Last week saw the long-awaited release of The First Musketeer, an action-adventure web series created by Ren‘s associate casting director, Harriet Sams. Harriet’s show shares several other team members with Ren, including actress/fight performer Dita Tantang (Lyanna), fight choreographer Ronin Traynor, director of photography Neil Oseman and gaffer Richard Roberts.
The First Musketeer is a prequel to the famous novels by Alexandre Dumas, telling how Athos (Edward Mitchell), Porthos (Charles Barrett) and Aramis (Ryan Spong) first met and became the heroes we know and love. Filled with swordfights, horses and intricate period costumes, The First Musketeer posed many similar challenges to Ren. Below Harriet shares some of her experiences of making the show.
What made you want to tackle these iconic characters?
I’ve always loved period movies, along with action/adventure it’s my favourite genre, and The Three Musketeers have it all. Although I would say that the subject matter almost chose me. I was in France with family and my dad commented on the fact that half of the villages look like ready made sets, and that I could make a great Musketeer short film using the locations, and so it kind of evolved from there. It was never really planned to become as big as it did but I tend to have difficulty holding back when a good idea presents itself.
Why did you feel that a web series was the best medium for this story?
I couldn’t settle on the idea of adapting a story that had so often been done before, and with budgets I couldn’t hope to match. I had recently begun watching a number of web series, and I was struck by the way the audience connected so deeply with this minimal format. A platform where the viewers accepted a low budget as a given, and didn’t expect flashy effects or big studio set pieces. Where their only interest lay in the characters and the new worlds that had been created. But most importantly it was a platform where film makers could self-distribute, in the hopes of getting their work seen through this connection with online audiences.
You took your cast and crew to the south of France for a month to shoot season one in various stunning castles and chateaux. What was that like?
Due to the decision to shoot mainly at night sleep was scarce but the effect was to create a dark and mysterious world, a reflection of the inner turmoil our characters face throughout their journeys. With the knowledge that pick-ups weren’t an option, and averaging only around 3 takes per shot, we were under pressure to make as few mistakes as possible, and crossed our fingers that the weather would cooperate with us during our many outdoor scenes. We had a skeleton crew, made up entirely of volunteer professionals who agreed to leave their homes in the UK for a chance to experience a true film making adventure.
Are there any funny stories from the shoot?
I think a lot of the things that went wrong which were horrible at the time are funny in hindsight. Like the evening we were setting up in this publicly accessible courtyard for a huge fight scene, and suddenly this huge wedding party turns up and starts to crack out the drinks and have their pictures taken. Because the location belonged to the local town hall and it was a common place for people to pose for wedding shots we couldn’t really ask them to leave, especially on such an important day for them, and so we just had to sit around waiting for them to leave.
What was it like working with Ronin on the fight scenes?
As the Director of ID fight team he managed to pull together a group of experienced stunt fighters to face off against our Musketeers, as well as spending weeks getting our actors up to scratch in order for them to look convincing onscreen.
Some had it easier than others, Charles Barrett for example, who isn’t only an experienced stunt rider but also a championship fencer. Toby Lord who plays the Duke de Luynes had the hardest task, having to face five fighters at once in one of our most ambitious fight scenes of the series.
How did you tackle the costumes?
It began almost a year before the shoot itself and hundreds of hours were put into creating costumes for all the leads. In the end a huge costume team formed, built from talented individuals, each specialising in their own area. We had embroiderers, leather workers, tailors, all working around other projects to try and finish in time for the shoot.
Even with months to plan the schedule was so tight, due to the sheer number of costumes to make, that one of the costumes had to be flown in separately once we had already started filming, in order to finish off the delicate beadwork on the doublet’s arms.
Where do you hope the show goes from here?
It seems there are really three main options based on the web content landscape as it stands. The top of the ladder is a major production company discovering the show and buying it up to develop as one of their own projects. That means big budgets which is always exciting, but also less likely. One can always dream though. The next is for one of the smaller streaming platforms to do something similar, put a larger budget than we had for season one into either redeveloping the first season or continuing on to season two. And last would be to develop season two using private investments, which would most likely result in having a lower budget than is ideal, but would at least allow us to continue making the show.
In all honesty any of the above would be a dream come true but if none of that comes to pass I’ll be more than happy if people just watch the show and find a connection with it. If someone makes it into a GIF on Tumblr I’ll consider it a success.