‘Wheel of Time’: The cultural influences and collaborative creativity behind the hit Prime Video show [interview]

‘Wheel of Time’: The cultural influences and collaborative creativity behind the hit Prime Video show [interview]
Amazon Studios
Michelle De Pacina
September 8, 2023
Set in a high fantasy world, Amazon Prime Video’s “The Wheel of Time” brings to life author Robert Jordan’s novel series through the influences of real-world cultures to achieve authenticity.
The series follows a woman named Moiraine Damodred — portrayed by Rosamund Pike — who crosses paths with five young villagers and embarks on a dangerous, world-spanning journey. Moiraine claims that one of the villagers is the child of an ancient prophecy with the power to tip the balance between Light and Dark forever. Together, they learn to trust each other with the fate of the world before the Dark One breaks out of prison and the Last Battle begins.
To learn about the collaborative process of the story’s adaptation, involving directors, writers and creative teams, NextShark entered behind the scenes onto the set of the fictional world in time for the show’s second season. 
Translating “The Wheel of Time” from Page to Screen
In translating “The Wheel of Time” from the books to live-action TV, director and executive producer Sanaa Hamri discussed how the show’s creative team drew inspiration from various cultures.
As a Moroccan filmmaker, Hamri acknowledges the influence of Moroccan culture on her work, citing a location in the Sahara Desert as an example of how cultural backgrounds informed the atmosphere and texture of the show. 
“We really lean into the books and if you look at Jordan’s work, he is really inspired by a lot of Eastern philosophies from around the world,” Hamri tells NextShark. “So we are bouncing off and kind of harkening to different cultures, but we’re not copying that.” 
via Amazon Studios
Regarding the adaptation process, Hamri emphasizes the importance of representing diversity in casting, expressing their commitment to respecting and paying homage to the cultures represented in the show.
Thomas Napper, who directed the second season’s first two episodes, noted that the characters face new challenges and are separated, leading to the introduction of new actors who represent new allies or antagonists. The new actors and environments in the latest season reflect the directors’ intentional approach to representation and cultural influences.
Designing Character Looks
As hair and make-up noticeably enhance realism and emotional impact on viewers, the aesthetics also convey information about a character’s culture and lifestyle without the need for exposition. While “The Wheel of Time” is set in a fantasy world, hair and make up supervisor Davina Lamont incorporates elements from different cultures, including Japanese, Indian, French and African, to refine the seamless narrative. 
via Amazon Studios
Lamont, a two-time Emmy nominee who worked on “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy, emphasizes the importance of diversity in the show’s cast and how she strives to honor different ethnic backgrounds through her work. 
“We’ve never seen something like this on screen because most of the time we stick to a period in history. I want to honor the fact that it is such a huge, diverse cast,” Lamont says, noting that the hair of each actor resembles their race or ethnicity. 
Lamont also highlights the collaboration between makeup and costume design to create unique and authentic character looks, which ultimately provide actors with the confidence and concentration needed for their performances. 
Crafting Dynamic Stunts and Fighting Styles
Along with perfecting their performances, actors must drive the fantasy storytelling forward through dynamic stunts and fight scenes, which often generate buzz and anticipation for upcoming episodes. Stunt performers who possess a wide range of skills, from martial arts and gymnastics to driving and wirework, contribute to the overall appeal and excitement of the series while prioritizing safety and professionalism on set.
via Amazon Studios
In “The Wheel of Time,” stunt coordinator Jan Petrina, whose career in stunts began over 30 years ago, delves into the impact of culture and ethnicity to influence the diverse fighting styles within the series. Petrina, who is known for his work in Marvel films such as “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” says most of the show’s stunts are based on the battles of the medieval period, especially the styles of Japan’s hereditary military officers, or samurai.  
In creating a unique blend of martial arts and movements for different characters on “The Wheel of Time,” Petrina notes that the different fighting styles are developed based on the characters’ backgrounds and weapons. For example, Petrina’s stunts and fighting choreography were formed around a katana in the opening fight scene of character Lan Mandragoran, who is portrayed by Korean American actor Daniel Henney.
Fusing Cultures and Effects for Visual Spectacle
Along with visual storytelling, the production design is essential in constructing the unique and imaginative world of “The Wheel of Time.”
Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil and SFX coordinator Ondrej Nierostek explained that in order to create the show’s visual elements, the process starts with poring over the scripts and references from the books for details about the settings. It is then followed by visual research to determine the nature and architecture needed to bring the fictional world to life. The physical concepts and designs are then developed, and discussions with other departments regarding elements such as special effects and visual effects take place to ensure a cohesive vision for the show.
via Amazon Studios
In the latest season of “The Wheel of Time,” viewers are introduced to the city of Cairhien. Nekvasil says that the city is a fusion of Japanese and French cultures, with some inspiration also drawn from Korean architecture, as seen in the city’s entrance gates. They achieved the look by researching 16th-century European architecture and combining it with Japanese architectural details and patterns. 
In terms of special effects, Nierostek clarifies that their department works closely with the visual effects team. Special effects involve practical effects, such as creating flames for torches and coordinating practical elements like air blasts. He emphasizes that there is a constant dialogue between the production design and special effects departments to ensure that practical and visual effects complement each other and enhance the overall quality of the show.
“The Wheel of Time” is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Watch NextShark’s full interactive interview with the show’s production creators below: 
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