Published on: 22 January 2021 in Industry

Building Bridgerton: an interview with the directors of the hit Netflix drama

Reading time: 19 minutes and 26 seconds

Bridgerton is a runaway success. Shot on location across the UK, the Netflix drama has had over 63 million views in 76 countries, claiming the number one spot on the streaming platform.

Now renewed for a second season, we spoke to the directors who worked with animals, elaborate sets and strange schedules to make it all happen. 

We were able to bring Directors UK members Julie Anne RobinsonSheree FolksonAlrick Riley and director Tom Verica together for a rare virtual round table, where they compared their experiences on set and discussed how to make a regency-set drama speak to the here  and now. Read their conversation below. 


Clockwise from top: Julie Anne Robinson, Tom Verica, Alrick Riley, Sheree Folkson
Clockwise from top: Julie Anne Robinson, Tom Verica, Alrick Riley, Sheree Folkson

Our panel started by discussing how they first got involved with Bridgerton, and moved on to how they set about making it feel truly contemporary — and the challenges that this brought with it.  

Julie Anne Robinson 

When I read the script, I immediately said “this is great, I’m in”. I came back to the UK from LA, where there was already a production designer on board, as well as a costume designer who had worked with Shondaland before. I saw my role as bringing those elements together, or trying to make sure that one element didn’t overpower the other.  

I also really wanted it to feel very contemporary: I wanted diversity in the casting, and Shondaland had already had that internal conversation, which was great. We even used contemporary films like A Knight’s Tale as a reference point and choreographed a lot of the dances to contemporary music, so that it would feel fresh and alive.  

I’d never really done the whole period drama thing before, so there were some areas that were pretty new to me, like working with etiquette advisors (and trying not to get too hemmed in by etiquette) and not being able to move the furniture in some of the country house locations!  

Tom Verica   

I’ve worked with Shondaland for many years now, and I had actually done one period piece before, called Still Star-Crossed, which was a kind of Romeo and Juliet spin off. And I think there was a desire to do something similar with Bridgerton. To Julie’s point, I think there was definitely a conscious effort to make Bridgerton feel modern and accessible. I had four ball scenes to shoot over five days, and of course music selection played a big part in that. We had a couple of selections where the cast weren’t feeling it, then we tried a modern track that was just really full of energy, and in that moment it just came alive. We knew we would be using something different in post, but having something contemporary really allowed Phoebe (Dynevor) and Regé-Jean (Page) to be themselves, and let go in a way that really worked.  

I also hadn’t seen any of the other directors’ work! And I have to say, just right off the bat, I am in awe of each and every one of you for the work you guys did on your blocks. I was walking into something having only seen some of the dailies – but I knew this was going to be a blast. You each got so dynamic with the camera, and everybody had a specific signature, yet it all came together. It really freed me up to roll with those moments of inspiration that can arrive on set.  

I remember one of these moments in particular, where the Queen was sitting with a contortionist performing in front of her, and she’s supposed to be bored out of her mind. As we were setting up, the Queen’s ladies were all holding these Pomeranians, and – even though I’d seen them so many times before – just then I had a thought: “What if we just took them down and put them on the floor?” I had this overhead shot planned and I wanted them running in and out of frame. I didn’t know what they were gonna do, but we just put the trainers on either side of frame and they called the dogs back and forth. It was such a fun discovery as an opening frame, this contortionist with these dogs running through, before we drop down and reveal our setting. And it’s those kinds of freeing moments that become such a huge character in the show. 

Tom Verica provides direction on the set of Bridgerton.
Tom Verica provides direction on the set of Bridgerton.

Sheree Folkson   

I loved that shot! I had done a bit of period drama before. I did Casanova in 2004, which Russell T. Davies wrote, which I think actually played more with the genre than Bridgerton did, not least because we had people in Vivienne Westwood-style clothes in the 18th century. In both cases, it was about creating your own world — then as long as that world has its own integrity, I think you can go where you want. There’s no rule that the camera has to be static and dull just because it’s a period drama. 

I do love all the barriers that a period piece puts up emotionally and socially, though — that just being seen alone with a man in the garden is enough to ruin your life forever, for example. I think that’s why it works so well, because the audience knows that that’s ridiculous, and yet they still have to go along with it and they see the jeopardy for those people.  

On a technical level, it was a very challenging to shoot: I had ball scenes, a boxing scene, a duel. I had this one scene where the Queen was just sitting in the middle of the frame, and I put the ladies-in-waiting either side, with those Pomeranian dogs Tom mentioned on their lap. My plan was to track across the faces of the dogs until we find the Queen, and that was going to be my opening shot of the scene. I was determined to do it – but that day was a nightmare! We were in a real royal palace, we’d done a big scene in the morning, and we ended up with something like two hours to shoot this massive scene. We had three cameras, thank God, and I just knew I had to get that shot. Thank God those dogs behaved! They could have blown it but they just sat beautifully – we got it in the end. 

Alrick Riley   

I had worked with Shondaland before on How to Get Away with Murder, and when I got the scripts for Bridgerton I really, really loved them. I’ve been wanting to do something period for a very long time, and this was a great opportunity to do it. I could see straight off that this was not going to need a series of static frames. This show has to go, this has to move, this has to have energy. Like everybody else, I found some of it challenging. I think that I only had one ball scene in the end, and a bit of boxing, and that stuff was all fine — but the toughest thing was that the show is set over the summer, and I was shooting in winter! When it started to rain, it was extremely challenging, because more than in most other shows, once people’s hair and costumes get wet, you’re in trouble! I have to say though, the actors were absolutely fantastic, because it was cold… really cold. They just came out and did it again and again and again. On the other hand, shooting in all those palatial homes was absolutely awesome. When you walk around and you meet the people who work in those homes, and they’re telling you about the history of those places? It’s pretty fantastic.  

Julie Anne Robinson 

I’m mostly used to shooting in the US, and, just to your point about powering through rain - I’m not used to it! We had a torrential downpour when we were shooting up at Castle Howard in York and I was like “Okay, that’s it! Let's go!” but people wanted to keep going: “We’re English!”. It was the same with Jeff, the amazing DoP. There are some great pictures of us in raincoats shooting through the rain looking miserable. But as you say, the actors were all action: “This is what we do. Let’s keep going.” They were amazing.  

Tom Verica   

One of the biggest challenges for each of us was that we lost our stages right at the beginning. So we shot all of our location work first, and then went back a few months later, depending upon where each of us fell in that cycle, and we did our stage work. That was also incredibly challenging in making sure the emotional framework wasn’t disjointed. 

Sheree Folkson   

It was tough on the actors too! They were shooting completely out of order. And I have to say they were very diligent and disciplined. 

I’ve been doing this a long time, and I find that normally you can look at a schedule and tell straight away if it’s going to work or not. But with the big ball scenes, you didn’t know for sure. There are so many moving parts in those ball scenes, so many people, doing five different dances, and then you’ve got all these different little bits of dialogue around the room. 

Tom Verica  

Scenes within scenes.  

Sheree Folkson 

Yeah! One ball was 33 pages long — the longest ball ever!

Tom Verica  

We definitely each had our challenges with that. But not knowing how the other directors were doing their blocks, then seeing it all come together was really amazing. Directors rarely get the attention that the actors and everyone else gets, so it’s nice to have a forum like this where we can discuss and admire each other’s work! 

Alrick Riley 

Everyone did really well. All of the episodes are really strong. 

Julie Anne Robinson rehearsing a ballroom scene.
Julie Anne Robinson rehearsing a ballroom scene.

Our panel then moved on to discuss how they kept a continuity of style and tone throughout Bridgerton, despite having very little contact with each other and a disjointed schedule.  

Julie Anne Robinson 

I think a lot of it has to do with the wonderful artists we’re working with. We were working with the same DoPs, production designers and costume department throughout, which provided a sense of continuity. There was no real opportunity to see everybody else’s work, but we were working with these great artists, and I think that had something to do with it.  

Sheree Folkson   

I got to watch your (Julie Anne’s) rushes when I first started, so I could see how beautifully you were shooting it. I was inspired by that energy, but you know, I think it’s also a bit of magic that they chose us as directors. I mean, I knew Bridgerton was perfect for me. In the same way, I’m sure you all did, too. We were the right casting for the job! 

Tom Verica   

I think you end up essentially triangulating between all the departments. For example, with the dance coordinator, you’ll learn a lot about the characters in rehearsal. Sometimes I found that in dance rehearsals you hear about either what the characters been through, or what they’re still going through. And of course, you have the scripts. The scripts are always your guide in how you go along. And it helps to study the rushes whenever you get them! Actually Sheree, I got a chance to view a lot of yours, and that really did help shape the world. 

Sheree Folkson  

My experience was a bit different! A change did mean that I had to shoot for two and a half days on my own with no DoP. All my prep was only in my head when I started working with Phillip (DoP), but he was terrific. I think filming is a bit like childbirth. It’s painful at the time. And then once it’s done, I forget about the pain and I just remember how wonderful it all is. 

Our panel then spoke about the directors’ mindset, and what it is that enables them to be the creative force behind such a high-pressure, multi-faceted project. 

Alrick Riley   

When I think about those big scenes, like the boxing scenes, where there’s so much going on — you have to compartmentalize. We have to know what we want and how we want it.  

Tom Verica   

I think the situation forces your hand! You don’t have days and days of shooting, and you’ve got to make creative decisions about how it all unfolds. And with the script that we had, you really had to commit — seeing the length of some of these scenes and knowing the limited time we had to complete them, that really forced us to make decisions on the day. 

Alrick Riley   

As Tom says, it’s a process of unfolding. I really like that term. Even though we’re dealing with several different characters and situations, it needs to unfold and not just jump from one thing to another.  

Julie Anne Robinson 

From my point of view, I felt really grateful I had a theatre background. I loved rehearsing with the actors and being really specific with where they were going to be. And then I would walk around the scenes with the DoP and figure out those transitions beforehand. I felt really lucky that for a lot of the sequences I had the opportunity to rehearse in a rehearsal space — with the DoP in attendance — and figure out how we were going to tackle the scenes. That saves so much time on the day. 

Sheree Folkson   

If I was advising other directors who are doing something as large-scale as this, just make sure you prep, prep, prep, prep. It’s quite funny, I’ve been doing this a long time, but there was one moment I really remember: we were in the main Bridgerton entrance hall, where we set the wedding party, and it was my first day with the cast. And I literally had the entire cast arrive all at the same time! I had to launch in and immediately start saying “Can you go here, can you go there...”. You've got to grab every situation wholeheartedly and you can’t have any self-consciousness as a director. Thankfully the cast were all charming and delightful, and they were pleased to be doing it.  

Sheree Folkson directs a large-scale scene.
Sheree Folkson directs a large-scale scene.

The panel discussed whether there was such a thing as a “typical day” on the set of Bridgerton.  

Tom Verica   

I don’t think any one day was typical. You felt a little bit of relief when you had a two-person scene, because you can really just focus on that and the brain isn’t chasing around in so many areas throughout the day. On the bigger days we went in with a plan. I had a shot list every day, and we’d work out when we were going to have the smaller sections, or the wide shot with 150 people, just so the cast didn’t end up bombarding the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments all at once. You had to have a plan particularly on those bigger days, because there really isn’t much room for a mistake. 

Alrick Riley   

For me, every day is approached in exactly the same way. Because the pressures, whether it’s a huge scene or a small scene, are all still a part of the story that we have to tell. That’s it.  

Sheree Folkson   

Are you saying you don't breathe a sigh of relief when you’ve just done three days of ball scenes and then the next day you’ve got a two hander? Come off it! 

Alrick Riley  

(Laughing) I see every day of storytelling as the same! 

Julie Anne   

I remember my last day of shooting on the stage. Because of the issue that Tom was talking about with the stages, we moved to a new set of stages that were still being built while we were shooting! I was shooting a sex scene, funnily enough, while simultaneously Alrick was trying to shoot a scene on the other side of the walls of this makeshift set. It was nobody’s fault, but people really bumped up against each other at a certain point. 

Sheree Folkson   

And I want to shout out my First AD, David Stafford, who was sensational. When you’ve got those big days it’s important to have someone who you feel is a safe pair of hands and who understands what you’re looking for. As a director, the clearer you are about what it is you want to get, the more that First AD can help you get it.  

Finally, the panel told us what it was about directing they loved so much. 

Tom Verica   

I think it’s that no day is the same. And to add to Alrick’s point, you always have a piece of story that you’re telling that day, and there comes a point where you just have to shut out all the technical aspects and considerations and focus on that. Am I buying this? Is it happening? Is it feeling real? But also, it’s got to feel spontaneous in that moment. Also there’s an excitement in each day, because you discover the actor either brings something different, or the lighting is something different, or you discover something in rehearsals that you realise is exactly what you want. Every scene brings its own joys and challenges. I think that’s what keeps us coming back. 

Sheree Folkson   

It’s immersive, isn’t it? There are technical elements as you said, but ultimately, it’s emotional, and it’s all in service of telling that story. Sometimes, as you’re going along, there are moments where there’s magic happening and you’re part of that magic. It doesn’t happen every moment of every day, but it’s all creativity, and you’re in that flow. You’re just sort of flying because all the things are coming together: the performances, the camera, the script. 

Julie Anne Robinson  

The thing that I enjoy is it’s just so different. So for example, I was already a history buff, but now I know a lot about the Regency era, down to the very detailed aspects of it. And I love immersing myself in different worlds. When I directed Castle Rock, I learned how to shoot horror. I did a comedy set in the Magic Castle in LA, and you learn all about magic. And I think constantly learning and being curious about these different worlds, and being able to dive into that, is one of the reasons I feel privileged to direct. 

Tom Verica   

I remember when my first child was born, I was shooting a show three weeks before the baby was due,  and the shoot happened to be in a delivery room. I had the benefit of having a nurse and doctor to talk to, so on the day my baby was born, I knew what everyone’s role was! It’s kind of a privilege that we get to have those moments where we immerse ourselves into these professions, or into these worlds. 

Alrick Riley   

What I like about this job is that it involves so many subjects that I’m interested in. And by that I mean history, just as Julie Anne was saying there, and music, and architecture, and photography, and travel. We can get into all of these things, and put them all into the service of telling a story. That’s part of what what motivates us, I think. It’s a lovely opportunity. 


Bridgerton is available to watch on Netflix.

Photos: Netflix

You may also like

Directors Digest

Jim O'Brien obituary

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more