Season 6 Filming Starts, Amid Covid-19 Concerns

Cover photo: BTS Season 5, by Caitriona

****Update – Nicola Sturgeon has just announced a new nationwide lockdown law for Scotland today (Jan 4), starting tomorrow (Jan 5), based on rising numbers of coronavirus. Source: itv. On the site (published today, Jan 4), it says that “Film and TV production can continue to take place. All such activity must be done in compliance with industry guidance.” Source: So, as long as the production is set up to follow the guidelines set forth, it looks like filming may continue as planned. ****

Outlander show writer, Barbara Stepansky posted on Instagram that she’s headed to Scotland, presumably for the start of Season 6 filming. 
Photo: B. Stepansky, Instagram
This may mean she has written an episode in the first block (two episodes). Traditionally, the showrunner – Ron, for Seasons 1-3, and Matt and Toni for Season 4, and Matt for Season 5, writes the first episode of a new season, so I’m guessing Ep 602 may have been written by Barbara. This is good news, in my book, as Barbara was a new writer for Season 5, and wrote Episode 504, The Company We Keep (the episode all about Brownsville). I appreciated Barbara’s in depth knowledge of the characters and story, and am glad to see she’s back for Season 6. Here is our discussion of that Ep from S5, in case you need a refresher: BTS Discussion of Ep 504.
When filming starts, the full cast, the writers, the director, the producers and members of the crew will gather to do a table read. This is a read through of the scripts for the first two episodes they will be filming (presumably Eps 601 and 602). The table read is the first chance they’ll have to gather as a team, and run through the scripts. It’s fun to imagine who will be in attendance, and how the season will start. We know the Christie’s will be in Season 6: Tom, Allan, and Malva (Saints preserve us). Have the Christies been cast yet? Will they be introduced in the first two episodes? (More here: Malva in S6). I’m curious about that casting process, actually. Without giving away spoilers, were there additional chemistry tests done between those actors and… well, others? 😁
One also wonders what changes there will be for a Season 6 table read during covid, and for the whole season, for that matter. Will everyone wear masks? No hugging? Or will there be a bubble type situation, like in pro sports, with routine covid testing, etc.? Or both? Producing Outlander was always a huge undertaking, and now it’s even bigger. Hats off to all of the production for taking up the challenge. We appreciate it! Here is what a pre-covid table read (from Season 1) looked like: Table Read.
I did some reading around about filming during covid. Beyond the table read, which can be done with masks and social distancing, a lot falls on the director, frankly. In a UK directors guide, entitled Intimacy in The Time of Covid-19, I read that “the US TV show The Bold and the Beautiful has already used real-life partners for scenes where hands touch faces and other body parts.” Now, there’s an interesting concept! The document went on to say that if partners are not actors, that could put them in an awkward position.
The document broke down ideas to keep actors safe into narrative and technical alternatives. For narrative, the suggestions were: “Focus on the characters’ reactions (e.g. feelings of jealousy or sensations). Convey intimacy through narrative demonstrations of vulnerability and sacrifice. Instead of depicting the intimate scene, have characters say what they will do to each other (which would also easily allow for the inclusion of dialogue to do with consent). Perhaps characters could have a video call or respond to simulated phone sex or sexting.” (not going to work in Jamie and Claire’s case!) “Characters could be shown fixing their own clothes/re-dressing after the event to indicate what took place (rather than showing it). Or you could depict limbs moving under bedclothes. Similarly, you could depict the closing of a bedroom door and leave the action to the viewer’s imagination. Consider a metaphorical alternative, such as objects, silhouettes and shadows, dancing, even the preparation and serving of food and the pleasure of eating it.”
For technical alternatives: “Consider whether it’s possible for performers to take it in turns to wear masks, visors and PPE whilst off camera. This would allow performers to stay safe whilst still maintaining the shared experience of the scene. Use POV shots to edit bedroom scenes together. Use angles to ‘sell’ proximity.” (Stephen Woolfenden knows all about this technique already! 😁😜). ” Use split screens. Consider using foley or voiceover over a black screen, object or significant POV. Use suitable archive footage. Use motion capture and digital performances, greenscreen or animation to composite the required encounter. Consider casting real-life couples who won’t need to socially distance.” 
Source: Directors UK
Whatever strategies they settle on, this season will bring new challenges. I trust the Outlander production team to do the very best job possible, while keeping everyone safe – the top priority, in my mind.
Speaking of producers, as we know, Cait and Sam gained producer status last season. In interviews they told us they spent much of the season sitting in on meetings and understanding the bigger picture, really kicking in as advisers in the latter episodes. They now have stronger voices when it comes to influencing storylines and dialogue (another very good thing, in my book!). With the exit of Duncan Lacroix, as Murtagh, last season, Sam and Cait are the only remaining original cast, (with the exception of Graham, who I don’t think appears this season). It makes perfect sense that they would join the production team, as guardians of the story, and their two characters, who are the very heart of the show.
With the exception of seasons 1 and 2, the writing team changes every season (along with the directors). I met a showrunner in 2019, at an LA bar-mitzvah, who told me the hardest part of having a long running series is retaining writers. It makes total sense – writers need to find other work during Droughtlander, and then the timing for coming back doesn’t always work out. Matt and Toni are the only original writers left – Matt, now the showrunner, was in fact, the junior writer on the Season 1 writing team. My favorite new writers have been Shaina Fewell, Bronwyn Garrity, Joy Blake, and Barbara Stepansky. Shaina Fewell wrote my favorite episode in Season 4, Ep 406, Blood of My Blood, and co-wrote If Not For Hope with Bronwyn that season. She also wrote a Season 5 favorite – Episode 509, Monsters and Heroes. Bronwyn Garrity wrote two of the better episodes from Season 4 (my opinion), Ep 405, Savages, and she co-wrote Ep 411, If Not For Hope. Joy Blake did Episode 308, First Wife, and Episode 404, Common Ground, and as I mentioned, Barbara did Ep 504 last season. There were other new writers in Season 5, and in general, the level of the writing was elevated, as compared to Season 4, in my opinion. I hope my favorites will return, but again, I have faith in the team. The same is true of directors, there have been many good ones over the years. I’ve come to understand that a good episode requires an excellent writer and an excellent director, in order to unlock the magic of the gifted cast and crew. I hope we’ll see most of the directors back from last season.

Season 6 will bring a new Production Designer, no more Jon Gary Steele ☹️. I was pleasantly surprised by the costuming in Season 5, by Trisha Biggar (although it was pointed out in our last OutlanderBTS Zoom party, that the costumes should be dirtier to seem realistic, and I agree!). I think they’ve likely done a great job selecting Gary’s replacement. But 😭.

Maril, who is an executive producer, but not a writer, is from the original production team, and is still present. Maril traditionally works closely with Suzanne Smith’s team for casting, so if Malva and family have already been cast, Maril will have had a big hand in that. My impression is that she also does the 50 million unseen and unquantifiable things required behind the scenes to keep the whole venture moving forward. I think of Maril as the glue, or the mom, of the show. I believe without her, the show would not happen.

Paul Donnelly, who plays Ronnie Sinclair, also posted over the weekend about the new year, life, and starting work again this week…

Photo: Starz, Season 5, Outlander

He said “2020!!!! What a year!! It taught me to appreciate the things I have rather than things I wish I had. I made my Outlander debut (which was incredible) I got covid (which is horrendous, I’m still struggling) I made brothers for life in Sam Heughan and Duncan Lacroix and Vincent Moore. Lost my aunt Norah and my amazing uncle billy. Started building my own gym @bxng_glasgow 🥊, got to film in Colombia and work with beautiful people. Was spoiled, loved and looked after by my amazing family… who are my world. 2021 will be a better year though. Get the gym open and get my charity up and running. I can’t wait to get back filming next week and get back to work. I hope you all had a great Hogmanay and that 2021 is great for you. Slainte Mhath.”

Last season, the show started by combining the gathering with Brianna’s wedding, and we got a nice, homey, sweeping view vibe to kick off the season.

When we left Jamie and Claire, at the end of the season, Claire had taken her first fragile steps toward recovery, but was very battered. There was joy in simple everyday life, and we saw those storm clouds brewing in the distance. How will Season 6 start? This season is based on, A Breath of Snow And Ashes, which starts off with Ian, being shot by a passing patrol of men. I don’t think that’ll be the starting place. Any guesses out there? 
It’s exciting, and fitting, that season 6 filming and 2021 kick off together. I don’t know about you, but for me, it gives me joy to know that the Outlander family is back together, working with Diana’s fabulous material, enriching themselves as they create something that will enrich us. Good stuff. Reading about Covid-19 restrictions gives me a healthy appreciation for the fact that it will be a whole new world for them. But at least they’ll be together(ish), creating again. Best of luck to our beloved cast and crew, as they forge ahead into the unknown waters of making this new season of Outlander!

I hope this post finds you safe and well. May we be filled with hope and love for the new year. xo

More OutlanderBTS coming at you in the months ahead. Much to look forward to! ‘Til then, catch up on our Seasons 4 and 5 Episode Discussions, see if you’ve missed one of my Interviews, or an excellent Outside Interview, and visit Reader Favorites.

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31 comments on “Season 6 Filming Starts, Amid Covid-19 Concerns

  1. Scotland along wi the rest of the UK has jist went intae full lock down. Looks like this will be until at least February although March seems mair likely. No unless the hale o the cast, extras et al are in a ‘Covid Bubble’ I’d imagine filming willnae start any time soon – nae travel allowed either.
    Ah dinnae ken if anybody has heard if the cast are in a bubble ( this means keeping isolated fae family, friends etc for many weeks, months) Interesting tae see how things are panning out.

    • Hi Ann 👋🏽 – check out my last update to the post – could change, but for now looks like they may still be able to film.

      • They must be in a bubble or at least sticking tae strict Covid rules. Soaps are being made in the UK. Despite ‘slight’ o camera wirk ye can tell the actors are socially distancing. Nae touching……….although actors are bringing their partners tae the set tae hae ‘touching’ scenes. They hae tae dae there ain make up as well. Taking aw that intae consideration ah can only wish them the best o luck. We’re aw desperate tae see Season 6 but at whit cost baith tae production and of course tae health.

  2. Thanks for the great update as always, Courtney. I wonder what will be happening now as the UK just announced a complete lockdown until the end of February because of the new variant. This may put things on hold for the production.

    • Hi Suzanne, you’re very welcome. Check out my last update to the post – could change, but for now looks like they may still be able to film.

  3. Miss you guys so much!! I have reread the books so many times, I feel I could play just about any character, without a script!!!! Be safe, but hurry up!!! Withdrawals are hell on this old woman!!! ❤️

  4. Thanks for posting all this information! That’s a lot! It’s all so confusing with what can be done exactly while filming. So challenging! I bet everyone’s really had to bring their creativeness to play & thinking outside the box.

    I hope you’re all well also. I continue to work from home myself. I don’t care if I ever return. I have an hour commute each way.

    Take care!

  5. Thanks for this thorough analysis of options. I must say, I’d rather wait till it is completely safe for all before ANY new filming of ANY show or movie is undertaken. I have watched modern TV dramas incorporate masks into their new seasons, and as someone who sews with the Aunties Sewing Squad and so has to keep up on all the latest info. on materials, how to safely wear masks and so on I am NOT happy with much of what I am seeing. Very bad modeling of UNSAFE behaviors. I miss the show and am sure the actors and crew are champing at the bit, and worried about attrition, but we don’t want anyone dying or contracting an illness leading to lifelong disabilities just so we can be entertained. If I were Cait and Sam, much less any of the other cast and crew I would say no!! If any ONE of them decides the rules don’t apply, and we’re talking scores and scores of folks, they are all in danger. This has me worried!!

  6. WOW Courtney thanks for the fabulous update! Very informative and it really has got me excited for Season6……Stay well and keep up the good work for us.

  7. We will get Tom and Malva but will we get Allan? And… what about the Bugs? Will they make a real debut in Season 6? Plot twists and changes lead to speculations for very active discussions during Droughtlander, don’t y’a think? Can’t wait!!!

    • I don’t know if we’ll get Allan, I think so. I don’t have a clear idea of how the Bugs will factor in. They kind of were like Donas in Season 1 😏 😊

  8. Thanks Courtney for keeping us abreast of Season 6 shooting possibilities. I know a great deal of S6 involves battles. I for one would not be opposed to them using CGI to allow for scenes with many people fighting. I know it’s been done in the past in movies with epic battle scenes to cut costs of hiring so many extras and that would not diminish anything for me. The main thing is the safety of the cast and crew during filming. I’m just glad that the UK powers that be are allowing filming productions to resume. For heaven’s sake, television, movies and books are our only source of sanity and entertainment in these Covid times!

    Happy New Year to you and all the many Sassenachs out there waiting for season 6!

    Love, Suzie

  9. Now that there is a vaccine, can’t everyone get inoculated then quarantine for two weeks and during the whole shoot?

    • That would be nice, but I don’t know if it’s that simple – that’s a lot of people. & I’m sure how it’s being rolled out in the UK, but I’m guessing it’s similar to here. Health care workers and elderly first.

  10. Typo in the article:
    She also wrote a Season 5 favorite – Episode 409, Monsters and Heroes.

    I think the number is incorrect.

    Otherwise, superb article with loads of info. Thank you

  11. Thanks Courtney for the info. I am assuming that there will be battle scenes in Season 6. I wonder if the producers have thought about using footage from Revolutionary War Reenactments that have been done here in the US. I believe there are also groups in the UK that actually re-enact our Revolutionary War as well as our Civil War. I was thinking the usage of that could be very helpful as far as cost and use of large groups of background artists. Course wouldn’t it be great if we could get the production company to come to the US and do some filming???

  12. Courtney, Happy New Year and Thank you for sharing this information about Season 6. Planning and preping for filming is in force. But then … Covid, BJR the Virus, sneaky, erratic, disabling, and sometimes deadly,has returned. You and Piper are right to point out that safety for the cast and crew has to come first. I’ll be OK knowing that they are safe and healthy, even if it means waiting a little longer.

  13. What a great article, Courtney!! I’m so excited to see who is cast as Malva and Tom! I am also expecting the love scenes to be hotter than ever because they’re going to have to be super creative!!

  14. you say that Cait and Sam are the only original cast members left, with the exception of Graham….his character was killed by Jamie before Culloden.

  15. At least Sam and Cait have now great experience of working on a Covid safe set. Sam filmed for two weeks in August with MIK all over Scotland and they would have had safe protocols in situ, then he filmed in London over Nov/Dec, again under covid safe regulations, even filming a kissing scene with a married woman. Cait filmed Belfast with Jamie Dornan, and again will be used to the new “normal” safety routine. We know Sam’s driver Davie “Hollywood” has returned to work, the steadicam operative Mike Carstensen and wife have flown to Glasgow from SA as well. We just have to be patient and trust the professionals!

  16. Nice update. I presume they will all be in a bubble with testing conducted. Such an additional burden for a cast and crew who already give so much. I think the season will start with new arrivals to the Ridge. The Christy family and others? Depending which way they go with the story. Claire may be developing ether and Bree may be working on her matches. Roger thinking about being a minister and Jamie (and all of them really) thinking about the war. Always love the info you provide. I am about ready to re-watch season 5 again and will be re- watching the Episode Discussions which I really enjoy. ALMOST as much as the show! Thanks.

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