“One of my highlights was taking Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation, Fargo) to the away end at a Manchester City v Arsenal game at the Etihad. So he definitely got a taste of the city,” Allon Reich, Executive Producer and Founder, DNA.
Reich was speaking to Prolific North ahead of the UK release of Devs on BBC Two.
Devs is described as “a struggle between fate and human nature, quantum physics and philosophy” and it’s the first television series from Alex Garland. Garland made his name as a writer on films including The Beach, 28 Days Later… and Sunshine. More recently, he’s become an acclaimed director, with futuristic psychological thrillers, Annihilation and Ex Machina.
It’s the same team which worked on these latter films which has been used for Devs.
The cast is led by Offerman, but central to the whole series is a golden, floating cube, which is the supercomputer behind it all. Despite looking like it could be a green screen studio, in fact the entire set was built on location at Space Studios, Manchester.
“To be honest, we were in a bind, because we couldn’t find any space in London for any of our sets. We were rolling forward in terms of pre-production and we knew we wanted to shoot in California for a bit, but we could not find any place in London,” said Reich, the Executive Producer of Devs and who’s DNA Films has produced all of Garland’s movies, as well as Trainspotting, T2 Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and Dredd.
“We had issues with studio requirements, we needed a normal studio, for interiors of apartments and then we had this ‘super issue’ which was the Devs cube, which is kind of like the sci-fi, hi-tech, secret development site of our quantum computer.
“So, we needed 25,000 sq ft and eventually, really just by the skin of our teeth, we managed to find some space at Ealing studios, for our domestic bits – the interiors of the houses in San Francisco.
“But for the cube, we would have needed to hire one of the major stages at one of the big studios around London – and they were all full. Then our Head of Physical Production at DNA, Cahal Bannon, said he’d recce’d Space Studios once before for a show and had remembered they were building this big stage.
“So he went up and found out that it was this state of the art, 30,000sq ft, never-used-before studio. At first we were thinking ‘logistically should we do it?’ The more we thought about it, the more we realised that it was just perfect.
“Then we could start planning how to get the show and people to Manchester.”
The DNA team hired the Manchester studio for a year, in order to complete the highly technical set build.
“What we and Alex always want to do, is to be as real as possible, so real people, real things. What we want to do is have actors in a real environmental where they can move around. Rather than on a green screen and put things in afterwards and try and pretend. In some ways, the big visual effects element of shooting in Manchester, was removals, because there was a lot of glass and a lot of reflections and that can be tricky,” continued Reich.
“If you’ve seen Ex Machina, you’ll know we’re well practiced in shooting with a lot of glass!
“The look is very particular. When people watch the show, I think the thing they’ll be talking about more than anything else is the set in Manchester. It’s important in terms of production that the designers, the Director of Photography, camera team and the VFX team are all the same people who worked on Ex Machina and Annihilation. So, we can be ambitious, due to that fact that there’s collaborations that have been established over two other productions.”