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Freezing Weather, COVID Pivots: How ‘Eater’s Guide to the World’ Was Made

Shooting a TV show is never simple — especially when it involves multiple cities, multiple characters, and the year 2020

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What if you could turn a map... into a TV show? That was one of the big ideas with Eater’s Guide to the World: taking the many, many maps published on Eater and bringing them to life — to see the food up close, go inside the kitchens, meet the people making it all, and explore the neighborhood and city that make each dish unique to that place.

The result was a colorful, mouth-watering journey that took a ton of behind-the-scenes work to make. Now that the show’s live on Hulu (you can stream all seven episodes here), we brought a few members of the production team together to tell us how the sausage (and soba and pastilla and Hawaiian fried chicken) got made, for the latest edition of Eater Talks. Below are lightly edited excerpts, as well as a full video recording of the conversation.

It took nearly two years to make.

Maureen Giannone Fitzgerald, production executive, Vox Media Studios: “The show was two years in the making — Eater pitched the series in late 2018 and was thrilled to eventually get the green-light from Hulu. We began production a year later... and soon after we began to build out our show team.”

It was essential that the diverse food and “characters” drive the show, not a host.

Lauren Cynamon, executive producer: “When we approached this, we actually watched a lot of narratives and talked about how it would be fun to do a narrative food show.”

Alex Craig, director: “The fact that there was no host and instead it was character-driven was really appealing to me.”

Giannone Fitzgerald: “That was one of the biggest luxuries of working on this kind of un-hosted series: The characters and the places truly became our guiding light and we were able to really diversify the show wherever we went.”

Nicola Linge, supervising producer: “We really wanted stories that hadn’t been told or locations that hadn’t been highlighted in food television. Like when we talking about Morocco — Marrakech, Fez, Sahara desert had all been covered, but no one had really touched upon Casablanca. And Casablanca is such a diverse and mixed city of different cultures, so we really wanted to dive into that different perspective, of it being a place we have seen before but a different story and different take.”

Some of the filming was... pretty intense.

Giannone Fitzgerald: “Think back to the the coldest and rainiest week in December. That was our first shoot, in New York, and it was a pretty untraditional one because the team just jumped right in — no pilots, no practice shoots — and filmed from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.”

Craig: “The weather was freezing and I was just trying to get acclimatized to New York and the whole reality that we’d be shooting just nights for the week... but I actually really enjoyed it. I think shooting at nights was a lot better than expected. Big cities in the middle of the night, in that four- or five-hour timeframe, is such a weird vibe anyway. So I thought it was a great concept, focusing on what you can eat at that time.”

Cynamon: “I think you’d get to the first location at 3:00 in the morning, so by the time you were setting up for another one, it was 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m.... But I thought it was really fun. When else do you get to hang out for five days straight and document those hours of the day? It felt like a really New York experience that now I long for so much.”

The onset of COVID-19 forced many plans to change.

Giannone Fitzgerald: “In March 2020, when our world literally came to a halt, we’d shot seven episodes at that point.”

Craig: “There were three more episodes planned that got cancelled, right?”

Linge: “And we were in the middle of filming one, and the crew got sent home.”

Cynamon: “We had a shoot in Budapest that had to be cancelled. We were doing stuff in Toronto, New Mexico; and we were going to go to Singapore and Tokyo that we had to move because of COVID, even before it hit in NYC...

When we first closed down production, we all had a debrief: What did this mean for the world? What did this mean for restaurants? We took a decent chunk of time off to wrap our heads around how are we going to tell this really celebratory story on these places, when COVID just happened? What does the voice need to be? And then also, how do you [remotely] spread out seven edit stations and keep the creative juices flowing?”

Sydney Mondry, narration producer: “When editing the show, we didn't mention [COVID-19] outright, but it was top of our minds the entire time — especially with the ‘taking off’ airports episode, which was such a doozy as you can imagine. We were trying to sort of allude to how much [coronavirus had changed things], like saying, ‘Traveling is even more difficult right now...’ and using some of that language without saying ‘It’s COVID time,’ because we wanted the show to be sort of timeless. It was definitely a challenge.”

Maya Rudolph’s narration came from a carefully crafted script.

Giannone Fitzgerald: “When Maya signed on to be our narrator, it was a get we didn’t see coming.”

Mondry: “I cowrote her script with a bunch of very talented people. We were all very big Maya fans before we came to the show, so I think we had a pretty good idea of what she sounded like and her mannerisms. But she also plays a lot of characters, so we had to decide: What does this Maya character sound like? Lauren [Cynamon] had said early on that she was going for this all-seeing, cheeky storyteller [for the narration], and she kept referencing the cartoon rooster from the beginning of the Robin Hood movie — which luckily, I found on YouTube and could reference. So I think that really helped us begin to shape it.

Then we actually started recording with Maya before we had finished writing all the episodes, so we were able to hear how she was reading and tweak the scripts to accommodate the narrator that she had created separately.”

Cynamon: “We couldn’t have envisioned a better person to narrate. She’s just the funniest, the nicest, great to work with, and just feels like a true friend bringing you along the way. She’s also just as food-obsessed as we are and wants to talk about it.

Also, she would be talking about all this amazing food all day [when narrating] and she’d be like, ‘I am starving.’”

Giannone Fitzgerald: “Yeah, we had to food-ferry Maya a little bit and give her some of the treats along the way.”

Watch the entire panel conversation:


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