The recordings of the 7th season of The Blacklist were stopped because of the coronavirus. But the producers were as bold as the protagonist Red Reddington, and decided to animate part of the final episode of the season. The hybrid episode will air on June 18th on the channel AXN.
Raymond "Red" Reddington, a man who happily embraces challenges, would certainly be proud of The Blacklist's creative gamble to end the season with a bang, not a sigh, during the suspension of recordings because of the coronavirus.
The producers of the series and starred by James Spader like the anti-hero Red, decided to use animation to complete an episode that had already been partially recorded, starting a large-scale collaboration that ran from Los Angeles to London and also included a stop at the Spader family home, which was transformed into a recording studio.
The idea for the episode - which will air on the channel on June 18, at 10 pm - came from a meeting between the executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath which happened in March, shortly after filming in New York was halted - as with so many other TV and film projects, as an effort to stem the spread of the virus.
"It started off as a joke, talking about how we should make the episode in question like an old radio soap opera, where we would put the image of a fireplace or a radio on TV, with the actors talking," said Bokenkamp in an interview with the Associated Press . This led to a discussion of comics derived from The Blacklist that already exist and bingo! Eisendrath raised the possibility of a hybrid episode.
"But it is possible that if we were aware of the demand for work that we would have to turn half of this episode into animation, we might not have followed through with the idea", he lamented.
When recording was stopped, Spader, who is also an executive producer in The Blacklist, had planned a trip with his family from New York to Massachusetts. Everything was already paralyzed when Bokenkamp and Eisendrath called him with a proposal to rescue the 19th episode of the 7th season - for which 22 episodes were ordered. According to Spader, it would be an opportunity to end with a more satisfactory conclusion than that of the 18th episode.
"I found it curious," said the actor to the Associated Press. "I thought it would be the right decision, to try anyway to end the episode within our means, and not only that episode, but to complete the season satisfactorily."
The process started with some revisions of the script to give it more “hook, taking the audience to the next season,” explained Bokenkamp. The animation division helped with adjustments to the plot, in addition to contributing something else.
“A scene that would be recorded with Red and Liz (co-protagonist Megan Boone) sitting in a room was transformed into a scene with the two walking along the National Walk in Washington, with the Capitol in the background ”, detailed Eisendrath. "We managed to give an even more cinematic tone ... Closer to a graphic novel".
As Bokenkamp, who also created the series, explains, graphic novels and comics share the same DNA as The Blacklist, and still provide an opportunity in the field of animation for Sony Pictures Television and Universal Television.
The Blacklist it is “like a more cartoonish version of a series, it already looks a bit like a comic… Our protagonist is a villain in a hat. The series is violent, and also very emotional, ”he said. Add to it all a streak of very cheating villains and the impression is that "we are telling a story similar to those of Batman in the past, with an irresistible villain a week".
Normally, the production of The Blacklist it is already full of geographical complications. After being recorded in New York, editing and post-production take place in Los Angeles, supervised by Eisendrath, who lives in the city, and by Bokenkamp, straight from his home in Nebraska. To resort to animation, it was necessary to send equipment to the actors' houses to record their dialogues.
For Spader, the challenge was to record from a farm built in the 1850s prone to many noises, an even greater challenge for the “poor sound guy”, responsible for capturing crystal clear audio.
"So far, I hadn't played Raymond Reddington with my son sneaking into the kitchen to get a snack," he said. “But you do what it takes. Turn off the heater so as not to make a noise and try to remember not to turn on the dishwasher ”.
He explains, laughing, how he resorted to “rudimentary” efforts to ensure sound insulation, such as the use of a placemat under the microphone and curtains on the windows “to keep out the strong noise of rain outside”.
With the production of the animation, under the responsibility of Proof Inc., taking place in London, under long-distance coordination with the producers, the effort to make it happen as planned was constant, and was still ongoing in early May, already close to the scheduled date for the episode to air.
"It's kind of a 24-hour process," said Bokenkamp last week. “While we are sleeping, London is working, and we see what they did when they sent us the material at night. We analyze and send our recommendations for changes, which are made by them quickly, in a process that involves many people in different time zones, working non-stop to finish the episode in time ”.
In an ideal situation, a hybrid episode should be made from scratch, with the animated scenes stipulated before the recordings on the set, which is why the producers expect the audience to understand the effort that was put into this work.
"It was important to do our best in an adverse situation to try to complete the episode," said Eisendrath.