Behind the Scenes Interview on the making of Comrade Detective, a co-production with A24, Comrade Detective comes from creators and executive producers Brian Gatewood (The Sitter) and Alessandro Tanaka (The Sitter) with Rhys Thomas (Documentary Now!) directing and executive producing.
Comrade Detective is a one-of-a-kind cop show and comedy set in 1980’s Romania. True to its nostalgic inspiration, the series is presented in Romanian and dubbed in English—as a Romanian show of that time would have been. Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) provide voice over dubbing performances for the series’ two leading roles, Detectives Gregor Anghel and Iosef Baciu—both characters played on screen by leading Romanian actors, Florin Piersic Jr. (Killing Time) and Corneliu Ulici (The Devil Inside). In addition to Tatum and Gordon-Levitt, the illustrious roster of talent dubbing other roles includes Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Chloë Sevigny (Bloodline), Jake Johnson(New Girl), Jason Mantzoukas (The House), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Fred Armisen (Documentary Now!), Kim Basinger (LA Confidential), Mahershala Ali(Moonlight), Tracey Letts (The Lovers), Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Debra Winger (The Lovers), Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed), Katie Aselton Duplass (Legion), Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show), Bo Burnham (The Big Sick) and John Early (Search Party).
The half-hour live action-series just premiered August 4th exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s already gotten amazing reviews! I had the opportunity to ask the creators a couple of questions on the creation process behind Comrade Detective.
Arthur Glover – So basically with Comrade Detective, this show is based on another older show from Romania, and from what I understand that show displays a communist kind of ideology to inspire a great sense of nationalism within it’s people. And the show(s) are around the Cold War, based on the Romanian government and centers around Communism… and so now that we’re past the Cold War, what do you think that your show is promoting, and what is it inspiring?
Brian Gatewood – It’s an entertaining, unique and different show that opened up some avenues that you don’t see on TV or in theaters today.
And in terms of speaking about today’s climate, it’s underneath what’s hopefully both a dramatic and humorous 6 episode serialized show… the idea of satirizing propaganda and extreme ideology… and looking at how one’s perspective can be swayed through entertainment.
And we live now in a world steeped in not just propaganda, but people create their own sort of echo chamber. So people hopefully will reflect a little bit about where they get their information from, and the intent behind it.
Alessandro Tanaka – I’d echo what Brian said. I hope it’s a celebration, but it’s definitely brought with an examination (of propaganda). And it’s confirmed that all the movies that we’ve grown up with in the 80’s like Red Dawn and Rocky 4 and like how they demonized Russia and communists and were so pro gung-ho American…
And we were just sort of thinking, ‘what if we took the same sort of energy, but did it from the other side of the iron curtain?’ So we did a sort of pro-communist but with all of the tropes and all of the Hollywood stylings’ of this 80’s movies, and that was sort of the inspiration for the show and what we were sort of examining.
Rhys Thomas – I just want to say from a contemporary context, and I don’t know whether a lot of this is intentional, but like Brian was saying, once you start thinking of something from a propagandist point of view….. it’s sort of like peeling back the iron curtain – and you really just sort of stop paying attention to all the messaging behind a lot of what you grew up with and how it works. And it became relevant to us even moreso in light of the elections, and an awareness of what truth really means.
Arthur Glover – Why do you think the entertainment industry is so drawn to the cold war… because for example you have the Atomic Blonde in Theaters now which takes place at the tail end of it before the Berlin Wall goes down.. and then you have The Americans on FX which covers the same as well.. so why do you think the entertainment industry keeps drawing back toward that era?
Rhys Thomas – I think the Cold War is the thing that keeps coming up especially from the Soviet side of things because we can essentially see ourselves… culturally there’s a lot of similarities yet a different ideology at work. So I think this is the perfect bad-guy sort of slash cipher in many ways. There’s a sort of simplicity to it. It’s like a definitive, really easy to understand bad guy.
Brian Gatewood – I think that something else that has to do with it is that it’s been about 30 years and I think that alot of kids (like us) that grew up during the cold war are now in places where we’re adults and creating content, and I think there’s a certain amount of introspection and looking back..
I also think that our world situation right now is starting to mirror the Cold War a little bit… so thats interesting as well.
Arthur Glover – Now let’s go back to the initial Romanian show.. what drew you guys to that show, and the voice dubbing. You pull it off, it is very funny. But talk a little bit about the voice dubbing and your decision to do that as well… what was your process with that exactly? And were you worried that the voice dubbing wouldn’t work out?
Brian Gatewood – The voice process was actually fascinating because we made a show entirely in Romania with Romanian cast and crew. (It was entirely in the Romanian language.) When we came back we had to start a process of figuring out how best to dub that, how it would stay dramatic and you could follow a fun story as well as finding the humor in that strange disconnect effet that dubbing has.
And first we sat down with some friends and just spitballed ideas and had Actors play many different roles to see how it would all work, and what we came to find was that we needed many of the main characters to play it straight… and to play it real for the concept to work (before it turned into something sort of completely goofy)
And some of the characters that are just sort of peripheral characters or 1 line characters were went for a little bit more humor.
But it was a fascinating experience to go through and learn the process of dubbing and trying to apply that to a show.
Arthur Glover – Would you say that the voice dubbing was played for strictly laughs and entertainment, or would you say there’s something subtextual behind it as well?
Rhys Thomas – It’s not necessarily played for laughs. It’s both things. I think inevitably by reframing it you’re putting it into sort of Americanism and more American language. There is a subtext that emerges because the original show is based so firmly in this world of Communist Propaganda. By taking that and reframing it with an American tone, there’s almost something confused to it ….
I think it makes apparent the fact that we’re playing the satire on both sides. We’re having fun with the idea of blind authoritarianism and the world that these characters inhabit, but we’re also satirizing America and it’s own sense of itself, it’s own propaganda and manipulation.
The whole goal of the show wasn’t just to have fun with dubbing, but it was ultimately to make a satire about propaganda. And obviously we knew it was going to be grounded in this other reality, and the dubbing was sort of a natural extension of things. The dubbing was done to deliver the same tone of the show as it has in Romanian show, but for an American audience.
Arthur Glover – What is your experience with working together before? Is this the first project that you guys worked on? Did you work together before, and what is your collaboration process like?
Alessandro Tanaka – Brian and I have been writing partners for the latter part of 10 years. This is the first time we had ever worked with Rhys.
Brian Gatewood – We, along with Channing (Tatum)… Rhys was our first choice. We were huge fans of his, and we were lucky that he responded to the idea and came on it. In early staging we all developed and did the show together and had a similar approach to the show and
Rhys Thomas – I think we all shared sensibilities and a fondness for the genre of film/tv, and once we had this early conversations and started clarifying what the show was going to be; a 6 part serialized story and then we’re going to treat it in more of a filming manner than an episodic television approach. It all kind of started making sense and we realized that we all the same fondness for absurdity and late 70’s early 80’s cinema.
Brian Gatewood – And I think also what helped is that we had to think right away.. we ended up in Romania and the scripts weren’t even finished yet. And we had to get in the trenches really quick and have to trust each other even though we didn’t know each other that well because there was no other alternative. We had to start shooting essentially..
Rhys Thomas – Very good point!
Brian Gatewood – To that point, we went to Romania, the scripts weren’t finished yet, we steeped ourself in the Romanian experience and people, it helped us from the show as Aless and I were writing and Rhys was directing.
Arthur Glover – I see shows like this and I wonder how do you merge together the cinematic chaos that you’re trying to create for the screen?
Brian Gatewood – Step by step it was a process to make the show. First, getting on the same page with the idea. Then going to Romania. Then making a real Romanian show. Then coming back and discovering the dubbing process together. So I guess by making sure we were all on the same page and doing it step by step it was definitely an experimental process and resulted in something that’s different and hopefully fun both as a serialized detective story and as a comedy on propaganda.
Rhys Thomas – I think as well we’re really lucky in that the manner that we made it on A24 on speck that we actually had the weird luxury of being able to find the show as we went. We were able to keep molding it and shifting in and exploring as we’re moving into production, so there was a sense of freedom we had that maybe we wouldn’t have had if we’d gone and sold 6 scripts to a network, and had to go through a process of notes and other people weighing in with opinions of what they think the show is and what have you. It really was just the three of us, with the support of A24 and pursuing a show that I think the three of us all knew we were making… and we had the time and the space to find it.
Arthur Glover – Filming in Romania… what is that like exactly? What is the situation there as far as the film market is concerned? How did you manage to make a show there exactly?
Rhys Thomas – We had a really great local studio that we brought on board. They had a lot of experience hosting Hollywood productions. I think Steven Seagal spends a lot of time there, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and then there’s the world of action films. So you know, the crews were very skilled and really good, and they knew what we were going for.
There was still a difficulty and energy of chaos in the fact that it was us and working with a full team of Romanian cast and crew. It was an interesting experience working with people with a slightly different point of view of the world. But ultimately it was a show about them and set in their country, which helped us get over that potential difficulty.
Brian Gatewood – We built a pretty good report with the cast and crew. They are really talented, really talented actors. And the crew you know, went hand in hand tackling an endeavor that was set in a little of bit America, a little bit Romania, and they welcomed it. So it was a great experience.
Arthur Glover – Thank you so much for interviewing, it was fascinating to learn more about the creative process and how you pulled this off!
Comrade Detective is now showing on Amazon Prime Video