During Droughtlander, it’s nice to revisit episodes and the moments you like best of the past few seasons before the next season premieres. Ahead of season five, one great way to do that is by reading Tara Bennett’s The Making of Outlander: The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four which dives into each episode, spotlights actor interviews, and explores elements of each season’s production design and costumes to highlight the enormity of a show like Outlander.
Like the first book which explored seasons one and two, this second book brings all the elements of what we see on the screen by breaking them down with the directors, set decorators, costume designers, including hair and makeup, and more to flesh out how multiple departments and personnel create each frame of the show. Unless you work in production like I do, it’s easy not to realize the volume of people it takes to create film and television shows. I like Tara’s books because they honor all the hard work that happens behind the camera! It really does take a village or at least a small army.
As I read through the pages, I am reminded of all the things I liked (and didn’t like) of the past two seasons. For a Tobias Menzies fan like me (that includes all things Frank), I loved Caitriona Balfe explaining the layers of Claire and Frank’s relationship at the beginning of season three. Remember all those delicious but tortured scenes? There was so much complexity and drama in their relationship (in only three episodes) so I enjoyed revisiting those and reading Caitriona’s take on it. A big moment in season three was the print shop scene! Remember? No you probably don’t but let me say that it’s fun to hear what the writers thought about all the fan anticipation surrounding the reunion and their decision to show Jamie’s day leading up to the big moment.
Given what a passionate fanbase the show has, there are also fans who work on it! God bless Toni Graphia who crept into my brain in Season Three when she created the – what I like to call – “Candy Sandy” character. She wanted to explore the tragedy of another woman who loved Frank but knew that his heart belonged to someone else and then confronted Claire about it. To me this gave the Claire and Frank story another dimension that I certainly enjoyed watching. Executive Producer/Writer and now Showrunner Matt Roberts has been a fan since his early days being a “reader” in the industry (one who reads books or scripts then provides a breakdown or summary to producers for potential projects) over twenty years ago when he stumbled upon the books. His prescient knowledge said it would be a great tv show instead of a film (so true)! Also, Denise Di Novi enthused her passion for the books before she came on as a director for a few episodes in season three and four. Calling herself a “fanatic” she read the books a few times and when she met her husband it turned out that he also had read them intrigued because of his Scottish roots. All of this before she directed an episode for the show!
While reading the book, I learned how the visual effects (VFX) became much bigger in these last two seasons which makes sense—the Frasers started moving to a new world. Between the print shop fire, the season three finale “Eye of the Storm” with Claire and Jamie being thrown around on a ship amidst huge storm waves (remember the underwater kiss?), Claire arriving in the streets of 18th century Edinburgh as she steps out of the carriage (which was really just a back lot), compositing different images to create the sweeping vista at Fraser’s Ridge that Claire and Jamie gaze upon in season four, there were several ambitious VFX shots that were new territory for the show. The book’s before and after pictures help you see the magic that these wizards create!
Also the costume segments are super fascinating to learn about. I don’t pay a lot of attention to story telling in costumes but reading about the ideas behind, say, Roger’s sailor outfit in season four like making patterns from his preexisting outfits and turning them into an 18th century type jacket (“it needed to be bad enough for him to have done” considering he’d have rudimentary sewing skills) was really cool. Costume Designer Terry Dresbach began research on Eastern Woodland Indians a year before season four began. I felt like the native tribe costumes in season four were different and more unique than what my eye became accustomed to previously seeing in film and television. Learning that most of it had to be interpretation due to lack of resources on the subject (most information had been burned before the Civil War!), it was a “puzzle” that had to be built. My favorite quote from Terry is, “My job is not to design clothes; it’s to design characters. If the actor cannot lose themselves in the clothing and transform into a new person, then I’m not doing my job right.” This changes my idea of costume designing and how it should reflect the character’s story. Additionally, the illustrations provide a peek into the creative brain-storming that is required to transform these characters.
Tara Bennett’s second follow-up book is an essential for die-hard Outlander fans. She’s thorough, enthusiastic, and provides a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes hard work that is essential for a show of this magnitude. I also think it’s a great record of all the seasons and each episode. Aside from department heads, producers, writers, and directors, the hundreds of people that put in an enormous amount of work are typically unsung but the book honors their achievements and us fans pay it back with eyes glued to the screens and our noses in the books.
P.S. Thanks to this book, I’m looking forward even more to season five because when I read a quote from Toni Graphia saying “We always knew we wanted to do a Frank episode” in reference to “Down the Rabbit Hole” in season four (the infamous Frank and Laoghaire ep), it keeps the Tobias-Menzies-cameo-flame alive in me!
Curious about Tara’s first Making of Outlander book? Read my review here!