Friday, February 21, 2014

Report from the Set: NBC's 'Revolution'...

It was an overcast morning in Austin, Texas. I had been in the "weird" and wonderful city for just over 12 hours and still had the previous evening's barbecue dinner on my mind when I pulled up to the state capital building downtown.* Just off to the side of the landmark political attraction-- through which Segway tours rolled tourists-- bleachers and a podium adorned in the Texas flag had been erected and a few dozen bystanders hung around, some with tinier versions of the Texas flag waving in their hands, awaiting a speech from their leader at a very special cadet ceremony. Just a bit further away from those bleachers were a table of weapons-- some rifles, some side pieces, some hand guns-- that a lone guy in black checked out for safety before carrying them off to the action. It seemed a fitting welcome to the set of NBC's Revolution, the post-apocalyptic drama in which all the electricity in the world went out 15 years prior. I may not have actually been allowed to personally play with the weapons this time around, but watching a stunt involving a very excited featured player and strategically placed squib was equally enjoyable.

The cast and crew of Revolution were working on the 18th episode of the season when I spent the day observing production and talking with everyone who was filming that day plus Elizabeth Mitchell who was gracious enough to come over on her day off to help promote the show-- which means that they were much farther ahead in their stories and locations than I had last seen. The action on Revolution moves fast, even if the characters often have the same arguments and stand-offs (for the record, both Billy Burke and Mitchell admitted they did not believe their characters could ever kill Monroe, despite threats otherwise and despite all of the terrible things he has done to their family-- maybe blood is not truly thicker than water...). As this begrudging familial fighting unit moves forward together, dynamics between them are constantly shifting. While it is not uncommon to see characters pair up and go off on little detours or side tasks, on this particular day the majority of the show's heroes were working together to stop a terrible act. What was most interesting was watching the placement of each individual as the five of them literally walked side by side out of a building together. Some whom you might expect to be front and center, puffing chests out to command and acting as leaders were actually trailing further behind, perhaps implying more "along for the ride" with this particular mission.

A lot can certainly change in a short amount of time, as evidenced simply by the fact that the post-Olympic return episode that I was on set to preview had these five characters off in three different directions. The one thing that seemed to be remaining a constant, though, was that Aaron (Zak Orth) was separated even further-- still on his mission to figure out what exactly is going on with him and the nanotechnology. Orth was not one of the actors I spoke with on set, so admittedly I wasn't able to obtain any insight into just how big a part the sci-fi part of this story was going to play into the final episodes. The industry savvy side of me knows the implication is most likely that Aaron will work stoically, coming into his own as a hero, and then rejoin the group for the tail end of the season with new knowledge and a new, bigger picture mission that includes the tech. Sitting on set and watching the much heavier character and relationship driven work that was being done, though lets me hold out hope that the fact that it's so isolated now is the show's way of containing it and phasing it out. What inspires the most connection, after all, are the character and relationship (read: human) stories. These people were all disconnected enough with technology before the blackout; I don't want to see it consume them again, even if it's on a much larger scale or profound level. My life is consumed by enough technology as it is, too!

Revolution is an extremely location-heavy show-- both in terms of where the production actually goes to film and the utilization of changing landscapes as a part of the physical journeys the characters make. Therefore most of the sets Revolution houses at South Side Studios are wild, which means the walls are easily changeable into something new on any given week. With a show that keeps its characters on the road, anything from local bars to hotel rooms to cave-like hideouts may be built one week-- for one episode-- only to be repurposed for the following one. That's not all that unusual for a post-apocalyptic show but it's also really not unusual for creator Eric Kripke. What makes Revolution a bit more unique, though, is that while the locations are ever changing, the wardrobe the characters wear is not. 

A tour of the costume department not only showcased the nuances in different cities' military uniforms but also the sheer volume of the same outfit that had to be created for each character. Since the characters can only fit so much in their backpacks (or in the case of Burke, just likes to keep things simple and comfortable), they only have a few changes each. But as episodes go on and the actors get dirtier-- or bloodier, as is more often the case-- versions of their outfits need to be created with the appropriate amount of wet or dry elements. And then the looks need to be duplicated for their stunt doubles.  

Revolution's wardrobe department leaves no new piece of clothing clean, either. Since everything is supposed to be taking place after 15 years without electricity and therefore washing machines or dry cleaners, the various department personnel may purchase brand new items (which usually cost a couple of hundred dollars each) but then spend hours tirelessly aging them. This is done not only for the principle actors like Burke, Mitchell, David Lyons, Tracy Spiridakos, etc but also the extras, who are all also given their own unique look.

Hearing the kind of care and detail the wardrobe department pays even to the extras (who are sadly all too often instead treated with the attitude of "no one will notice" when it comes to things like moving actors from one side of the scene to the other in coverage, effectively duplicating the person in the scene) was certainly a bonus, but I have to admit that the highlight of visiting Revolution was sitting down with Jeff Wolfe the show's Emmy award winning stunt coordinator. Next to weapons I am most personally interested in stunts (I guess it's the whole wish fulfillment of watching people do things I know I never could personally), and Revolution has some of the most varied kinds between hand-to-hand, martial arts, horses, wagons, guns, swords, and this season, people being set on fire.

Wolfe shared that Kripke often just writes into the scripts "The best damn action sequence we've ever seen", which gives Wolfe free range and creativity to choreograph something new each time. Wolfe feels that for Revolution what matters the most when it comes to these fights is the style of the character-- that each weapon involved and each move made feels like something the character would do based on how they feel in the moment and who they're fighting.

Again I have to point out: with character driving so much-- everything from allegiances to goal detours to the stunts-- that means we can drop the surreal, slightly supernatural smart tech and focus on the grounded everyday people, right? RIGHT??

My formal write up on the return to Revolution (NBC, Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. starting February 26) will be on Studio System News.

Interested in checking out my relationship heavy (with light spoilers) video interview chats with the cast? Keep an eye on my YouTube page!

** Travel and hotel accommodations provided by WBTV

1 comment:

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