WGN America resurrects 17th century “Salem”
By, Heather Warner
Witnessing the dark horror and panic that embodies this “Salem,” it’s hard to imagine the very space it’s filmed in, sits on a peaceful farm in Grand Cane, Louisiana. “When we first arrived here, this was a sloping grade into a lake, and we put fill in and pilings and cobblestones. So, yeah, it’s the first time we’ve ever built a town in less than two months,” says David Von Ancken, the Director and Executive Producer of Salem. ‘
In just two months, a crew of 125 people, working seven days a week, resurrected 17th century Salem. The town is complete with the town square, where witches are punished for their crimes. There are also shops, a church, and homes. “When you’re in the scenes and you’re walking around town and you look around, it really puts you into the story,” says Iddo Goldberg, who plays “Isaac.
“You’re not sitting around a bunch of green screens trying to guess or predict what you might be seeing or how you might be feeling. This is all out there for you to feel naturally,” adds Shane West, who plays “John Alden.”
To bring this “Salem” town to life, producers have brought in more than a hundred extras depending on the day, all dressed for the part. Live animals are also here. The set, while enormous and detailed, is still a work in progress. “Every week we do another episode, and every week I work with another designers and other producers to more fully flush out this set…we just keep adding to it. The idea being after 20 or 30 episodes, we’ll have a full town that you can into any place and tell a story,” says David Von Ancken.
Forty-five minutes away from the outdoor set is a soundstage which houses a lot of the indoor scenes. The set designers turned to research and historians to get all the details right. “A lot of this is actually captured in beautiful research. We’ve got drawings and paintings of a lot of this stuff. So, we can actually set up and re-create the geography…a lot of times we’re building custom furniture to do it,” says Seth Reed, the production designer.
The soundstage is also home to a live forest, where rain and fog are on-demand. Janet Montgomery, who plays “Mary Sibley” says, “The production value of this is so big that I feel quite privileged…and this set location, it’s just an accumulative that you are part of something epic.”