Summer 2019

Homeland's World View

As the Showtime series enters its final season, Lesli Linka Glatter and her directing team reflect on the show's global reach and the prescience of its storylines

By Whitney Friedlander

 Seith Mann directing star Claire Danes on Homeland. (Photo: Showtime)

Each year of Homeland begins with what has become affectionately known as Spy Camp. That's when the producers and stars of the long-running counterterrorism drama take a weeks-long research trip to Washington, D.C., where they ask members of the intelligence community a very important question: "What keeps you up at night?"

The answers, over the years, have included Russian operatives, cybersecurity, the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and other issues that became themes and plot points in various seasons—sometimes way before they became newspaper cover stories.

Frequent Homeland director Alex Graves says prepping an episode of Homeland means "you'll be talking to anyone from Navy SEALS, to ex-CIA, to NYPD counterterrorism, to diplomats [or] people who've been to the embassies overseas, and certainly the intelligence establishment of the day." As a result, he says, "You're learning a lot about what's really happening as opposed to what you're reading in the news or what's being spun."

The Emmy- and DGA Award-winning series, which launches its eighth and final operation this fall, is a well-oiled machine for which some of the industry's most respected directors regularly return to thwart an assassination, imperil star Claire Danes as lead Carrie Mathison, protect democracy, or even conduct an intense one-on-one cross-examination of wits.

Homeland producing director Lesli Linka Glatter on set with actor Damian Lewis. (Photo: Showtime)

Glatter Sets the Stage

Much of the credit for ensuring the show's look and vision goes to Lesli Linka Glatter, the show's producing director. She usually directs the first two episodes of the season to properly capture the feel of the series since the latest push of the reset button, as well as a middle episode and the finale.

Glatter says she hopes to be the "producer that each director would want to have. So, I can be there to [give them] all the information they need to know about the local crew we're with, and the cast and whatever they need to help facilitate the storytelling."

Glatter was originally hired during the second season for one episode, "Q&A," helming a memorable interrogation scene between Danes' do-or-die CIA agent and Damian Lewis' suspicious POW, Nicholas Brody, that was filmed in one long take. It earned her both Emmy and DGA Award nominations—and an offer to return for the third season as a permanent fixture.

"In Homeland, to me, some of the most iconic scenes are two people who have completely opposing views and they're both right," Glatter says. "You have to look at both sides of an issue and ask the [same] question. You might not get an answer [you like], but you'll ask a lot of questions."

She was speaking from Casablanca, her home base for much of the current season, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan (but filmed in Morocco) and, she says, will include themes such as "looking at what we have learned since 9/11" and whether the government overreacted instead of "stop[ping] and really analyz[ing] the situation."

Tax credit incentives kept the first three seasons of Homeland in Charlotte, N.C., which doubled as Washington D.C. But the fact that it was simply unbelievable not to have Danes' risk-seeking and exceptionally talented agent in the field has turned the series into a globe-trotting, all-too-real caper that, as Glatter describes it, makes it feel to the cast and crew that "every year, it's like doing a pilot."

Locations have included Berlin (where they filmed an intended terrorist attack in a subway right after the 2015 massacres in Paris), New York City (in the midst of the 2016 presidential election), and Cape Town, South Africa (which was dressed to look like Pakistan). Needless to say, efficiency is key.

Homeland director and UPM Michael Klick. (Photo: Showtime)

Egos Need Not Apply

One of the things that's really special about Homeland is that I can speak to having done four different episodes in three different continents and in four different cities," says director Seith Mann, back for his fifth episode this year. "And consistently, they manage to put together crews that don't have any assholes, and that's super rare."

The "no-asshole policy," as Glatter puts it, is a prerequisite that's stated upfront. Wendy Bledsoe, a 2nd AD who joined the Homeland ranks in Season 3, says while that might sound curt, "They really work hard to be a team of people who are really good at what they do but we also want to be with for 16 hours a day."

It's also why the show has a habit of returning to the same core group of directors who are known to be without pretense. With an average of nine of their 11-day shoots per episode on location, Glatter says she needs to hire people who "support each other."

"I could count on maybe one hand the times we've ever had any kind of disagreement [because] if we're together, we're asking the same questions," says Alex Graves of working with Glatter. Their relationship stems from when he hired her to work on NBC's The West Wing.

Patience also plays an important role, says director/UPM Michael Klick. He says going into new countries each year means "we meet a new political situation [and] we meet new challenges" in regards to working relationships and how different countries see Americans.

This is important this season, Glatter says, because "on the set, there are like 10 different languages being spoken," and "it has been a bit like being in the kid's game of telephone, where you ask for a trash can, and through five translations, and seven different people, you're handed a banana. But with like a big smile."

For Klick, who speaks only English, working in Morocco has been a learning experience. He also emphasizes another reason Homeland is different from most productions that film overseas.

"We're working in an area that has had a lot of production, but it has been just two weeks at a time, or it's companies that come in and bring most everyone with them," he says. Whereas "We're here in an environment where we're bringing 110 days of photography. We're [also] raising some stages. And most people in Morocco have no experience with shooting on stages because most people who come to Morocco don't shoot inside. They shoot in the desert or at the ocean."

Homeland 1st AD and producer Sunday Stevens. (Photo: Showtime)

Ongoing Investigation

The great thing about Homeland is that it feels so current," says director Dan Attias, who has been involved with the show since the first season—including recreating a Benghazi-like attack in the Season 4 episode "13 Hours in Islamabad," which was akin to an hour-long war movie. Attias says it's one of the most complicated television episodes he's ever directed, and credits Klick and production designer John Kretschmer for helping him pull it off.

"You hit the ground running on Homeland because there has been a lot of advance consideration of all the technical challenges," Attias says, adding that "each season has to escalate beyond the previous one with the stakes continuing to be compelling and critical, but seen in a new light."

The devil is in the details. One of Graves' favorite takeaways came during his research for Season 7 when he says he learned that only unopened bottled water is served during meetings between U.S. and Russian officials because the "trust is so low between the Americans and the Russians when they meet that there's no entertainment or presentation" and there's a fear of being drugged and blackmailed. Plus, he says "the interpreters have to sit in a box [and not at the table] so that no one can see their lips move" and accuse them of false translation.

From top: Dan Attias (in cap) directing the "13 Hours in Islamabad" episode; Producer-director Lesli Linka Glatter bonds with Danes. (Photos: Showtime)

The Homeland Way

Glatter says she loves that Graves can take an episode with a lot of action, like the Season 6 episode "Casus Belli" that had a surprise shoot-out, and make it "character-based and not just about the pyrotechnics." She calls him "a walking encyclopedia of film history, and every shot he's seen, and somehow all packed into his brain."

She also points to someone like Keith Gordon, who directed a deeply emotional exchange between Danes' Carrie and the fellow agent whose life she saved, Rupert Friend's Peter Quinn, for Season 6's "The Man in the Basement." A former actor in his own right, Gordon "can communicate beautifully with actors to get the best, most subtle, layer of performance," says Glatter. These are gifts she thinks Attias and Graves also possess.

By this point in the series, the crew is so in formation that 2nd AD Bledsoe and 1st AD and producer Sunday Stevens have each person's style memorized. Stevens says Glatter comes from a choreography background and "she needs to see everything … like a stage piece from top to bottom." And Bledsoe says she's seen director Dan Attias spin gold out of a truncated shooting schedule and a late script.

As for someone like Seith Mann? Bledsoe says,"He's like a jazz player; he likes to riff; he likes to make it up in the moment if he can." For his part, Mann says he appreciates that the script doesn't usually put "super-detailed camera instructions, which allows him to find his own interpretation, and that Stevens, in particular, seems less driven by schedules and more supportive of getting things right.

"A lot of times, for the visiting directors, we'll help them through the smaller hurdles," says Stevens, such as explaining where a character is at a certain point in the season, or what an office setup would look like. Bledsoe says there is also a Homeland way to doing things that she has to maintain. This includes the Glatter-mandated rule of rescouting locations the day before filming starts to ensure nothing has changed, even if it means going on a weekend—because you can never be too sure.

Scenes from Homeland featuring Claire Danes. (Photos: Showtime)

Lasting Effects

A combination of education and coinciding real-life circumstances has made Homeland one of TV's most prescient shows. While it may serve as a time capsule for this era, it also has left an impact on the people who make it.

"I start from a place of paranoia," says Mann. "Sometimes I find the show to be a little ahead of the curve of my digestion of the news. And that sort of paranoia that exists in some of the storylines and whatever I unconsciously bring to it certainly inform [my directing]."

Graves reminds us that Homeland has been talking about Russians and hackings since its fifth season, which aired in 2015. "Homeland brings you up to speed, maybe a step ahead of what's in the papers," he says.

It has also given its makers ways to fill holes in their skill set, like a chance to collaborate with crews from all over the world, or gain more experience working straight through the day thanks to the French hours system that Mann says he now prefers. (Glatter extends this educational component to aspiring women and minority directors, whom she encourages to shadow episodes during production.)

"One of the great, fun perks of this job, as far as I'm concerned, [is] you get to go into a new part of the world and have that world open up to you," Attias says. "You are not just a guest in the country, you are also someone who people within the country recognize will be involved in portraying them to the rest of the world. So they want to, in most instances, put their best foot forward, show you as much as they can of who they really are so they can be accurately portrayed … I feel like I get a real window into something true that I might not get to see if I were simply a tourist."

Glatter, too, cannot deny the power that this traveling road show has given her to take a world's view of American politics that's both fictionalized and real.

"I go to the gym [in a] T-shirt that says 'sorry for our president' in 15 languages, including sign language, and literally, I get people cheering," Glatter says. "America has not been seen like this, internationally, for a very long time."

Yet, Glatter and the rest of the Homeland crew have found a way to show it all on screen.


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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