A week before the fourth season of the top-rated Starz original series “Outlander” premieres to the world, Savannah will get a first look.
The SCAD Savannah Film Festival has teamed up with Starz for a special showing of the first episode of the show's new season Oct. 28, marking one of the festival’s first jaunts into television during its 21st iteration.
“We’re super excited, too,” said Karen Bailey, Starz senior vice president for original programming. “I think the majority of our cast and executives have never ever had the pleasure of going to Savannah. It’s so befitting — we ended season three on the shores of Georgia. The invitation was so perfect.”
Based on the popular novels of the early 1990s from author Diana Gabaldon, “Outlander,” was successfully transformed into a television series in 2014, produced by Sony Pictures Television and Starz. Over the last three seasons, the show has been nominated for multiple awards, including several Emmy Awards and Golden Globes, and has become one the network’s highest rated shows.
The historical fiction follows the unlikely and tantalizing journey of nurse Claire Randall, who in 1946, while on vacation with her husband in Scotland, is whipped back through time to 1743 Scotland. She marries and falls in love with Highlander Jamie Fraser, starting a dual timeline that spans multiple countries and story lines.
“Outlander” broaches a number of genres, from science fiction and romance to historical fiction. Bailey attributes the series’ genre-defying nature as part of the show’s success.
“I think our original, core audience were longtime fans of the novels, which has been around for 25 years now,” Bailey said. “That core group was helpful in spreading the word about what the show is about. Once it premiered, it’s kind of this cross-genre world, in that it’s woven into historical fiction, but it’s also a romance and a fantasy because of the time travel.
“To my knowledge, and I watch a lot of television because it’s our job, I don’t think there’s another show that embodies all of those things successfully. We have this amazing cast that people want to bring into their homes week after week.”
From the onset, Bailey and the show runners wanted to film the series in Scotland. It was a bold move due to the lack of film infrastructure in place, and the tempestuous weather of the Highlands. Over the years of filming, however, Starz essentially built a new and now highly desirable filming location in and around Glasgow.
According to The Scotsman, Scotland’s National Newspaper, “Outlander” triggered a doubling of growth in Scotland's film industry in just four years and is now worth over $100 million. Major feature films and television shows like Marvel’s “Infinity War,” and “Outlaw King,” a Netflix production staring Chris Pine, have been filmed there in recent years.
“We made the decision early on, in the first season, to be in the physical location of where the story was set,” Baily said. “We decided it, although it’s physically more challenging to be in the Highlands of Scotland because that weather is extreme at times, but it’s also part of the storytelling.
“Sony Studios and ourselves and the production team built those studios from the ground up. The outside shots are in the real terrain. The interiors were all constructed and built in Glasgow, Scotland. We’ve expanded that studio every year and now it’s one of the largest studios in Scotland and we’re housed there year-round.”
The fourth season of “Outlander” is set in early colonial North Carolina, but the new season was shot in Scotland, which Bailey said resembled North Carolina in exterior terrain.
“It’s very much like the mountains of North Carolina, where this new season takes place,” Bailey said.
The SCAD Savannah Film Festival will also host an exhibition featuring costumes from the show. The exhibition will feature over 20 costumes from designer Terry Dresbach, who’s garnered Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Period Costumes.
Each season, the costumes run the gamut of style. Dresbach has worked in as much authenticity as possible, down to even the particular cross-stitched colors of the Scottish tartans — the clans' individual color schemes that represent the family crest.
“It’s been a story of its own,” Bailey said of the costumes. “For the folks that have been keeping up, every year, every book has taken place in a different world. We were in the cold winter of Scotland in the first season. The patterns were created for the show. Each tartan represents a family. She had that made with materials that would have been available at the time and colors that only would have been available at the time.
“We’re really excited for the costumes in season four, because now we’re in the Americas,” Bailey continued. “Just like the settlers, they had to abandon their heavy wools and go to cottons. While the styles are similar, because the era hasn’t changed, the texture, the look and feel have transformed to what would have been incorporated in the old Americas.”
While the show has shifted slightly away from the books with the addition of new characters, Gabaldon is a producer and approves the scripts before they are shot. As for teasers of what season four has in store, Bailey gave some clues.
“We used to say, there are no spoilers in 'Outlander,' because the books exist,” Bailey said. “[Gabaldon] and the show runners talk all the time. Every script goes to her before it comes to the networks. They have a great relationship. She’s endorsed a few tweaks and changes. We have a couple little surprises happening in the season that Diana is very happy about. You’ll see the appearance of some people that Jamie and Claire will find very familiar or familial.”