Outlander executive producers/writers Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia are grateful for the inherent nature of the Starz series, noting that it serves to keep season after season creatively invigorating.
“With cookie-cutter shows where things are basically the same season after season, there’s a fatigue level. It’s hard to keep your passion and excitement up for the work. No matter how much you love a show, if there are no new challenges, you can fall into an auto pilot mode,” said Graphia. “The audience wants to see the same thing. The network wants to see the same thing. We’re lucky that Outlander is not like that. Each episode is different and its own little movie. Every season feels like you’re doing a completely different show.”
And that ever changing nature of Outlander creates the need to call on talent new to the show to make key contributions. For example, this latest Emmy-eligible season had almost two full episodes with storylines located entirely aboard ships at sea so Outlander reached out to cinematographer Michael Swan whose credits included another ambitious Starz series, Black Sails.
Swan’s work on the fraught-with-ships show Black Sails carried with it a depth of experience on water, and with the gimbals and effects need to suspend nautical disbelief.
Another notable talent wasn’t new to Outlander but was afforded the opportunity to serve in an elevated capacity. Alasdair Walker was a second unit DP during the course of Outlander’s first two seasons. He then took on the role of cinematographer for multiple episodes this time around. It was a successful transition as evidenced earlier this year by his first ASC Award nomination–in the Outstanding Achievement in an Episode for Non-Commercial Television on the strength of “Outlander: The Battle Joined.”
“It was a no-brainer to give the opportunity to Alasdair,” said Roberts. “He worked so well with the directors and was amazing with his shot selections those first two seasons.”
“The Battle Joined” scored this year not only at the ASC Awards with a win, but also at the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards with a nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode. The Outlander nominees for the VES honor were effects supervisors Richard Briscoe, Aladino V. Debert (who’s with Digital Domain) and Doug Hardy, VFX artist Filip Orrby and co-producer Elicia Bessette.
A separate challenge; settling into the director’s chair
Perhaps the biggest Outlander storyline hurdle to clear this past season was properly dealing with the physical separation of Jamie Fraser (portrayed by Sam Heughan) and Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe).
“Jamie and Claire were separated in the prior season’s finale which posed a major challenge,” affirmed Graphia. “We had to figure out the number of episodes to keep them apart. We wanted it to go as long as we could, which would make their much anticipated reunion all the sweeter–especially for two lovers who are soul mates and so meshed with each other. At the same time, we realized that even when they were apart, we had to still convey their togetherness. At times, we thought about doing this through flashbacks. But then Matt had a great idea–to show them together in a scene but never in the same frame. They dream about each other. We have these flashes in their everyday lives–they even pray for each other. They are still very much in each other’s lives even though they’re apart.”
Meanwhile another challenge welcomed by Roberts was the opportunity to extend his creative and artistic reach. He moved into the director’s chair for the season 3 finale, “The Eye of the Storm.” Graphia and Roberts had to plan extensively for that particular episode.
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