Emmys: From L.A. to Morocco: A World of Award-Worthy Locations
Eleven producers of limited series and TV Movies (from 'Nightingale' to ' American Crime' to 'The Honorable Woman') reveal the dramatic location backstories behind their nominated work.
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Los Angeles — Nightingale (HBO)
"We really only had one location: a house in Tarzana owned by a lady named Ruth," says executive producer/director Elliott Lester. "We'd lost an amazing home in Laurel Canyon that had been condemned because it had black mold, so Ruth saved our film. I tried to get [star] David [Oyelowo] to move in with her because she's around the age that his character's mother would've been. He didn't go for that, but I'd turn up an hour or two early and watch TV with her. We didn't have a big budget, so she wasn't being paid a fortune. She didn't want to move out of the house during filming, so sometimes we'd be shooting a scene, an intense monologue, and all of a sudden Ruth would walk into it. We'd be rolling camera, and there's Ruth!"
Massachusetts — Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
"We used the Cape Ann area to represent Crosby, Maine," says executive producer Gary Goetzman. "It had a coastline that was close to the one in Maine. And in Gloucester, we found the ideal little town. We also found a house on a little peninsula that was a beautiful, haunting, lovely, lonely spot — all the things you would want to feel from the location. But finding the Kitteridge house was a challenge: [Director] Lisa Cholodenko wanted to find the exterior and interior in one place — not build on a stage if possible. When we found a house, we did renovations inside to suit the Kitteridges' needs: We painted and of course did the entire dressing of the house; we took all of the owners' furniture out and put in our furniture. It really does give your actors a better feeling when they're in a real location, and that house worked quite well."
THE U.K., 'Wolf Hall,' PBS
The U.K. — Wolf Hall (PBS)
"This was shot 85 days entirely on location," says executive producer Colin Callender. "In many cases in the very places where the characters Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis played [Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, respectively] had once walked and talked. That helped create a sense of authenticity. A lot of the locations, like Barrington Court and Lacock Abbey, are owned by England's National Trust. They're open to tourists year-round to visit, so there were many occasions when we were filming scenes and having to dodge between groups of people walking around with their cameras and tour guides. It was hysterical and quite an adventure."
'Honorable Woman' star Gyllenhaal and her onscreen son.
Morocco — The Honorable Woman (SundanceTV)
"My abiding memory is of this farmhouse in the middle of the Moroccan desert that we used for the climax between Maggie Gyllenhaal and [actress] Lubna Azabal," says writer-director-producer Hugo Blick. "It was the noisiest farmhouse you could imagine. It had every breed of animal: sheep, goats, cattle, cats, donkeys, chicks, ducks. It was like an ark! A sound man's nightmare, and for the performers because there was so much distraction. However, in the end it turned into the most brilliant scene because the actors were so ready. It was like watching two prizefighters in the ring. And if you listen, you can hear all those animals in the background. We didn't clean up the soundtrack at all — they wound up adding to the reality of it. The scene has a lovely live immediacy to it."
The U.K. — Agatha Christie's Poirot: Curtain, Poirot's Last Case (Acorn TV)
"If you think of the country houses in the rest of the Christie canon, they're on a different level of wealth and good times," says producer David Boulter. "Curtain has an atmosphere of decay and decline. We found Shirburn Castle early on, and our director was incredibly keen on it. We were actually the first people to film the interiors and the facade because the castle had been in a family dispute that was only resolved a couple of years ago. They were having some repairs done, and we'd been promised that the scaffolding would be down by the time it came to filming — and of course it wasn't. So we had to go back months later to film [Poirot's] car arrival outside. It wasn't easy, but it was worth sticking with that location because it gave us exactly the right mood for our film."
Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace in 'Grace of Monaco.'
Italy, Belgium, France, Monaco — Grace of Monaco (Lifetime)
"We weren't going to do anything easy on this movie," jokes Arash Amel, writer-producer of the film, originally intended for theatrical release. "We had one night to shoot the finale sequence in Monte Carlo's [Casino] Square, with the cars and crowds and everything. There's a sequence in the south of France, where Grace and [Prince] Rainier are at a vacation home, and an hour or two in someone noticed specks of black appearing. Eric Gautier, our DP, said: 'I can't shoot anymore. Look up.' All I could see was ash raining down on us. It was like, it is the apocalypse! Actually, the forest had caught fire. We had to shut down and pray the house hadn't burned down. And for the party on [Aristotle] Onassis' yacht, we had one of the most magnificent ships I'd ever seen. If you have $200,000 to spare, it can be yours for the day. There were no expenses spared on this production — it's the most lavish Lifetime movie ever made."
NEW ORLEANS, 'American Horror Story: Freak Show,' FX
Morocco — Killing Jesus (Nat Geo)
"We were on the very top of a plateau of a large mountainous region shooting the crucifixion scene of Jesus," says executive producer Teri Weinberg. "It was a beautiful day, and the skies were clear. Then, all of a sudden, really dark clouds started to roll in, and it was thundering and lightning. It just came out of nowhere. We all looked at each other, like: What is that? Is it just the elements, or is there something else going on? No matter your religion — I was raised Jewish — it didn't matter. It felt like a very spiritual moment. I have goose bumps now just talking about it."
Georgia — Bessie (HBO)
"We spent the first six days of shooting in Covington, Ga., in a beautiful old house that very closely resembled Bessie's Main Line Philadelphia home," says executive producer Shelby Stone. "On one of the days there was a huge thunderstorm coming, so you unplug everything because obviously it's very dangerous. Everybody got in the house, and suddenly there was a huge lightning strike, and it hit a tree right in front of the house! Right where the equipment and everybody had just been. It burned the tree — limbs came down. It was crazy. We were down for maybe half an hour. Everyone had a laugh, then the crew got to work on the backup [generators] to get power, and we started filming again because we still had to make our day."
Austin — American Crime (ABC)
"One location that was great was the Hays County Courthouse," says creator/executive producer John Ridley. "We ended up using its courthouse, offices and jail cells. We were there so much, we were about one step away from turning it into a soundstage. The courthouse has an architecture that is very similar to one in Modesto, Calif., where the show was set. That was really important: It is entertainment, and there's always that element of creation, but with a show like this, the issues we're dealing with — race, class, faith — it's absolutely essential that there's an emotional honesty to our storytelling. It's gotta be in every single area, including the locations."
New Orleans — American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)
"We were in New Orleans but set in Jupiter, Fla., which meant something to me," says executive producer Tim Minear. "My family on my dad's side is from there. We found what was basically a vacant lot, a piece of land that had a little water on it, and constructed the entire camp of the freak show with those tents and broken-down rides. Our production designer, Mark Worthington, designed this world within a world — one that could, by the way, disappear as soon as a hurricane-force wind came through. Everyone sort of held their collective breath. And there were alligators in the water! We had to have production assistants standing watch and making sure nobody would get eaten during a take. You don't want to lose Kathy Bates to a reptile — that would be bad."
Los Angeles — Hello Ladies (HBO)
"We shot a yacht-party scene in Marina del Rey," says star/executive producer/director Stephen Merchant. "Our producer had managed to dig some money out from the budget to have a helicopter, but you're not allowed to have one in the harbor. So we took the yacht into the ocean, and it goes from tranquil water to a scene from The Perfect Storm. The waves were 15 feet high, and we're crashing through them. We've got this helicopter — time is money, and every second counts — and I turned from being a reasonable, easygoing director to this tyrant. I was screaming at these poor girls in bikinis and high heels, 'For God's sake, dance!' Water's crashing in, and they're like, 'But we're gonna fall overboard!' And I said, 'You're in a bikini — you'll be fine!' "