EXCLUSIVE: Producer Dani Melia describes how “a scrappy team” that made filmmaker Lulu Wang’s acclaimed low-budget feature The Farewell joined forces with Blossom Films’ Nicole Kidman and Per Saari to make “this big international production” Expats for Prime Video.
Melia tells me how she and Wang had “long talked about wanting to continue working together” after making The Farewell.
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Then, while they were promoting the movie in Australia, Kidman approached Wang about directing an adaptation of Janice Y.K. Lee’s book The Expatriates.
Wang was excited, and Melia recalls the director telling her: ”I need to find a way to do this with you and the rest of the crew who did The Farewell. I want my creative team onboard, and I think this should be our next thing.”
Melia says that quite a few creatives from The Farewell ended up making the leap with them.
They include Melia herself, who co-founded Local Time productions with Wang after their experience working together on The Farewell, along with cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano, composer Alex Weston, production designer Yong Ok Lee, editor Matt Friedman and art director W. Haley Ho.
“We had the support of lots of new creative blood as well, which was wonderful, and the support of Blossom and Per and Nicole, obviously, helping us transition from a scrappy team who made a low-budget feature that crossed over to making this big international production,” Melia says. “It was a great learning experience for all of us.”
The producer noted that there was a lot that shooting The Farewell and Expats was “very similar, even though this was a much bigger budget and had support of a big studio and not made independently. But I think the creative team kept the same eye on the ball.
“Lulu’s creative vision was our north star driving all of us.”
Melia adds: “There [also] were a lot of similarities in that we had a very international team on this, just how we did on The Farewell. The cast on this project was even more international than on The Farewell. We had cast from Australia, United States, UK, the Philippines, local Hong Kongers.”
Similarly, the creative team came from far and wide.
Off the top of her head she cites production designer Lee, who hails originally from Korea, costume designer Malgosia Turzanska a Poland native. “All these folks coming together is also what’s onscreen — all these people from different backgrounds in the project that asks the question of: What is an immigrant, what is an expat? And everyone on set was sort of asking those questions,” Melia says during an interview ahead of today’s official Prime Video announcement that the six-part limited series Expats will premiere on January 26. The teaser art for the series featuring Kidman against a Hong Kong backdrop also is revealed exclusively here:
Expats stars Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor Kidman, Sarayu Blue, Ji-young Yoo, Brian Tee and Jack Huston.
Ruby Ruiz and Amelyn Pardenilla play key roles as two of the domestic migrant workers who work countless hours to serve their mistresses.
Kidman and Wang also serve as executive producers on the series.
The series’ splendid feature-length — 1 hour, 36 minute — penultimate episode “Central” will have its European premiere screening October 9 at BFI’s London International Film Festival. Wang, who directed all six chapters, and many of her creative collaborators will be in attendance.
Melia says it was “super complicated” shooting in Hong Kong and in L.A.
”There were so many complicated factors” she says, “like shooting in the middle of a pandemic, like people coming from all over the world to come together so that we could cast this authentically. It was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge, and the fact that we weren’t working with six different directors; we had the cohesion of Lulu directing every episode.”
The complications they encountered included rebuilding one of the main sets that they were planning to film in Hong Kong on a soundstage in L.A. But the months they’d spent “living the experience of Hong Kong” proved to be beneficial. The vibe from the East was imbued in the West. “Once we’re on the stage in L.A., sometimes I would leave the stage and forget — ‘Oh, I’m in L.A. I’m not in Hong Kong. OK.’”
Also, it was easier for the production “to come here to the United States than it was to necessarily go there because we did quarantines there and they had strict three-week quarantine that I did twice myself. But it was all red tape, yes — and there was a lot of it and we navigated it, so it worked out.”
The limited series about three women and their struggles certainly works out. It’s a brilliant, gripping drama with many sublime performances, including Kidman’s.
Melia smiles and says, “It was just incredible to have the resources and the support, and I think that the final product reflects a team who works closely together and has an aligned vision.
One of the characters in Expats loses her child. “It’s tough,” says Melia, who actually became a mother during production.
“And we have a 1-year-old now, and it was hard. It was heavy stuff to deal with and think about,” she says. “And so I think the show does a really good job of bringing some lightness and some levity in places that it’s much needed for what could be very heavy subject matter.”
Because of her pregnancy, Melia wasn’t able to indulge in the fun gin-and-tonic and Bubble tea parties Wang often hosted, but she did get to have “a good amount of being in Hong Kong, experiencing the culture, having fun and making sure that we had a good balance. Because I think that having a happy, healthy crew outside of working hours is really important so that they can bring good energy that reflects work/life balance to their work.”
I agree with Melia when she says that Expats “is going to resonate with so many people from different walks of life who’ve experienced life. It’s a life-y show.
“It’s a show where life gets life-y,” she tells me, her voice ringing with some of that “good energy.”
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