April 29, 2012 1:05pm PT by Jethro Nededog
'My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding' EP Says Gaining the Group's Trust Was 'Incredibly Difficult'
With the hit UK series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, under their belt, Firecracker Films set out to make an American spinoff for TLC. One would think that the process of finding and filming the highly insular American Gypsies would come easier for the team, but that wasn’t the case.
“I’ve been producing TV my entire career,” London-based Firecracker Films' executive producer, David Herman, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And usually you do four weeks of pre-production and two weeks of shooting and then you make a program. This was the most extensive pre-production and production period I’ve been on. It was over a year in the making. And it was fantastic – everyone who worked there loved it.”
There are about one million Gypsies in the United States whose descendants come from all parts of Europe, including the UK, Romania, Serbia and Russia. The team spent eight months in pre-production and then shot for another five months with primarily the Romnichels, American Gypsies whose roots lie with English Gypsies.
THR spoke with Herman about the process of shooting the new series and what sets them apart from their UK counterparts.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the process of earning the Gypsies’ trust like?
David Herman: It was incredibly difficult. It took eight months. In the end, the key was the dressmaker, Sondra Chelli. Before that, it was hard to meet people. They just didn’t trust us. They didn’t know who we were. And they weren’t living in New York or Miami and big cities. They were living in small towns across America. So, Sondra, she introduced us to people and through her we met almost everyone in the series.
THR: And how did you come across Sondra?
Herman: We were in Virginia and we met a woman who was basically an agent for Sondra. And she introduces us to her and she was a Gypsy herself. She was selling Sondra’s dressmaking services. And after that, things became a lot easier. Sondra not only introduced us, but more importantly, she vouched for us.
THR: How connected are these groups with their overseas counterparts?
Herman: They know very little about English Gypsies. Over the last hundred years or so, they’ve become American Gypsies. From the people we’ve met and the people we’ve come across, I would say they’re genuinely American Gypsies.
THR: You’ve said that the American Gypsies have very similar moral beliefs as the ones we’ve seen on the original series. What’s the biggest difference or the most American thing about them?
Herman: The thing that that is most American about them is they love and want to be Americans and they want to be seen as Americans. They’re incredibly proud to be American Gypsies. Everyone we met, they’d say, “We are Americans. We are American Gypsies.” In England, they don’t say that. They say, “We are Gypsies.” They don’t say they’re English whereas this group refers to themselves as American Gypsies. They recognize the great melting pot that is America. They want to be welcomed and they want to be accepted by Americans.
THR: Have they seen the episodes and do you keep in touch with them still?
Herman: They phone us all the time and we talk to them. They haven’t seen the episodes, but they have seen the fighting clip. Mellie, who is the girl who was fighting with Diamond, she phoned up and said, “I saw the clip. I’m so upset. It looked like I’m losing. It looked like I lost the fight.” I said, "Mellie, believe me, you won the fight." And she was very happy.
Watch the big Gypsy girl fight that has been generating headlines recently below.
My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on TLC.
Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro