Inside Westworld With Associate Producer Halle Phillips
By Olivia Armstrong
The jack-of-all-trades talks Season 2 and how a production as complex as Westworld becomes the sweeping epic seen on screen.
HBO: Can you talk about your role? How many hats do you wear on a given day?
Halle Phillips: Because Westworld is such a large show with many moving pieces, it takes a village to produce it. Which is great, because it means a lot of responsibility and involvement in many aspects of production. We have to make sure communication between [co-creators] Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy and the various departments are tight, especially since there are continuity traps everywhere. It’s making sure everyone is wearing their right costume, people have scars on their faces when they need to and just generally making sure what’s written on the page reflects what production is building.
I was bumped up to producer on this season of Westworld, which means a greater chunk of responsibilities across the life cycle of the show. In production, I focused a lot on casting. Aside from our many series regulars, we have to populate the world with a ton of day-players. That whole process involves running through auditions, helping make selections, making sure actors get through the costume department — and that was a small portion of it.
A lot of my job lies in preparation. In TV, you’re prepping an episode while you’re shooting an episode. It’s an overlapping series of production meetings and concept meetings. Then once the camera is rolling, I step back and the writer of the episode steps on set to control tone.
I also have a large role in the marketing campaign for Westworld. This isn’t necessarily new, per se — the writers and I had a large hand in establishing the website and all of the in-world twists and turns of the digital campaign — but with the second season, this has been expanded considerably as more Westworld finds itself in more places. I feel like the US Ambassador to Westworld. We at Kilter Films really make a point to make sure that all of the branching verticals for Westworld feel true to the show. We know people don’t want to be marketed to. I don’t want to be marketed to. So we don’t approach it that way. We want the world of Westworld to creep beyond the TV screen into the real world, and we want the experience of engaging with those aspects to be as meaningful as possible.
Rapid Fire With Halle Phillips
Host or a Human?
Oh, definitely a host.
White Hat or a Black Hat?
My heart wants to say Black Hat, but in truth I probably would be a White Hat.
“The Original.” It’s such a strong statement of purpose.
I love all my robot children equally.
HBO: How do you stay organized when there are so many overlapping elements?
Halle Phillips: I feel like a host sometimes! Depending on what we’re shooting, we can have anywhere from 200 to 500 crew members, so it’s a massive logistical puzzle. In the hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute elements of my job, I have to prioritize based on what’s most pressing. Luckily, we have multiple meetings to anchor the organization of each episode. If people have questions about how to accomplish what’s written, that’s when we talk it out.
Coming out of those large meetings, you have a list of follow-up items, and then work to get answers quickly and accurately. The art of the “sidebar” meeting. It’s about being able to juggle a lot of things at the same time and requires everybody on our side to be as well-acquainted with the material as the writer’s room because we have to be able to answer questions. It requires being abreast of the newest revisions and staying in the weeds so you can help keep the train on the tracks.
HBO: Can you describe the creative culture Jonah and Lisa bring to set?
Halle Phillips: They’re the best people I’ve ever worked with (Do I have to disclose that this is a paid advertisement?). But that’s the truth. Westworld is a massive undertaking of spectacular ambition, and I think the passion for what they’re doing, how important it is to them and how important it is to get it right shines through — and everybody is willing to work hard to make sure that dream is realized. In my experience, you want work with someone who’s definitely smarter than you and I feel like I learn something new from them every day. They’re incredibly creative and willing to take wild swings in everything they do, which frees me up to take wild swings in things I do.
HBO: What was your first impression was when you heard about Shogun World?
Halle Phillips: In Season 1, when we put a samurai in the season finale, I was so excited for people to go nuts. I went nuts. Season 2 is about an expansion of Westworld, in every sense of the word. It made sense to follow up on what we seeded.
HBO: Without giving anything away, what’s something you can reveal about this new world?
Halle Phillips: One story I like to tell is: I was walking by one of the stages, and there’s this beautiful cherry blossom tree and one of our set decorators was literally gluing individual flower petals to it for weeks. He was just very slowly, meticulously making this tree from scratch. It was so calming and weirdly inspiring. Because that’s what we do every season to make this show come to life, step-by-step.
HBO: In your role and as a fan, what do you hope audiences take away from Season 2?
Halle Phillips: I hoped Season 1’s weird, heady ideas would resonate as much as it’s more obvious thrills, as someone who loves going there, intellectually, and it’s been rewarding because now Westworld is this crazy phenomenon. Season 2 surprised me, which I think is a testament to the zigs and zags Jonah and Lisa are willing to take in telling this larger story. The arcs of Season 1 were largely resolved and somewhat self-contained. We left off with Dolores and the other hosts at the start of the rebellion — the guardrails are off — but now what? In many ways, this was telegraphed at the beginning of Season 1, with that greyhound anecdote Dr. Ford tells Bernard: it spent its life chasing this rabbit, it finally caught it, so now what?
But now it’s: you’re free, so which path are you going to choose? Which door are you going to open? I think Season 2 will answer these questions and leave you with others. As with last season, I hope audiences feel like they’ve gotten a complete story that prompts them to think about the possibilities of the next step.