Bang on Trend

by Stuart Kemp

Wales proved the perfect fit for Amazon Prime’s original drama The Collection, boasting the studio space and behind-the-scenes talent to help recreate post-Second World War Paris. By Stuart Kemp.

The list of famous fashion capitals traditionally runs Paris, Milan, London, New York. But all that may change when The Collection, the first UK original drama backed by Amazon Prime, streams later this year. Set in the world of French haute couture after the Second World War, and following the fortunes of two brothers at an illustrious Paris fashion house, season one of the eight-part drama is written and co-produced by Ugly Betty creator Oliver Goldstick and shot extensively in Swansea, south Wales.

UK Executive Producer Kate Croft originated the series with Goldstick via her exclusive development and production deal with Lookout Point, the production company in which BBC Worldwide has a 35% stake. It is directed by Emmy award-winning Dearbhla Walsh (Penny Dreadful), who took the first block of four, and Dan Zeff, who directed the remainder. Goldstick moved his family over from the US to lead the creative team.

“As a writer and showrunner, Oliver is very clever at creating and writing big shows largely based in studios with not very much location work,” says Croft. “We very quickly realised the vision Oliver had in his head for the fashion house was so particular that we weren’t going to find anything ready-made, and we would have to create it.”

Croft and the show’s BAFTA-winning Producer Selwyn Roberts (Parade’s End) put their heads together to find a suitable UK studio space after looking at Prague and Hungary. Bay Studios in Wales had experience of large-scale TV productions, as it had housed the Starz/BBC Worldwide co production Da Vinci’s Demons, and it eventually hosted the show for 15 weeks, with pre-production beginning in late 2015 and principal photography beginning in January 2016. The production occupied two-and-a-half stages, utilised the vast backlot and built Parisian streets outside. It also shot at Swansea’s historic Guildhall.

Sunny delights
The biggest challenge during the shoot, however, came as something of a shock: Wales was just too sunny. “It’s the best worst thing that could happen when you’re shooting outside,” laughs Croft. “It’s not something normally associated with Wales. But it is south Wales.”

One thing that was no surprise, however, was the calibre of the region’s talent. “From the set builders, to electricians, to grips, set decorators and costumes, the quality of the Welsh crews is as good as anywhere in the world,” Roberts says. “They’re good value for money too, and will go the extra mile.” Financial support from the Welsh government and the UK high-end TV tax relief also helped.

Season one also shot in Paris and a chateau on the outskirts of the French capital, allowing The Collection to qualify for French funding and backing from France 3. Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton is the French co-production partner while the show has investment from the Pinewood Wales Investment Budget and Pinewood Studios.

The production’s proximity to airports in Cardiff and Bristol, with regular direct flights to Paris, was also convenient for the French cast and crew. “We are Paris-Swansea,” Croft says, “which is wonderful.”

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