Friday, March 30, 2012

Behind the Scenes of Treme

I remember hearing about Treme when it first came out, but the two episodes we watched this week were my first introduction to the show. I wanted to find out more about the production behind the show, so I found a New York Times article that was published a few weeks before the show premiered on April 11, 2010. The reporter followed show creators David Simon and Eric Overmeyer around New Orleans, sat in on production, spoke with the HBO executives who first greenlighted the show, and paints an overall picture of all the forces that went in to the making of Treme. Overall, the producers wanted to emphasize the important role music played in New Orleans and used several real musicians in the show in smaller roles (Elvis Costello, Dr. John). When they pitched the show to HBO, they sent along an accompanying CD to evoke the feel of the show, intrinsically linking the music with the storytelling.

Simon developed Treme after his five year run on The Wire, a show he often described as attack against “the America that got left behind,” but he insists that Treme is not merely The Wire 2.0, and instead aims to focus more on indivual characters living life. He wanted to do a show in the New Orleans in the 90’s, but felt stumped coming up with a narrative that would sell and work well for television. They had no idea how to reduce New Orleans to a couple of pithy statements in a pitch meeting, and ended up shelving the idea until Hurricane Katrina hit. As the article shows, the showrunners are meticulous about details and accuracy, often using locals and experts on set to insure the script rings true. We talked in class how a viewer watching would see the man dressed in the full on Indian Chief costume and have no idea what was happening, which the article touches on. The reporter gives a brief description of the history, but her description doesn’t even begin to describe the nuances explored in George Lispitz’s “Mardi Gras Indians.”

“In contemporary New Orleans life, Mardi Gras Indians appear a few times a year, most notably at Mardi Gras in an elaborate feathered suit that, typically, they have spent the year designing and sewing, different every year, although no one seems to know exactly why. Some say that when the French controlled the slave trade and yellow fever and famine struck their settlements, the slaves fled inland and were given refuge by Native Americans. In that story, as a function of their gratitude, the slaves paid homage through song, dance and dress, the native and the West African traditions conjoining, a marriage that would help give birth to the music of New Orleans.”

The NY Times had an accompanying video feature of the 2 showrunners dissecting a scene from Treme that's worth checking out (only 2 minutes):

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