A year ago, Shōgun was deep into pre-production, with several actors cast and production start date fast approaching, when FX put the limited series on hold. Last spring, Counterpart creator Justin Marks was brought on as writer and executive producer. Now, several months later, the series, based on James Clavell’s best-selling novel, is back on track and setting up a shoot in Japan with one major obstacle in sight — the Summer Olympics.
“It’s a big re-adaptation in a sense that we had many scripts and were in pre-production, and we ended up for various reasons deciding that we didn’t believe in the production plan and we didn’t think the scripts in their current form were as good as they could be,” FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf told Deadline during TCA earlier this month. “The writer (Ronan Bennett) was no longer available to keep working on those scripts, so we took it down to the studs, we started from scratch. Now are well into development, and are really excited about the scripts that are coming out of that. We have read multiple scripts, multiple rewrites of scripts, multiple outlines.”
Both Landgraf and FX entertainment president Eric Schier praised Marks, saying that he “is doing a really good job.”
Jungle Book scribe Justin wrote the first two episodes of the new incarnation of Shōgun with supervising producer (and wife) Rachel Kondo, who is of Japanese descent. The series’ writing team also includes co-executive producer Shannon Goss, consulting producer Matt Lambert, script editor Maegan Houang and staff writer Emily Yoshida. FX had been employing cultural consultants to help with the scripts.
“A very part of what is challenging about it from a production standpoint is, you could do a very westernized version of Shōgun in the past, and now you have to make it really authentic,” Landgraf said. “And it’s really challenging shooting in Japan because it’s a very different production culture than American culture, and this is a big, big production. It’s not just getting great scripts, which we do but coming up with a production plan is really challenging.”
The production process in Japan requires completed scripts much earlier than in other countries, which is not done for vetting or political approval, Landgraf said.
“It’s more that there is a sense of ownership each of the crafts people has, that they are not the same kind of freelance work-for-hire people that are available in England and the U.S,” he said. “And if you want first class work out of them, you can’t say ‘here, come do this’. You have to engage them as makers and crafts people in their area, and they have to have time to digest, think, plan.”
There is another big factor complicating plans for filming Japan in the coming months.
“We are actively exploring production options, and there is also the fact that if you want to shoot in jJapan, you can’t shoot in Japan this summer during the Olympics,” Schier said. “But we are exploring it and it’s something we are really excited about.”
Japan’s Tokyo is host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which take place from July 24-August 9.
FX has previously billed the 10-episode series as its largest international scale production, with filming in the U.K. and Japan.
Marks serves as an executive producer of the series with Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich of DNA TV, Michael De Luca, Michaela Clavell and Tim Van Patten who all had been on board since Shōgun initially received a green light by FX in August 2018. There is no production start date set yet.
Set in feudal Japan, Shōgun charts the collision of two ambitious men from different worlds and a mysterious female samurai: John Blackthorne, a risk-taking English sailor who ends up shipwrecked in Japan, a land whose unfamiliar culture will ultimately redefine him; Lord Toranaga, a shrewd, powerful daimyo, at odds with his own dangerous, political rivals; and Lady Mariko, a woman with invaluable skills but dishonorable family ties, who must prove her value and allegiance.
The 1980s adaptation, starring Richard Chamberlain, won the Emmy for best limited series.
Marks is repped by Lit Entertainment and Stephen Clark and Melissa Rogal of Lichter Grossman.