Behind the scenes: around the world in 80 days

Slim Film + TV had already taken on a colossal task with its remake of the Jules Verne classic – And then Covid struck. Tim Dams Reports

[This piece was first published in Televisual’s Winter issue. Subscribe here]

Published in 1872, Jules Vernes’ classic Around the World in 80 Days is famous for Phileas Fogg accepting an almost impossible bet – to circle the world in just eighty days.

Adapted in 1956 as an Oscar-winning film starring David Niven and then in 2004 starring Steve Coogan, it is now hitting television screens following an international shoot that seems almost as impossible as the book’s original bet.

With a budget of around £ 40million, the TV series negotiated Covid-19 lockdowns for filming in Romania and South Africa where massive sets were built to recreate the 1870s in London, Paris, New York as well as a hillside Indian village, the Arabian Desert, the streets of Hong Kong, a town in the Far West and an island in the Pacific. At various times, as many as 3,000 people were working on the show.

It was a production beast, says executive producer Simon Crawford Collins of Slim Film + Television. He describes it as an 1872 road trip. “Nothing is ever in one place – everything involves trains, boats, camels. Everything is in motion. For example, an “incredible” New York street set that took two months to build in Romania was only filmed for three hours. “The designer was almost in tears,” Crawford Collins says.

The idea of ​​adapting the novel followed a “bookstore trawl” by Slim’s development team. Around the World in 80 Days was chosen to be a title everyone was familiar with, but with a less familiar history. A screenplay was then commissioned with Caleb Ranson (Child Of Mine, Heartless) and Ashley Pharoah (Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes) leading a team of screenwriters. “I thought that pitching it as an idea wouldn’t work, but writing a script and pitching it was the way to go,” says Crawford Collins.

The first broadcaster to bite was France Télévisions, who liked the way the script developed the backstory for Fogg and his companion Passepartout so that they were more complete characters than they were in the movies and the book, and adds the female character of aspiring journalist Abigail. Fix, who tells about their extraordinary journey. “There is action, heart and emotion, and of course Ashley is very funny, so he managed to juggle those elements like he did with Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.” , explains Crawford Collins.

France Télévisions then presented the project to the European Alliance, its pact with the Italian RAI and the German ZDF to share the funding of large-scale series so that they can compete with American streamers. This triumvirate of broadcasters was the cornerstone of funding for the Around the World in 80 Days. France Television also presented Slim Film + TV to French co-production partner and distributor Federation Entertainment. Other funding came from South African and Romanian government grants, as well as sales to the BBC in the UK and PBS in the US. Another key moment was the signing of David Tennant as a leader.

Production then embarked on the construction of major sets in Romania and South Africa. Romania was the location of the colder sets in the northern hemisphere such as London, New York and Paris, while South Africa provided the warmer territories such as India, Arabia, an island in the Pacific and Hong Kong.

Three weeks after filming began at Cape Town studios in South Africa, and with one episode filmed, the entire production had to stop amid Covid blockages. “We suddenly had to start repatriating people, repatriating them to all over the world,” Crawford Collins recalls.

Production did not resume until November. But South Africa was still grappling with the Covid, so the decision was made to restart in Romania. This meant that some of the sets that had already been built in South Africa – like one of the docks in Hong Kong – had to be demolished as another production was booked to move into the studio.

The cast and crew returned to South Africa earlier this year to complete filming, entering a huge Indian village that had been built outside of Cape Town almost a year to the day after the production stop. Meanwhile, security had guarded the set 24/7 throughout the year.

In some ways, Crawford Collins believes Around the World in 80 Days was lucky to have filmed for three weeks before it closed. “At a basic and practical level, there was a big financial commitment that no one wanted to give up. But we were also very excited by the rushes.

He says the production aimed for a “real and grainy” look so viewers really felt like the actors were traveling the world. “When they’re in the wilderness, we wanted them to be really hot and sweaty, and a little dirty under the arms,” says Crawford Collins.

Cinematographer Álvaro Gutiérrez shot with the Sony Venice (recording in X-OCN ST format for the most part, occasionally using XT when visual effects would be needed later), and paired the camera with Sigma FF High Speed ​​lenses. .
Pharoah describes the series as “his love letter to the world,” according to Crawford Collins. Viewers are of course used to seeing the world onscreen, much more than they were when the 1956 film was released. “But we wanted to try and capture that feeling of Fogg and co in 1872, by really seeing these things for the very first time. “

The main unit wrapped up in March, with a number of slightly longer second filming units in countries like Italy and France. Post-production then took place in France, where Mikros Image edited all the episodes and some of the VFX episodes alongside Mac Guff. Studio KGB took care of the sound editing of all episodes. The score, meanwhile, was premiered in Los Angeles by legendary composer Hans Zimmer and Bleeding Fingers composer Christian Lundberg.

Due to travel restrictions, much of the position was supervised remotely. “Doing post-production with Zoom isn’t something I would recommend,” says Crawford Collins. “It was really hard work.”

In fact, the whole production seems like hard work. “Without a doubt, this is one of the happiest projects I’ve ever worked on,” says Crawford Collins. “When I consider the challenge we had, it seems a bit perverse to me… It’s the kind of show that reminds me of why I want to be a producer. And that makes me understand why I would like to stop being a producer. He has all ends of the spectrum.

DETAILS

Executive producers
Simon Crawford Collins, Pascal Breton, Lionel Uzan
Executive producer, South Africa
Winnie Serite
Creators, screenwriters, executive producers
Ashley Pharoah, Caleb Ranson
Screenwriter (Ep 6)
Peter McKenna
Screenwriter (Ep 8)
Stephen greenhorn
Producer
Peter McAleese
Director (Ep 1,2,3,4,8)
Steve barron
Director (Ep 5.6)
Brian kelly
Director (Ep 7)
Charles beeson
Production designer
Sebastien krawinkel
DoP (Ep 1,2,3,8)
Allvaro Gutierrez
DoP (Ep 4,5,6,7)
Mannie Ferreira
Editor-in-chief
Adam bosman
Costume designer
Kate carin

Around the World in 80 Days is co-produced by Slim Film + Television and Federation Entertainment for the European Alliance formed by France Télévisions in France, ZDF in Germany and RAI in Italy.

The other co-production partners are Masterpiece / PBS (United States), Peu Communications (South Africa) and Be-Films and RTBF (Belgium).

Around The World In 80 Days has already been acquired by BBC in the UK, Seven West Media in Australia, RTS in Switzerland, as well as Daro Film Distribution, associate producer.

The series benefits from the support of the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) in South Africa, the CNC (National Cinema Center) in France, the Romanian government and the Creative Europe MEDIA program.
Federation Entertainment manages the distribution rights for the series.

Jon Cremier

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