A show the size of The Wheel of Time has to hunt for a part of the world large enough to contain it—especially at a moment when the boom in streaming television has overwhelmed studios from Los Angeles to Atlanta to London to Prague. “We are, as a worldwide industry, quite close to capacity because of this demand for content by our friends at Amazon and all the other streamers,” David Brown, the producer of Wheel of Time, told me. Los Angeles is booked out, and too expensive, anyway. Ditto Atlanta, where Marvel Studios regularly shoots. Ditto London, a longtime production hub that is currently oversubscribed—and, once again, too expensive. So Brown thought: maybe Budapest.
Central and Eastern Europe have traditionally been accommodating places to make movies and television. The locations are suitably grand and variable and ancient; the local expertise, honed by decades of Hollywood productions coming and going, is high-level and relatively affordable. So Brown initially looked at Hungary. But, he said, “I spoke to friends in Budapest who’d worked there, and they just said, ‘You won’t get in.’ ” Then he tried Prague, and found that the waiting list for production space was just as long. So, after some consideration, Brown and his production partners decided to create their own studio from scratch. “You know, we are a big company,” Brown, who is exacting and English and who has worked on everything from The Phantom Menace to Outlander, said. “The show is hugely ambitious creatively. So how do we fill that? That’s why we’re in this building that is 350,000 square feet.”
And so Jordan Studios, where the Wheel of Time production is headquartered, ended up in a remote corner of Prague, in a giant pale-blue complex of industrial buildings that used to be the warehouse of a trucking company.
This caught my attention as I have been working in recent years on research involving the locations of television shows. When you look into television production, it takes place in a number of predictable locations. There are centers of production where all of the space, workers, and synergy is present. In the story above, these typical centers were booked and/or expensive. So, they moved to Prague and put together what they needed in a context where Hollywood production is known and possible.
At least for this particular show, the filming in and around Prague may not matter as much because it is a work of fiction. All sorts of landscapes, inside and outside buildings, could work. At the same time, for many other TV shows and films, they claim to be in a particular location. But, would someone watching know whether if it was filmed in that said location or somewhere else? Through the work of studio filming, editing, and implication, how many stories are filmed on location and how many are filmed elsewhere? The viewer may not know. The filming location might be all sorts of places.
All that to say, the geography of production can continue to change with changing conditions and new content. And would the viewer know any different?