Washington's Spies: on set with Henry Bronchtein
On Oct. 1, 2014, the cast and crew of AMC's Revolutionary War drama "TURN: Washington's Spies" transformed the Great Hall of the Christopher Wren Building into the 18th-century throne room of Saint James Castle, complete with candelabras and marble busts. While on set, W&M News had the opportunity to interview Executive Producer Henry Bronchtein to learn more about why the College was chosen as the location for the opening episode of season two. Below is an edited version of that Q&A. With 38 years of experience in the film industry, Bronchtein is known for his work on movies like "Raging Bull," "Thick as Thieves" and the HBO television series "The Sopranos." Season two of "TURN" will air in spring 2015. – Ed.
W&M News: What intrigued you most about this project and how did you get involved with TURN?
Bronchtein: You look for projects that you like and that are interesting. I read the pilot last year, and I saw the season and was intrigued by the show. And the opportunity came up this year to join the company. It's a show that I thought had a lot of quality and beauty, and history is interesting to me. I wanted to do something like this, so I said yes.
W&M News: How is this different from other TV series that you've done?
Bronchtein: Well, every project is different, and every project is the same. There are always logistical problems that are very similar. Clearly, this period is unique and doing a period piece in general is unique, and I haven't done a period piece in a while although I have done others in the past.
But, the 18th century is a particularly difficult period to get the costumes for, to do the hair for, the writing of this and the actual historical accuracy. But, the fictionalization of this is something that is unusual and different than most shows. It's the kind of show that is a continuous story. You kind of have to get into the story; not each episode is resolved. I like that kind of story. It allows for more character development, and, for me, it's more interesting.
W&M News: Why did you choose William & Mary as your location?
Bronchtein: We were looking for some place that could play in the scale and beauty of a room that would be in the palace of the king at the time. Saint James Palace, I believe. And we looked at several places, and we saw this space. It's really my production designer, Caroline Hanania, who really looked at the spaces … and we liked this space the best.
It sort of combined the idea of a throne room, which was originally in the script with an art gallery room, within the palace, and we decided we liked the scale and the beauty of the room, the elegance of the room really.
W&M News: I was told you worked on The Sopranos. How is this different from that?
Bronchtein: [Laughter] How is the night different from the day?
It's extremely the opposite kind of show. I mean, that's a contemporary show; this is a period show. That was about mobsters; this is about patriots. I mean, you know, human drama is human drama. It’s conflict of emotions; it’s conflict of purpose. So, there are always similarities but, there are so many differences I couldn't even begin to enumerate them.
W&M News: What do you think you will take away most from this experience, working on this production?
Bronchtein: I hope like with everything, pride of a good job and the joy of working with people. I enjoy my work. I'm lucky.
W&M News: What advice would you give film students who want to enter the industry of entertainment?
Bronchtein: Run. [Laughter] It takes a while to break into the business; it's a very difficult business to get started in. It's very much still what I would call an apprenticeship business. People start low on the ladder and work their way up usually.
Although if you want to be a director and you are a writer, you have material and you can find somebody to fund you. There a lot of people now who start at the top. I think perseverance. What did Woody Allen say? “90 percent of life is showing up.” Just keep at it.
W&M News: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about this location, or the production as a whole?
Bronchtein: We're very pleased that the College allowed us to come here. I know it's a very precious room to them, and it's valuable in terms of the woodwork and the design and it's old.
We're trying to be very careful, we really appreciate the fact that they even let us come and shoot here. I know their priorities are the students. And I know their priority is the education of the students, and we're just grateful they let us come.