A2. The story centres a young woman with an uncanny talent for finding lost things – a gift that is gradually destroying her mind. She encounters Charlie Manx, who abducts children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and sucks their souls to keep himself young. The licence plate on the Rolls (NOS4A2) gives you a clue as to what kind of character he is.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,