The Filmmakers Behind “Saints and Strangers” Tell How They Defied Conventions To Create Their Beautiful Promos

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One of the hardest things about breaking into any industry is knowing how professionals in the industry actually work and collaborate together. There are all sorts of resources to help you figure this stuff out, but in the end, a lot of us are left out in the blue until we’ve been on enough sets.

While you can’t trade that kind of on-set experience for anything, It’s very helpful to see other types of information released by those creating content that the rest of us dream about.

The guys behind the National Geographic show, “Saints and Strangers” created a blog about the production of their series of teasers and promos for the show. Why is this such a big deal?

Not only do they show some great things about how productions work, they also tell you about some of the ways that you can create your own path when planning your productions.

As much as it’s a beautiful thing to know the, “right” way to do things and plan, it’s refreshing to see companies that know their people and their processes well enough to do things differently. It’s a long read, but by the end of it, you can be assured that you’ll be not only inspired to create art, but you’ll be more confident in trusting your instincts and doing things the unconventional way.

Thanks to Aviv Vana at Big League Film School for sharing with us this awesome post. Also, check out our previous scoop on his Cine Summit Events.

Defying Conventions: Filming Plymouth Rock in South Africa


The ‘shallop’ that transported the settlers from the Mayflower to shore.

The ‘shallop’ that transported the settlers from the Mayflower to shore. | Photo Credit:


“Saints & Strangers” is a new scripted mini-series event coming this November to the National Geographic Channel. It tells the story of the Pilgrims who landed in New Plymouth in 1620 after a long trip across the Atlantic on the Mayflower. I’m guessing that everyone knows the basics of the story – the Pilgrims were religious exiles who sought a new land to call home, and made peace with the Natives (you know, on Thanksgiving) and survived a harsh trip in a time where life was hard and death was easy. But this story doesn’t dwell in the traditional tropes of the Thanksgiving story – you won’t find any shiny-belt-buckled shoes and tall Pilgrim hats here – it’s a bit more of a dirt-under-the-fingernails story that shows just how harsh life was for this group of English settlers.

Sunset shot of the Pilgrim village on day 2 of production. | Photo Credit:

Sunset shot of the Pilgrim village on day 2 of production. | Photo Credit:

These courageous explorers started a new civilization from scratch in the middle of the woods, surrounded by Native Americans that may or may not attack your colony at any time. One angle that always appealed to me was that despite the obvious differences between the Settlers and the Natives, their experience wasn’t all that different. They were both faced with a unpredictable, volatile situation, facing another group that they didn’t fully understand. So while it appears like they can’t possibly relate to one another, in fact it was quite the opposite. The other twist – and the significance of the title itself – is the dynamics between the Pilgrim group (the ‘Saints’) and the men and women that came across the Ocean with them seeking fortune and a fresh start (the ‘Strangers’). The question was how we could tell this complex story that people might think they already knew – and do it in a style that felt new and different from their expectations.

View of the Indian Ocean and Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town. | Photo Credit:

View of the Indian Ocean and Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town. | Photo Credit:


So the show was green-lighted at the beginning of the Summer and from the beginning there was one massive challenge we faced – the show would be filming in July and August, posting in September and October, and airing in November. That’s an extremely tight schedule for a scripted film – and early on I knew that for a film this big and important, we were going to need assets early to make a killer campaign. And the first big hiccup for us presented itself – they were going to be shooting the film in South Africa. Whenever I tell someone that we were shooting the Pilgrim story in South Africa, there was a lot of “huh?” reactions but it does make a lot of sense.

DP Oli Miller shoots with a reasonably epic backdrop

DP Oli Miller shoots with a reasonably epic backdrop | Photo Credit:

Finding untouched beaches are a challenge, particularly on the East Coast, as well as a shoreline and topography that matched Massachusetts. There is also a huge film community in Cape Town, with tons of production support that would make filming there a perfect fit. The US Dollar also goes very far in South Africa, which helped as well. But planning a promo shoot a continent away posed a huge challenge. And it also meant getting everyone on board with even embracing the IDEA of shooting a promo while they were still shooting the show itself. After all, with their schedule, they were slated to shoot 6 day weeks and 10 hour days, leaving few days off to shoot promos. Add in the fact that we had a huge cast of top-level actors signed on to the roles, along with multiple groups to cover off (Natives, Pilgrims, Strangers) meant that we needed to get a lot of coverage in a short amount of time. So the first thing we had to do was line up a concept for what we would shoot – because it’s a lot easier to sell in the idea of going across the world to shoot something when you have a great idea to sell in.


Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from

Bret Hoy

Bret Hoy

Bret Hoy is a filmmaker, photographer and writer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Mainly focused on documentary and experimental film, he has produced, directed, shot and edited many short films and a few long form works.

He shoots a lot and often.
Bret Hoy

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