Written by Shona Smith on Apr 29, 2020. Posted in On Location

LMGI Location Manager Mandi Dillin discusses working on Westworld

Location Manager Mandi Dillin, LMGI (Inception, Interstellar), has worked on HBO's Westworld since the first series. In series three viewers are taken outside of the Western theme park into a new "technocratic metropolis". Dillin explains how her team decided what the world outside of Westworld looked like, and why locations are such an important element of the series.

What attracted you to working on Westworld?

Taking Michael Crichton’s movie and turning it into a television series really piqued my interest. As a child I went to tons of amusement parks and theme parks with live actors playing various roles, specifically early American settlers in Northern Ohio. The idea of being a guest at one of these parks and having the staff revolt on you is terrifying – and a thrilling concept in terms of storytelling. The project sounded like a lot of fun.

You have worked on Westworld since the first series, how has the series evolved & in what way are the locations a part of the evolution?

We went from the amusement park version of the story where the hosts revolt on the guests then upped the stakes by exposing data collecting of the guests. It was a Western meets Science Fiction in the best possible way. Now in Season 3 we’re fully into the urban future and out of the Western landscape.

In Seasons 1 and 2 there was a transition between the natural landscapes of the American Southwest and the stark subterranean compound of Delos labs and offices. The locations both tell the viewers where they are physically in the park as well as what timeline they are in (for the extra observant fans). In Season 3 we leave the park and enter the outside world. My first question is always ‘what year are we in?’, then it’s ‘where in the world are we?’. Deciding what the world outside of Westworld looked like was awesome. There was a lot of discussion about what types of vehicles people drive, if any; what do the buildings look like; what is daily life like for the people living in our city – are there restaurants and café’s, is there Starbucks in our future, what do people do for fun? Those are all things we had to think about while scouting locations. Eventually we were able to combine the best of Los Angeles and Singapore to create a new urban landscape for the series.

Westworld Credit: HBO International

How many ‘worlds’ are there in Westworld – and what locations predominantly feature in each?

To date we’ve shown three – Westworld, Shogun World and The Raj. There might be hints to other parks in Season 3 so keep your eyes on the screen! Westworld is the embodiment of the American West – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a celebration of the pioneering spirit and also a terrifying study on human nature and how it relates to vacationing in a lawless land. Sweeping Western landscapes of Utah and Southern California expressed both lawlessness and freedom for those who could afford to enjoy it.

Shogun World is much darker and takes viewers into Edo Period Japan. It was a very violent time and, much like the American West in the 1800’s, a lot of lawlessness and vigilante justice. The Art Department designed an incredible Japanese village based on Edo Period buildings in Japan. Everything about Shogun World was incredibly detailed – from the paint colors to the costumes to the way the scenes were lit.

Westworld Credit: HBO International

What new locations/countries were used in the third series?

We had the opportunity to supplement our version of future Los Angeles with present day Singapore. Our focus in Singapore was architecture – both in buildings and public spaces. I had worked in Singapore prior to Westworld and had an idea of what Jonah wanted. Both Jonah and Production Designer Howard Cummings had their own ideas as well. Our mantra was, the more spectacular, the better. Singapore has loads of really interesting spaces to offer but we could only feature a handful in Season 3.

For the Delos Campus there was no other choice than the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain. Nothing else could have portrayed the sleek corporate campus of the future. The CAS looked like the future when it was built and it still looks like the future, perhaps a little bit closer than before. It was really an embarrassment of riches – there are so many beautiful parts to that facility which we did not have time to capture on film. It is a very busy public space so we had to work closely with the management team and surgically schedule filming around their schedule.

Westworld Credit: HBO International

It was a major coup for us to have the opportunity to film in Spanish architect Ricadro Bofill’s home and studio at La Fabrica in Barcelona. La Fabrica is a pre-World War I cement factory where he impressively carved out a space that feels both modern and ancient, that is warm but also industrial and where the well thought out garden appears to be swallowing the buildings whole. It’s truly a Brutalist compound of science fiction dreams that also appeals to architecture buffs.

The town of Besalu, Spain was used for Warworld. There are many beautiful country towns in Spain but Besalu has an impressive bridge one must take to enter the city, as if to guard itself against a certain foe.

Can you discuss the experience/logistics of shooting in Singapore compared to the US?

In Los Angeles we film dozens of movies and television series every single day. There’s a system and a general understanding of how the film industry works from both the local governments as well as the residents. In Singapore they make far fewer film and television projects every year. While the local crew are very experienced from working in Indonesia and other parts of Asia, they don’t have the same volume of projects coming into the country. There are also more government agencies to coordinate with who might not have the staff to manage a film shoot of our size. Our schedule included over 14 days of locations packed into 7 days of filming. It was quite ambitious regardless of what city you put us in. We happened to film in Singapore a few weeks before their huge Bicentennial Celebration. Every day the city shut down for rehearsals of massive performances in front of the National Gallery, as well as rehearsing the air show (which the crew absolutely loved). Although we were smaller than the Bicentennial but also had a lot of needs in terms of control of certain areas as well as logistical concerns like finding parking for our trollies, not to mention getting permits for all 23 of our locations. Thankfully we had the absolute best local Location Managers in Singapore who knew how to navigate the system.

Does the genre-bending nature of the show throw up any unique challenges for the location department?

Of course! It also makes each day exciting. One moment we’re looking for a World War II era airport and the next we’re talking about driverless vehicles. There’s never a chance to get bored or complacent because every day there’s something new on the table. Yes, there are challenges, especially in bringing our future to life. Much like any other period project, we had to remove anything which rooted us in 2019 and replace it with our own set dressing and props. To me this is what keeps me on my toes and especially observant when scouting for locations. Nothing can ever be camera ready on Westworld but we can try to get as close as possible.

You have experience across feature film & TV, what have you learnt from each format?

Movies are a marathon; television is a one hundred meter dash. Feature films typically have more prep time and sometimes spend more time actual filming in locations. Also, there is usually a locked script which everyone works off of so you can properly plan in advance. In television we have very ambitious schedules and do not always have scripts. Although we do as much planning as possible we always have to be ready for changes. My team laughs at me because I have the plan but also backup plans A, B through Z. I try to be ready for any scenario no matter how theoretical. One major rule I live by is to never ever take for granted the hours I get with a locked script.

Mandi Dillin is a member of the LMGI

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