How ’Bad Sisters,’ ‘The Diplomat’ Shot in Tourist Landmarks for Maximum Effect
19th August 2023

The locations featured in this year’s batch of shows featuring Emmy-nominated actresses can be viewed in simple terms as diorama boxes or proscenium stages. They are settings that help define and confine characters, such as the near-future dystopian Republic of Gilead (portrayed by Toronto) or — as with the Sicilian resort setting for Season 2 of HBO’s “The White Lotus” — and give them the space explore their truer selves in ways that are alternately freeing and tragic.

In Apple TV+’s “Bad Sisters,” for which Sharon Horgan landed a lead actress nom, it’s a lot of both. A black comedy-drama about five sisters mixed up in a murder plot to kill one of their husbands and a subsequent insurance investigation, the series is set in a contemporary seaside suburban Dublin milieu. The location is galaxies away from the macho blarney in director John Ford’s 1952 classic “The Quiet Man” that many filmgoers take for the authentic Ireland. Shooting locations ranged from the quaint village of Malahide north of the city to the Forty Foot, a cliffside ocean swimming spot on the southern tip of Dublin Bay which, for centuries, was for men only, painting a picture that is simultaneously intimate, expansive and foreboding.

“I grew up watching American versions of me in my life,” says Dearbhla Walsh, who directed and executive produced the series and is nominated for a directing Emmy. “There’s the romantic ones and the melodramatic ones, and then the grim ones were kind of from the BBC.”

Although Netflix’s “The Diplomat,” for which Keri Russell is nominated, is a political thriller, it definitely falls on the romantic side of the spectrum, location-wise. One writer dubbed it “location porn,” and it’s never more titillating than when it travels to Paris for its season finale, titled “The James Bond Clause.” But the producers avoided the city’s overly familiar architectural landmarks.

“The idea when they were scouting was to avoid the ‘Emily in Paris’ signature,” says Paris-based location scout Alphonse Huynh, and “film it in a real [way], not like a postcard.”

One of the most challenging sites to secure was the Palais-Royal. Built in the 1630s by architect Jacques Lemercier as the personal residence for Cardinal Richelieu, it now houses France’s Ministry of Culture, Conseil d’État and Constitutional Council, which means it’s not only highly secure, it also has a wealth of governmental activities that outweigh the needs of a television series trying to grab a few shots.

“It was really hard to get, and at any minute they could say, ‘OK, we have a vote and you will not be able to film there,” says location manager Alphonse Huynh. 

“The Diplomat” was only granted a permit to shoot at the Palais-Royal because producers agreed to confine themselves to a four-hour time window, during which time they had to shoot the arrival of a brigade of diplomatic cars; a pair of walk-and-talks from the courtyard into the lobby and descending its grand staircase; and a scene in a judicial chamber where filmmakers hadn’t been permitted in more than two decades.

“We were only allowed to have 50 members of the crew in the building, including the actors, and they only accepted us on a Saturday,” says Huynh.

For scenes shot at the Louvre Museum, the crew were granted a relatively generous two nights, but during that time, they had to capture the exterior and cavernous interior of the I.M. Pei-designed glass and metal Louvre Pyramid, as well as shots on the Daru staircase and in front of the Coronation of Napoleon in the museum’s Denon Wing, which are not close to one another, necessitating time-
consuming moves.

As a rule, Huynh tried to schedule the locations in an order that minimized the distance the production needed to travel between set-ups.

“We’re trained to build the best schedule without moving our trucks, because if you have to move your truck, you’re dead,” says Huynh. “This is how we managed to have all these locations in the window of six days.”

The story of Peacock’s “Poker Face” travels vast distances, following a woman (Emmy-nominated Natasha Lyonne) as she traverses the United States in her 1969 Plymouth Barracuda, on the run from a casino boss who wants her dead, from Laughlin, Nev., to rural New Mexico to Atlantic City, N.J. The producers’ solution to this logistical challenge was to shoot almost all of it in and around the Hudson Valley in upstate New York.

“We were based out of Fishkill and Newburgh, New York, which is about an hour and change north of New York City, and we had basically another hour [radius] to play with to find all these locales,” says location manager Christopher Menges.

Over the course of the shoot, the production traveled everywhere from working-class re-creation spots like Castle Fun Center, Happy Valley Arcade Bar and Orange County Fair Speedway to a yacht-filled marina in Marlboro, N.Y. 

The Laughlin casino in the first episode was constructed on a soundstage by production designer Hugh Bateup, but for the Atlantic City casino featured in the season finale, the crew decamped to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, where they had to run everything by both the casino management and the tribal gaming council.

According to Menges, their biggest location “get” was the IBM Somers Office Complex, in Somers, N.Y., which portrays the offices of fictional pioneering visual effect company LAM. Like the Louvre Pyramid, the 1.2 million-square-foot facility was designed by I.M. Pei, and features glass pyramids atop each of its five buildings. Built at the cost of $200 million, it opened in 1989 and closed in 2017.

“It’s this massive campus where they basically turned the lights off and walked away,” says Menges. “Our biggest obstacle there was getting plumbing turned back on, trying to get some air conditioning in there and just all the logistics of housing huge crew in a place that had been basically defunct for years.”

These days, host regions typically don’t just provide productions with picturesque locales — they also offer rich monetary incentives. New York State and Ireland have tax credits of 25% and 32%-34%, respectively, while France has a 30% base tax rebate for international productions, with an additional 10% for VFX or animation work. In return, the local economies get an influx of high-paying blue-collar jobs along with trickle-down benefits — characterized as “indirect spend” in economic impact reports — that include money spent at hotels and restaurants and other local vendors, as well as increases in tourists drawn by what they’ve seen onscreen.

Walsh experienced the impact on tourism firsthand on a recent visit to the Forty Foot, when she met a shivering Canadian tourist as she emerged from the water and asked how she heard about spot. The tourist told her she was one of seven sisters and they all watched a show called “Bad Sisters.” Walsh’s friends then informed the tourist that they were talking to the woman who produced and directed the series.

“She said, ‘Oh, my God, you’ve made my trip!’ and I said, ‘No, you’ve made my day,’” recalls Walsh. “I kind of had a secret desire that this place would get on the on the map of places to come and do homage to, so it’s fantastic.”  

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