[Editor’s note: The following contains minor spoilers for “Sense8” Season 2, Episode 6, “Isolated Above, Connected Below.”]
“Sense8” is one of TV’s craziest, most unique series, and no one knows that better than executive producer Grant Hill — the guy who has to handle the show’s insane production logistics. While in the thick of production, the cast and crew are constantly traveling from location to location, literally spanning the globe over the course of months.
Hill began working with Lana and Lilly Wachowski as the unit production manager (UPM) on “The Matrix Reloaded,” and has been involved with all of their projects ever since. But the challenges presented by “Sense8” were a step beyond what he’d been asked to do before. “Probably the hardest but the best decision we made was that we wanted to film everything that was scripted in a particular city in that city,” he explained.
“It was very complex, particularly at the start of it,” he said, “Where in the first season you’re pulling in basically the 10 principal characters, who all have their own story, and as an audience you have to understand in a general sense what the stories are and how they are linked together.”
He did have one previous experience to balance things out — as UPM on the Wachowski/Tom Twyker collaboration “Cloud Atlas,” he’d found himself balancing multiple units in production, working side by side. But Season 1 ended up shooting in nine cities, and in Season 2, that got upped to 16 cities, including one location that they hadn’t originally plan to visit — Sao Paolo, Brazil.
But if that trip to Brazil hadn’t happened, one of the season’s most pivotal scenes might have played very differently. Season 2 features movie star Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) handling the ramifications of his sexuality becoming common knowledge, especially with regard to his career. Initially, he’s reluctant to come out in a public way (despite being outed by the tabloids).
In Episode 6, “Isolated Above, Connected Below,” Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) accepts the opportunity to be Grand Marshall for the Sao Paolo Gay Pride Parade (the largest gay pride celebration in the world since 2006, according to the Guinness Book of World Records) — an event that becomes a seminal moment for the character, leading to him coming out publicly. The subsequent celebration, in which all the other Sensates join, is one of the most joyful of the season.
However, visiting Sao Paolo and filming at the actual parade wasn’t the original plan. While in pre-production, there had been discussion about making Pride happen, schedule-wise “it just didn’t come into alignment,” Hill said. That was until halfway through production, when some things had shifted in the schedule — two days before the parade was scheduled to begin, Lana realized that the dates might now work.
And fortunately, one of the show’s location managers had already done some basic preparation for potentially making it happen: “He did the due diligence and made the contacts, and so we had a way in. And Lana said, ‘Let’s just go for it.'”
Then, the sprint began: “We sent down a production person a day and a half before we were due to be filming, and then we finished here in L.A. that night, and flew overnight down there. We had eight or 10 hours on that float in the procession in which to stage all the stuff that we had — which of course we hadn’t rehearsed.”
But the sequence worked out, Wachowski directing live on the parade float in front of a crowd of 2.5 million people. You can even see her and the cast in action in videos filmed during the parade, thanks to those attending the celebration and the magic of YouTube.
“It was a huge sort of gamble, I guess in a way,” Hill said. “But it turned out to be one of the most spectacular and, I think, moving scenes in the whole season.”
Hill was very open about how much he enjoys working with the Wachowskis: “It’s great. I have been with them, I guess it’s probably 15 years, and I just really like working with people that push the envelope, story-wise. They expect people to work very hard with them. But you know it’s very much a process that is acknowledged is being done by by everybody. And, you know, I love it. I really enjoy the material and I love them.”
Are they talking about a Season 3? “We’re sort of just getting into that really,” Hill said. “It’s always there at the back of your mind. We would like to do a Season 3, and we’re keeping everything in place until that’s decided. Netflix has been very supportive, but it’s always complicated. We’re a reasonably expensive show and we’re always pushing a little bit further. You set the bar — then you want to jump over it a little bit higher.”
“Sense8” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.