Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Virginia’s ‘Turn’ in spotlight
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Mar 7, 2014, 16:11

Emmy award winning costume designer, Donna Zakowska, explains how pieces together the costumes for the show “Turn.” She said it takes 9 pieces of clothing to make one 18th century period costume.

In a month, areas around Central Virginia will once again become stars of the small screen. AMC’s new series, “Turn,” began filming last spring and has taken hold of the area for a total of 10 episodes. 

The television series centers around America’s first spy ring, which was born out of the American Revolution. The series is based on the book “Washington’s Spies,” by Alexander Rose and focuses on the life of Abe Woodhull, a farmer living in Long Island. Abe, along with a group of his childhood friends, form the Culper Ring. The ring is comprised of secret agents who aide George Washington and the Continental Army to help shift the war for the Rebels. 

Cast and crew of the new series welcomed media to the film studio in Henrico on Feb. 18 to take a peek into the world of the show and all the elements it takes to put the series together. 

In addition to filming at the production facility, other areas around Virginia have provided a backdrop such as State Farm in Goochland, Shirley Plantation, Tuckahoe, and Petersburg. 

Executive Producer Craig Silverstein said Richmond has an abundance of historical sites. Once arriving in the area, he said “it just seems like we had it all right here.” 

“When we saw Petersburg, we knew immediately how we could convert that to old-time New York, or Colonial New York.” 

The actors have also taken hold of the area to not only work but play as well. Seth Numrich, who portrays Ben Tallmadge, said Richmond has a capability to go from a bustling city to the deserted woods in a matter of minutes. 

“The locations are just so amazing and you do feel so remote,” Numrich said. “They build these amazing sets and all these props and people come in. ... It’s very easy to drop into that world. It’s really stunning out there.” 

Though the show will be wrapping up filming at the end of this month, with the premiere date not too long afterwards on April 6, Silverstein is already looking towards the upcoming seasons. Before the pilot of the show began filming, production crews came to the city of Hopewell to possibly scout as a location for the show.

While Silverstein said this season will not feature the city, it is in the back of his mind for future episodes in Season 2.  

“Hopewell, to me that looked like, if you see pictures and look at pictures of New York Harbor, it really looks like that point where the rivers converge there,” Silverstein said. “Hopewell we actually scouted for some potential locations for coves ... which we may use but our goal is to actually use every place we went and scouted. City Point was great.” 

No matter where the series is filmed in the state, the series will have a large economic impact. Maurice Jones, Secretary of Commerce and Trade, said the show will bring $45 million per season, touch 500 or more Virginia small businesses, and bring over 600 job opportunities, such as technicians and extras. 

“This is, in addition to being a wonderful artistic endeavor to have in Virginia, it is also an incredible economic development kick in the arm for us,” he said. 

the show 

Before the cameras start rolling and actors take their places on set, their costumes must be on and ready, and Donna Zakowska, costume designer is there to make sure every stitch and button is in place. 

Emmy Award-winning Zakowska has done costumes and wardrobe for HBO’s “John Adams,” as well as various movies, theater and a concert tour for Mick Jagger. To bring her closer to the lives of the characters in “Turn,” she did research on military and civilian life, as well as what life was like for American farmers at the beginning of the 18th century. 

“It was a period of very little fabric. We’re in the middle of a war. It really impacts the way you design the clothing.” 

Zakowska said she works to mix the fabric for the series and to use the clothing to illustrate America during the Revolutionary War. 

Though she was surrounded by fabric, ribbon, sewing machines and thread in the production facility in Henrico County, Zakowska noted much of the clothing also comes from Europe, such as England and Italy. There are also people working in New York putting together dresses for upcoming episodes. 

The costumes in the show, she said, are a mixture of theatrical moments and realistic moments, thus having to capture that transformation with each scene. 

“You really have to be very flexible and able to move quickly with your images and the way you create clothing and very realistic as to what was available to people and also in America during a Revolution.” 

As Zakowska stood in a room with wall to wall fabric, it became clear as to why so much clothing was needed for each season. She said it takes nine pieces of clothing to create one 18th century costume. She estimated at the end of filming “John Adams,” about 10,000 pieces of clothing had been used. 

“Probably by the end of this we’ll come close to hitting about 3,000 costumes.” 

For the men’s wardrobes, Zakowska used velvet suits and of course war uniforms, in which she said every color has to be “symbolic.” 

Zakowska also used what she described as “aged” clothing. Part of a costume design involves aging the clothing to make it look worn. 

“The reality of the clothing is something I cling to and it’s a very important part of what I do.” 

the scene 
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Caroline Hanania, Production Designer, gives a tour of the art department and illustrates how sets are created and built for the show.

Since the cameras for the show are not rolling in New York, where the story for “Turn” takes place, Production Designer Caroline Hanania and the art department have worked to create the set in and around the city of Richmond and central Virginia and the production facility in Henrico County. 

The task for Hanania, who has done production work in Europe and the U.S. for over 25 years, and her staff is to create another world, a world that is a small set in Henrico, a farm in Goochland County or a street in Petersburg. 

“One’s constantly working, the story’s changing and developing. ... We have different worlds we’re creating. We’re also creating the world for the story.” 

The art department at the production facility had scale models of the set in Petersburg, which was built over a long weekend, as well as the set at State Farm in Goochland.

As Hanania led a tour of the set, she pointed out the “houses” of the different characters, in which a downstairs living room could be on one side of the facility and the “upstairs” bedroom could be about 50 feet away. 

A large poster of buildings in Petersburg hung in the production facility and Hanania said it served as backdrop, an exterior shot, that could be seen from the windows inside the living room on one of the sets. 

Hanania said the houses were built to illustrate a “French and European” feel, even using low lighting to be as authentic as possible. Candlesticks lined the tables and the fireplaces that were built on set are working fireplaces to help create the feel of civilian life in the 18th century. 

Sets have to be taken down and then rebuilt many times, Hanania said. The sets at the production facility range from living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and small sitting rooms, all taking viewers back in time to another time period. 

“You see it once and never see it again in terms of the art department,” she said.

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