Tag Archives: Tall Ship Productions

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.”

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Dream on

Films including Blade Runner and Minority Report saw the work of acclaimed novelist Philip K Dick transformed for the big screen to great success. Now the late author’s writing is coming to television in an anthology series featuring 10 standalone stories based on his short stories.

Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Spall and Anna Paquin are among the stars in front of the camera, while writers and directors include Jack Thorne, Matthew Graham, Tony Grisoni and David Farr.

In this DQ TV interview, executive producers Michael Dinner and David Kanter discuss why Electric Dreams is more than a dystopian show but also a “very human show,” and how the programme was produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

They also explain why3 the deal to make the series took years to put together, with multiple producers attached to the project, which will air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon Prime in the US.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is produced by Rooney McP Productions, Electric Shepherd Productions, Anonymous Content, Tall Ship Productions, Moonshot Entertainment and Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television. Sony is also the distributor.

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Eclectic dreams

The work of renowned author Philip K Dick has inspired a new anthology series heading to Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon. Michael Pickard takes a look at the 10 imaginative stories that make up Electric Dreams.

Since Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams was first announced in May last year, it seems not a week has passed without a new A-list actor, star writer or acclaimed director joining the anthology series.

Comprising 10 single films, each inspired by one of author Dick’s renowned short stories, a roster of leading British and American writers and directors have taken up the challenge to adapt the works for television.

Each story is set in a different and unique world, with some at the far reaches of the universe and others much closer to home. But while on the surface they may seem poles apart, they all focus on the importance and significance of humanity.

From Sony Pictures Television, Electric Dreams is executive produced by Michael Dinner of Rooney McP Productions alongside Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions, David Kanter and Matt DeRoss of Anonymous Content, Ronald D. Moore and Maril Davis of Tall Ship Productions, Bryan Cranston and James Degus of Moonshot Entertainment, Lila Rawlings and Marigo Kehoe of Left Bank Pictures, plus Don Kurt and Kate DiMento. Sony is also handling international distribution.

Here, DQ takes a look at the details of all 10 episodes, which are due to air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon in the US later this year.

Crazy Diamond
Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi plays Ed Morris in what is described as “the ultimate Philip K Dick comic film-noir nightmare.” Inspired by the story of the same name, the story follows average man Ed, who is approached by a gorgeous synthetic woman with an illegal plan that could change his life completely. He agrees to help – and then his world begins to crumble.
Starring alongside Buscemi are Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), Julia Davis (Gavin & Stacy) and Joanna Scanlan (No Offence). The episode (pictured top) is written by Tony Grisoni and directed by Marc Munden.

Timothy Spall, pictured in The Enfield Haunting, stars in The Commuter

The Commuter
The morning commute is turned on its head in this mysterious tale from Bafta-winning writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This is England). Timothy Spall (The Enfield Haunting) stars as Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist. This one is directed by Tom Harper (War & Peace).

Impossible Planet
In an episode that promises two be out of this world, Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) play two disillusioned, disenchanted and indifferent space tourism employees who agree to an elderly woman’s (Geraldine Chaplin, A Monster Calls) request for a trip back to Earth – the existence of which is a long-debunked myth. She appears easily confused, plus she’s rich – so, for the right payment, what’s the harm in indulging her fantasies? As the journey unfolds, however, their scam begins to eat away at them and they ultimately find themselves dealt a bittersweet surprise. Impossible Planet is written and directed by David Farr (The Night Manager) and based on the short story of the same name.

Human Is
Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as a woman suffering in a loveless marriage who finds that her emotionally abusive husband (played by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston) appears to be a different man upon his return from battle – in more ways than one. With a cast that also includes Liam Cunningham and Ruth Bradley, this episode is written by Jessica Mecklenburg and directed by Francesca Gregorini.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (left) takes the lead in Human Is

Father Thing
The world is under attack in Father Thing as aliens quietly invade our homes. Charlie, played by Jack Gore (Billions), must make the most difficult decisions imaginable as he tries to protect his mother (Mireille Enos, The Catch) and the human race as he is among the first to realise that humans are being replaced by dangerous monsters. Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) also stars in this instalment by writer and director Michael Dinner (Sneaky Pete).

Real Life
This future-set episode sees Anna Paquin (True Bloood) play Sarah, a police officer who shares ‘headspace’ with George (Terrence Howard, Empire), a brilliant game designer, with each pursuing violent killers whose plans could have shattering consequences. In a race against time, and sharing a bond that no one else can see, they learn that the very thing that connects them could also destroy them. Additional cast members include Rachelle Lefevre (Under the Dome), Lara Pulver (Sherlock), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Sam Witwer (Once Upon A Time) and Guy Burnet (Hand of God). The episode is written by Ronald D Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair).

The Hood Maker
Set in a world without advanced technology, mutant telepaths have become humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication. But their powers have unintended implications, and when the public begin to embrace mysterious, telepath-blocking hoods, two detectives with an entangled past are brought in to investigate. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Holliday Grainger (The Finest Hours) and Anneika Rose (Line of Fire) star in The Hood Maker, which is written by Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) and directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane).

True Blood’s Anna Paquin plays a police officer in Real Life

Kill All Others
A man hangs dead from a lamppost, apparently murdered and inexplicably ignored by passers-by, after a politician (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) makes a shocking statement encouraging violence. But when one man, the extraordinarily average Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez, The Last Man on Earth), dares to question the situation, he becomes an instant target. Written and directed by Dee Rees (Bessie), this episode also stars Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Glenn Morshower (Aftermath) and Sarah Brown (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

Autofac
Set in a world where society has collapsed, a massive, automatic product-manufacturing factory continues to operate according to the principles of consumerism – humans consume products to be happy and, in order to consume continuously, they must be denied freedom of choice and free will. When a small band of rebels decide to shut down the factory, they discover they may actually be the perfect consumers after all. Juno Temple (Vinyl) stars as Emily, one of the rebels, alongside Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) as Alexis, an Autofac representative. Jay Paulson and David Lyons also appear in the episode, which is written by Travis Beacham and directed by Peter Horton.

Safe and Sound
Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic) stars as a small-town girl, already gripped with social anxiety, who moves to a big futuristic city with her mother, played by Maura Tierney (The Affair). Exposed for the first time to urban society’s emphasis on security and terrorist prevention, it isn’t long before her schooldays are consumed by fear and paranoia. However, soon finds guidance and companionship in the most unexpected of places. Safe and Sound is written by Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell and directed by Alan Taylor.

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