On-Set Secrets of Little Women
In June of 2017, MASTERPIECE’s Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton visited the set of Little Women, filming at Ardmore Studios outside of Dublin, Ireland.
See photos from her trip, and get a behind-the-scenes look at Little Women through an insider’s eyes!
“This picture is of downtown Concord, Massachusetts in 1862, or an imagining of how the town would look once it was built. As you can imagine, these are facades, and this is a street. The production company, Playground Entertainment, had to sort of create what Concord was because there are a couple of scenes–particularly when Jo goes down into Concord to have her hair cut off in order to earn her mother’s travel money. So, this is how they do it. They draw a picture, they create what the build will look like, using lots of historical pictures. You can see how they researched this within an inch of its life, getting real pictures of either Concord or other New England towns at that time.”
“Orchard House is where Louisa May Alcott, her father, her mother, and her three sisters lived–and she imagined the March family living in a similar house. The production team came to Concord, Massachusetts and researched the landscape, and then they went back and tried to find an area in Ireland that they could make look like that. Now, the vegetation is very different because they’re mainly evergreens actually, near the studios, so they had to dress the set–even the exterior set. Because they were shooting over four seasons, they had to make gardens that bloomed and then could be covered in snow the next day. They used a lot of stock pictures of what New England would look like as they started to design the house.”
“The house is actually filmed in two different ways–the interior of the March house was constructed in a studio. They built it, as you can see. This is actually smaller than the real house, but the flow of rooms is very similar, if not identical. They chose colors which would have been appropriate for that time, they added furniture…as close as possible to the real thing, and you could kind of walk to the March house. They didn’t build the whole house, you couldn’t, for instance, walk upstairs. The upstairs bedrooms were other sets, on the ground-floor level.”
“You can see here that there’s a living room, which flows into a dining room, that flows into the kitchen–which is roughly how the real Orchard House exists. That staircase and a very similar wallpaper are also there, although this staircase leads to nowhere, because they didn’t build the bedrooms on top of the living room.”
“They researched the wallpaper really, really carefully. The original wallpaper is a little hard to find in Louisa’s house because that was, you know, 200 years ago, and it’s been covered over. But this is a reproduction of what wallpaper would have looked like in the era.”
“It’s great to walk through a huge room and see all the costumes that the actors wear. They have to design the clothes, then take measurements once the actors are cast, to see what shape they are. They also have to have duplicates of many of the costumes, in case something happens when they’re shooting a scene. Some of these are vintage clothes. Some of them were made specifically for this production. This is a BBC production and I think the BBC is famous for its authenticity in period costumes.”
“I loved looking at all these shoes. You can see that these are real shoes, they’re slightly used antique shoes. These costume designers just scour yard sales, trying to find old, period things–either authentically old, or things that have been made to look old. They buy them up and ideally have several choices so that when the actors arrive they can see who fits what.”
“I loved the hat and shoe table, for the men. It’s just so much fun to see them all lined up together, because this is what a shop would look like if you happened to go into a store in 1860-something.”
“There are the costume designers, there are the shoppers, and then there are the seamstresses. I could have stood there and watched all day because this is a big, light, atelier kind of studio and these women are making dresses on big tables, all over the room. It’s just a lovely atmosphere, beautiful fabrics hanging on the walls…They only have a few weeks to do this. They get the measurements ahead of time, make them, then they have fittings in this week before they start shooting. These are all handmade costumes.”
“So this is what you do when you have an actress who has to be pregnant, you have to strap on the baby. There are various sizes of pregnancies. They had a whole bunch of these pregnant mannequins that they can then fit the clothes around. This was clearly for a very pregnant Meg.”
“The March family house was built out of nothing; in other words, it’s in the middle of nowhere. This is a rifle range, maybe an hour from Dublin. That was a good, quiet location that had some kind of vegetation that would pass for New England. Because it took place over four seasons that was very important: you have to have some things that will stay the same, you can’t be pasting leaves on maple trees then taking them off. They did some special effects to insert some trees using CGI, but they had to have a certain amount of landscape around the house. This is just the exterior; the interior was completely constructed elsewhere. To the right of this picture is where the garden was. If we are standing at the road looking at the house, Laurie’s house would be just behind us, to the left.”
Be sure to watch the final episode of Little Women on Sunday, May 20th, 2018 at 8/7c on MASTERPIECE!
You can also catch up online, for a limited time. Find all available episodes here.