Television

HBO looks to boost original series franchise with Rome

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MUMBAI: In a bid to strengthen its line up of original content, English movie channel HBO will kick off the series Rome from 20 February 2006 at 11 pm. It will air every Monday after the 9 pm movie.

The show is a co-production between HBO and BBC Worldwide. As had been reported earlier by indiantelevision.com the show deals with two Roman soldiers who become entwined in the historical events of ancient Rome. The series has a budget of $100 million. By comparison one Harry Potter movie cost a little more at $120 million.

It has the distinction of being the first English-language series to be shot entirely in a non-English-speaking country Italy. It took 14 months to film the first season. By contrast one episode of a network drama usually takes a week, not a month, to shoot. During the shoot there was a historian on call 24/7. Rome won an award from the Directors Guild of America earlier this month.

HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai says, We are extremely excited to bring one of the biggest series ever, Rome, the groundbreaking HBO original productions to India. Rome is closer to India than most people would imagine as a lot of the elements such as the costumes, set design, colours and the look and feel of the show have either drawn inspiration from India or have been created by craftsmen in the country.

As a preview HBO will air a special Making of Rome on 20 February at 9 pm. Viewers will get an insiders view of the series with clips, cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage

Rome deals with love and betrayal, masters and slaves, husbands and wives. The 12-episode first season begins in 52 B.C., as Julius Caesar completes his conquest of Gaul after eight years of war, and prepares to return to Rome. He brings with him legions of battle-hardened, loyal men, unimaginable riches in slaves, gold and plunder, and a populist agenda for radical social change. The aristocracy is terrified, and threatens to prosecute him for war crimes if he enters Rome.

The delicate balance of power lies in the Senate with Caesar's old friend, partner and mentor, Pompey Magnus. Such is the situation when two soldiers of Caesar's 13th Legion, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, are ordered into the wilds of Gaul to retrieve their legion's stolen standard, the unifying symbol of Caesar's legion, setting off a chain of circumstances that led to the fall of ancient Rome. The series stars among others Ciaran Hinds, Polly Walker who got a Golden Globe nomination, Indira Varma, Ray Stevenson, Kenneth Cranham and Kevin McKidd.

Readers maybe interested to know that Rome was put into development as an HBO miniseries way back in 1998 by executive producer Anne Thomopoulos, who at the time was a senior vice president, original programming. Writer Bruno Heller began work in 2000. Following delivery of the first three scripts in 2001, HBO chairman Christ Albrecht and HBO Entertainment president Carolyn Strauss decided that Rome should be developed as a continuing series instead of a miniseries. Co-production partners The BBC came on board in August 2002.

The series' writer and producer Bruno Heller says, "You rarely see onscreen the complexity and colour that was ancient Rome. It has more in common with places like Mexico City and Calcutta than quiet white marble."

The set cost $10 million and is the largest standing set in the world. The set comprises 20,234 square metres of backlot and 6 soundstages. The series required over 4,000 pieces of wardrobe, 2,500 being used in the first three episodes alone. Much of the material came from India, as well as Prato, Italy, Tunisia and Morocco. Approximately 1,250 pairs of shoes and sandals were made in Bulgaria, and 250 chain mail tunics, each weighing 16 kg, were made in India. The prototype for the detailed leather cuirass worn by army officers was handmade at Cinecittà, and 40 were replicated in India. Prototypes for all of the metalwork - helmets, buckles, belts and insignia - were handmade on set and replicated in India as well.

Building the Rome set involved an international crew of 350. All of the fabrics used in the costume design and set dressing are authentic to the time wool, linen, cotton and silk. Fabrics came from Prato, Italy, as well as India, Tunisia and Morocco. They were purchased in their natural state and dyed on set.

Other interesting facts about Rome include

- 40 leather cuirasses were made for the legionary officers mostly from India
- 750 actors/extras were involved in the largest shooting scenes
- 40 horses were used in one scene
- 45 members of the cast were sent on a two-week boot camp run by a former British Royal Marine. 43 completed boot camp.
- The Forum set is approximately 60% the size of the original Foro Romano, and 25% of it is invisible in the form of wiring, pipes and gas to fuel its working braziers and torches
- Battles scenes in Rome represent one of the first times authentic techniques are portrayed, for example, no large, slashing sword movements like Gauls and Celts used; instead the series featured a tightly-packed Roman Wall of men shoulder-to-shoulder, thrusting straight from above and below their shields. The front line rotated to the back every 30-45 seconds, ensuring well-rested soldiers in the fray at all times.

That HBO and the BBC are satisfied with the audience response can be gauged from the fact that a second season will start shooting next month.

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