Dissecting an Episode

This week’s blog is from Carol Trussell, Hannibal’s line producer.

Hannibal is a wonderful show to produce. Every eight days we are challenged to turn out a feature-quality episode of television. This would not be possible without talented directors and an amazing professional crew. 

While each episode shoots for eight days, we only have seven days to prep. On day one Bryan Fuller takes the incoming director and all of the department heads through a concept meeting on the upcoming show. Bryan’s scripts are always very rich in detail and every episode has new and exciting set pieces. We all sit around a big conference table and discuss ideas. Great television episodes are born in these meetings. Department heads love doing new things and are inspired by challenges. The goal of these meetings is to develop a plan of action that can be implemented in seven days. The second the meeting is over, departments go into overdrive. Set plans are drawn up, prosthetics start molding, special props are being designed, stunt people begin staging fight sequences. Even Will’s dogs are being trained.

As soon as the concept meeting is over, the incoming director and I are loaded into a van to look at possible locations. I am from Los Angeles, but I have come to know Toronto better than many locals, as I have scouted every part of the city. The director needs to see locations and choose what works best for the action in his script. By the end of the first day a lot has been accomplished.

Over the next few days, the director and I will meet with each department to discuss sets, stunts, props, wardrobe, food styling, visual effects and, importantly, schedule. By day two, the assistant director will have a schedule that lays out all the scenes in the episode. It is a complex task, but it becomes the plan of how to shoot the episode. There can be all sorts of challenges in scheduling. A certain guest-starring actor may have availability issues. Even predictions for weather are factored into the schedule. When will the new sets be ready? Are the prosthetics so complicated that they can’t be ready until the end of the shooting schedule? Once the director approves the schedule, it goes wide and everyone in every department knows when things must be camera-ready.

Directors take on a lot of responsibility in television. We have very highly regarded directors on Hannibal, and I try to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. The prep days are packed with meetings, location visits, walking sets and much more, but I always try to provide them with time alone with the script to shot list and prepare for shooting. Most of our directors do multiple episodes, and they really understand the show and what Bryan wants to achieve.

One the last day of prep, the director and I meet with Bryan Fuller for several hours to tone the script. This is where Bryan goes over each scene to discuss character and nuance. These are wonderful and creative sessions. The director is now officially ready to shoot.

I always love the first day of shooting on a new episode. In seven days, the script has transformed from the written word into a bustling and vibrant production. Every person on the crew of Hannibal has been a part of making the episode a success. The next day, the process starts again.

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