I produced, directed, co-wrote and co-DPed this six hour Netflix Originals series on the blood-soaked reign of Roman Emperor Commodus.
The show represents one end of the docu-drama spectrum. Some shows – like American Genius for Nat Geo – are more documentary than drama. Roman Empire, with long sequences of dialog driven scene work, is more drama than documentary.
Palace intrigue drives the show. Conspiracy, betrayal, seduction, sex, and assassination. Friends and family members turn on Emperor Commodus, angling to kill him and snatch the prize of ultimate power in the world’s most powerful kingdom.
I wanted the images to create a sense of luxury, power, and danger that arcs across the 6 hours of the show. Commodus begins the show entitled, naive, but with possibilities before him. And so the first two episodes feature the open landscapes of Germania – filmed in lovely New Zealand.
But as the shows progresses, Commodus returns to the posh interiors of Rome. They are luxurious, but claustrophobic. The lighting and color palette are soft, elegant, but rich shadows darken nearly every frame. Darkness and danger are never too far.
The final two hours play out mostly at night, as Commodus’ tragic journey nears the end. The daylight exteriors of the Coliseum offer a temporary respite, but it is false.
I was unable to do the second season, a real shame, since I enjoyed the first season so much.