“Timeless” production designer John Marcynuk could really use a time machine of his own.
Marcynuk and his team are charged with creating the various eras that the characters in NBC’s new time-traveling drama visit. So far, that includes re-creating the Alamo, Ford’s Theater during the assassination of President Lincoln, World War II, the 1962 casino floor of the Sands hotel in Las Vegas (plus the Copa room where the Rat Pack played) and Mission Control during the moon landing.
“I’m really happy with how it’s turning out creatively, but, logistically it’s got to be one of, if not the, hardest shows that I’ve ever worked on,” said executive producer Eric Kripke.
The producers warn new hires on “Timeless” that they’re in for the experience of a lifetime. “I say, ‘Look, it’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done – but we can promise it’s never ever going to be boring,'” Kripke said. “And I think a lot of our team is really risen to that challenge and really enjoys the incredible variety they get to do each week.”
Marcynuk was Kripke’s production designer on his long-running The CW drama “Supernatural” for more than a decade. “I trust him implicitly,” Kripke said. “He’s been able to take everything we’ve thrown at him. I would say the best example of that is that there are a couple of dozen poor bastards up in Vancouver right now building the Alamo in a parking lot.”
For another storyline, location scouts couldn’t find a space in Vancouver that could approximate what Ford’s Theater looked like in 1865 – “so they built an amazing historically accurate Ford’s Theater for just one episode,” Kripke said. “It gives you a really great example of the reckless ambition of our production team… I think our production team has been remarkably game to whatever insane challenge we throw at them.”
Executive producer Shawn Ryan said the episodes take months of planning – which is why the production team has known since June about ambitious sets like the Alamo. “We’ve been talking with the production team ever since about that and letting them know that this was going to happen,” Ryan said. “For us to be filming now in September means that they had over two months to plan for it. Which is the only way we can get away with this.”
“Timeless'” costume designers, meanwhile, are having a blast coming up with different looks for every episode. “They have to be historically accurate and fresh and detailed and yet contemporary,” Kripke said.
In particular, star Abigail Spencer is transforming her appearance weekly. “It would not be a surprise to me if one of the talking points about this show becomes the different sort of outfits that Lucy [Spencer’s character] wears each week to fit into the era that she’s transported to,” Ryan said. “I don’t really give a damn about fashion, but each week that I see it for the first time I’m like, ‘Look at that, that’s so cool!'”
Of course, the “Timeless” team still has to work under a TV budget, which isn’t nearly as large as what they would be given for film. “It’s trying to use our budget as efficiently as possible, but knowing that the extra time we give them will allow their creativity to come through and pay off for us,” Ryan said.
The biggest challenge for the team has been the realization that they can’t just create a world, strike it, and then create a new world in the same spot week after week.
“These historical periods that we’re choosing are so wildly different and by design,” Kripke said. “We’re going to Lincoln in one episode, Sinatra the next, then we’re going to World War II and then we’re going to the Alamo. We’re trying to keep such variety from episode to episode that it’s proven difficult to come up with what we would call a ‘swing set’ to make it easier. Hopefully in the long term it will be but short term it’s really difficult.”
A few ideas have been nixed so far due to the difficulty of production – most notably, an idea involving the Great Chicago Fire. “We turned it down not because it’s not an amazing story, but because we just don’t have the resources to burn down the city of Chicago – CG or otherwise,” Kripke said.
Writers have also been made aware that choices that they make on page can affect the show’s budget. If you’re writing a street scene that requires 100 extras, they usually cost $100 each. But add the fact that those 100 extras each need period costumes, and that balloons to $400 a head.
“Every single week is an entirely different period, and because we’re the geniuses that came up with the rule that you can never go back to a place you’ve been twice, -we’ve nicely guaranteed ourselves that we can never go back to the same periods,” Kripke said. “It’s like one episode is ‘Outlander’ and then the next episode is a Western and then the next episode is a gangster movie. I think the audience is really going to benefit from our pain and tears, but there’s pain and tears.”
“Timeless” premieres Monday, Oct. 3, at 10/9c on NBC.