Outlander Director Christiana Ebohon-Green Breaks Down the Print Shop Riot
We go behind the scenes of Outlander Season 6 with director Christiana Ebohon-Green!
This interview contains Outlander spoilers
Outlander Season 6 has crossed the halfway point in this shortened season. Den Of Geek was unable to visit Jamie and Claire’s living room, but we did have a long chat with Christiana Ebohon-Green to go behind the scenes on episodes 4 and 5, discover more about her directing style, and also what it means to be a Black professional in a predominately white UK media industry.
DEN OF GEEK: How would you describe your directing style, for somebody who has no idea what directing even entails?
CHRISTIANA EBOHON-GREEN: I like actors, which isn’t always the case. It is quite nice to create a safe space for the actors to be able to do their best work no matter what else is going on or what the requirements are from the camera team or time. Making sure that each of those actors are okay, and that they’ve got it and they know what it is that you want them to do, and it’s what they also want to do. Then if the intention isn’t clear, there’s a chance for them to go again. So sometimes if they say, “Can we just have another go at that?” to kind of go, “Yeah, we have got time for you to do that,” because personally, what I get from them is… That’s one of the most important things that I’ll take in to edit. So no matter about the smoke and the mirrors and whatever else. The performance and the emotion and everything else isn’t on point, then I haven’t got it to put on screen.
When were you first offered the opportunity to direct on Outlander Season 6?
Well, it was over a year ago. I met the guys just in 2019 to start, and I think then had to pause because of COVID and the lockdown. It just went very quiet for a while. And then it was about 18 months ago now that they were meeting again. We had another chat and it was quite soon after that that I was offered the block.
Did you watch previous Outlander episodes or read the books to prep for your directing?
I’d seen a couple of seasons before the meeting, so I knew kind of what the story was about and what was involved. I didn’t read all of the books as that would’ve taken some while. I think whatever you’re stepping into, you want to know what the world is about and what’s at risk, and what the foundation of it is. How the people got to be where they are now.. How did it start? There’s some research involved in that. And then when you have meetings, then, of course, the creative team wants to know what you think about the show. You need to know whether it’s a show you actually like and want to be involved in.
As a director who has to float from production to production, how do you build rapport with the cast and crew?
I think you have to be quite sensitive for the cast. You don’t quite know how they like to work and what’s important about the themes that you’re trying to get out of them and onto the screen. Whoever I’m working with, it’s always great to have a catch-up before. So either a meet in person or a phone call or at least a series of emails. It’s nice to just sit and chat with them for a bit and to hear their thoughts. By the time you get to set, you’re not a complete stranger, and they’ve got some ideas of what it is you are looking for as well.
How far in advance did you get the scripts for episodes four and five? What was your reaction to reading the scripts for the first time?
I got the script not too long before I started the block, about three weeks before my start date. Then had a chat with Matt and Maril about them. So yes, it wasn’t as though I had no idea about what scripts I was going to get, what I was walking into. And so when I read four, especially, I was really excited because again, to be able to show this cultural story and the experience of these people. I kind of felt a kind of affiliation; I understood some of what it was to be Other and what the struggle was. The point of view of Outlander is that we’re ahead of the curve. We know what’s going to happen to these people.
Were the scenes filmed in order?
Episodes four and five were mostly shot in order, but it was mainly five first and then we got to ep four at the end. Part of that was when we could get the Mohawk and Cherokee actors over from Canada. The flights and the quarantines and all of that had an implication in what we were doing.
What were the challenges in filming Episode 4?
Some of the actors were saying ‘this is the story; this is the story of our forefathers’ fathers. This is the direct story of our grandparents and great-grandparents.’ There was a responsibility to tell the story properly and be quite sensitive about what it was we were doing. If we couldn’t do things properly, then we just didn’t do those. So they were then taken out of the script. So there was a lot of sensitivity about what we were doing. Then while we were filming, if certain props and certain things didn’t work in reality for the culture, we changed them.
There was [the cold open] scene of Young Ian having his hair plucked. Initially in the script, the hair was falling away and that’s what we were doing. I had the actors around him, and we were doing the plucking, and they were holding onto the hair. And I said, ‘Oh, could we just let that fall?’ And they let me know that “no, hair is a very sacred thing. In our culture, often we will save our hair, and maybe once a month there’ll be a ceremony or we’ll do something.” It’s regarded very highly. While we were filming them, we were able to just put the hair aside and the idea that then they would keep it, and something else was going to happen with that hair. We tried to be quite sensitive to those things to get it right.
When they’d done the Mohawk First Nations stories before in the fourth season, they were able to have more supporting artists to portray the way that village life really was. But because of COVID, we had about fifty-something people in total fly over. We doubled people for the Cherokee and the Mohawk villages. The actors that we didn’t feature heavily in the Cherokee scenes, we then saw more of in the Mohawk scenes. We made sure that there were differences between those two tribes that showed.
In terms of some of the things that could have gone wrong, like the weather, the weather was really on our side. So for most of it, we had balmy weather in Scotland, and they were all kind of like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on? You’ve bought the weather.’ I think it was the baptism scene where it was a bit miserable and damp. We used that to add atmosphere.
What were the challenges in filming Episode 5?
It was just great that these two episodes were so different. It was difficult to schedule because there were so many bits and pieces all over the place. I think one of the scenes that was most difficult was the riot by the print shop. That was one of the most challenging days with the number of people that you needed and picking out the various bits of action that are important and go on to shape the story. There was the tar flying and the gunshots and the person being shot. there were lots of little things to get right within that. Then we had the ball as well. So again, a lot of people and lots of bits of the story. There was the band and all of the supporting artists to really make it look like a happening event. We really tried to keep it alive and give it a lot of atmosphere. The numbers were a bit reduced to what I think a normal Outlander ball would look like because of COVID. We passed the camera and came back again as the actors worked.
What is your favorite on-set memory from either episodes four or five?
I love the approach to the Cherokee village [in episode four]. We had the drone and that whole kind of village and the people, and suddenly, it felt so real, like I was a visitor in their village. The set design of the village was so great. I’d seen that space at various points as it was being built up, and I’d seen the plans of what it was going to be. To be there on that day and then see it populated with our supporting artists and whatever else and the flyers go in and the food and the people dressed in the traditional dress, It just felt like a privilege to be part of what life might have been like. There was an element of like you’ve stepped back in time, and this is how these people lived. Walking through and seeing some of that was quite special. To tell the stories on this scale is such an amazing treat.
What obstacles have you faced as a Black director, and how did you overcome them?
Over my career, most of the challenges have just been about not being given opportunities. Although I went to the National Film School and did all of that and was qualified at every point, my experience and my ability were questioned. It was really difficult to just get really small gigs on the soaps and things like that. And you’re constantly trying to prove yourself [on those sets as] they’re supposed to be stepping-stones on to bigger things. But for me, I found that I was kind of stuck, really hitting a glass ceiling. For years and years and years, I was doing episodes and episodes and episodes that were good, but trying to get attention from other shows and bigger things. It just really wasn’t happening which I despaired. I saw other directors, male, white, whatever, racing ahead of me, even though they had a lot less experience or a lot less training. It was difficult because you don’t know what else you can do to give yourself the opportunities that you feel you deserve. It’s been amazing in more recent years to have opportunities on bigger things and make good episodes and thrive. At some point, you start to doubt yourself and think, ‘Well, I wasn’t given the opportunity. Maybe they knew something. Maybe I couldn’t. Maybe…’ It’s so liberating to [work] putting in your heart and soul and being able to try your hands at all these different things that weren’t available to you before and to do them well.
What is your dream director role?
I went to the National Film School, so it would be great to do a movie. Growing up I had the goal that ‘I’m going to do a film, and people were going to go into the theater, and they were going to have popcorn, and the lights would go down, and everyone was going to watch my movie and the story that I wanted to tell. The two Outlander eps and some of the high-end television shows are on the scale of doing movies. Going forward, I want [to work on projects] that feel more personal or things that I identify more with. Diverse stories, stories where there are exciting roles for women where the female characters aren’t just 2D. Women that are full of life and from different backgrounds. It would be really interesting to [work on] more unheard stories.
Can you reveal anything about your next project?
I’m working on the second season of The Pact for BBC, Lionsgate, [and US Sundance Now]. Season two is a completely different story with new characters. There’s a freshness to it. And it ticks one of the boxes that I was just talking about, in terms of diversity. I’m directing the last three episodes of season 2. I’ll start filming those probably toward the end of next month.