Ride With Norman Reedus executive producer and showrunner Lizzie Ashe leads the Ride team around the world. In this chat with amc.com, she details how the international travel show dealt with Covid-19 lockdowns (putting the crew and their behind-the-scenes stories front and center in the Season 5 Finale), and shares some of her favorite memories from five seasons of Ride.
Q: Can you talk about what the early days of the pandemic were like for the crew? Where were you all? What happened?
A: Covid news started to come out when we were in New Zealand. I know even when we were flying out of the airport, people were on edge. But things hadn't really changed at that point. So when we came back from that first shoot, we were still prepping for our next round of shooting. We were meant to work on an episode in Greece, and another full route starting in Italy, going through Slovenia, and finishing in Croatia. We had local teams working on those episodes while we were in New Zealand, and we carried on with that prep — until the spike happened in Italy. At that point, it was like, "Okay, we definitely can't go there." And then there were several weeks of reinventing, where we just kept getting farther and farther. The whole team just went into overdrive doing research, so we could have options available and ready to go in case something looked like it was possible. We looked at European routes, then we looked at domestic routes to see if we had any options.
In early March, we ended up in California, and that's really where the full weight of things hit us. The scouts are me and a small team, and it's this very intimate adventure where we get to go around, meet people, and have direct experiences of what a place is truly like. We get to know people, and get a sense of what it would be like for the show itself. It's always fun, and it's a great part of the process. But it was very different as we drove this route in California, because our interactions with people started to change a little bit. Normally, it's a very warm and fuzzy interaction in a lot of cases, people are happy to have us and we're happy to be there. But that was starting to taper off. So we were like, "Okay, we're scouting something that we're not sure is every going to happen." Then once everything really stopped, we got news that nothing was going to be shot. I remember flying back from that scout and people were panic buying; it was very tense. And then there was a waiting period.
Q: This sounds like the opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead where the apocalypse is on the news in the background, and yet people are still trying to go about their regular lives.
A: [Laughs] It was so much like that.
Q: What was it like for you to be a showrunner from a distance?
A: Once we actually got the okay for [the clip episodes], it was amazing. I think everybody has tried to make the best of a bad situation this whole past year, but I think the post-production team just did an epic job. It was a huge undertaking, because it wasn't just working with one episode worth of footage — it was building with four-plus seasons worth of material. So even just the technical aspect of getting us all access to [the footage] remotely, talking to each other and trying to have creative conversations about this material from afar, and not being able to sit in a room together and watch — that required a massive effort that they pulled off really, really well. We had a big advantage thanks to their hard work.
Q: In an interview with Norman, he described how you set up this remote recording studio for him in the jungles of Costa Rica, covered in Post-it Note directions like an escape room puzzle.
A: [Laughs] When Norman's schedule was changing and they were hanging out for longer in Costa Rica, we really needed to get the voiceover (VO) done, so I called the local producer that we worked with in Costa Rica [in Season 4] and asked if they could help us set this up. They were like, "Yep, don't worry, I've got it," and literally within a week or two, we had put together this plan to create a remote VO studio in the jungle, that Norman could go to where he didn't have to interact with any other people. It was a big technical ask, and I think there's a lot of talent that wouldn't have had the patience for that, so I'm grateful that he did. We had good help on the ground to set all that up and it all worked out, which was super lucky.
Q: It seems like someone up there in heaven is really shining down on Ride.
A: [Laughs] We do get really lucky, it's crazy.
Q: There's that whole sequence in Episode 6 where you and the crew recall the sudden snow in Japan, which led you to the drifting place, which was completely perfect.
A: Yup, yup. Always at the last minute though. There's always a healthy dose of terror before you get the resolution.
Q: We get to meet a lot of the crew in the Season Finale! What was that process like, putting the crew front and center on the show?
A: I'll say that Norman definitely has an enthusiasm for the behind-the-scenes material and for involving the crew now and then. He doesn't isolate himself from the team in any way. When he goes on these trips, in his mind, he's going on it with all of us — he's not just going on it with his co-rider. We're all in it together. So he's often pushed to have the crew in the show in some way, or leaned into those moments with interactions between the team, who are usually behind the camera. We do have a lot of that footage, too, because we roll all the time. Stuff happens all the time and we just keep rolling. We have an amazing camera team and sound team to keep that going, so we end up with a lot of these scraps. To be honest, we don't like to put them in a lot of the time, because we don't want it to be an inside joke, we want it to be about the on-camera experience. But these moments do get captured, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to make use of that to tell a broader story about how the shoots go.
There's a million behind-the-scenes stories from five seasons of Ride. There's all kinds of stuff. But our objective there was to really focus on the stuff we had footage of. Our post-production team really started trolling through all of our footage, so we could focus on stories that we had footage to back up. It was partly gathering the stories and polling what people would want to talk about, and then looking at the footage to find stuff that maybe nobody mentioned that we thought would be fun.
We would have loved to have every single person who worked on the show to be part of that call. And we've had a lot of the same people come back every season; there's not a lot of day players on the show. But it would have been too hectic to have the dozens of people who have been on it over the years included in a 45 minute show. So we tried to select the team members who were involved in the stories that we had footage of.
Q: Were you and the creative team looking forward to revisiting any segments of the show with some more behind-the-scenes info?
A: A lot of the stories that stood out to our team have to do with the fan interactions we've had over the years, because those situations require everyone to work in a very different capacity.
Q: Everyone needs to become Secret Service.
A: [Laughs] Yeah, and to be honest, it's pretty stressful for the team, because security is a high priority for all of us, and while certainly no one is there with any ill-intent, it's definitely a little chaotic when you have a mad rush of people. But we plan for these things, we know where all of our exits are, we inform the team beforehand — which kind of makes it feel even more like a Secret Service operation. And we have really great security folks who help us with that. But a lot of the memories that stand out involved us being in a crowd of people and trying to shoot something or get somewhere; it's a unique experience that we wouldn't have if we weren't traveling on this show with Norman.
People will follow us all day sometimes, and I'll just think, "What were your plans for today? What are you missing out on?" We're flattered, but surely there was something else on the schedule. It's fun to see how people express their fandom. It's something that we all remember fondly.
Q: What was your experience like filming the first two Season 5 episodes in New Zealand? It seems like it would be quite a heavy load since it's so far away.
A: Yes and no. It really is one of the best riding destinations in terms of the roads that are there, and the fact that it's nature's greatest hits wherever you go, plus the culture is so friendly and accessible. So it was tough to make the trip, but once we got there, we had a really fantastic team on the ground, and all of what makes New Zealand a popular destination worked in our favor for sure.
When we go anywhere, we're always looking for what makes that place special and unique, and there's so much that makes New Zealand different and unique. There's no shortage of things you only see there and nowhere else in the world. On top of that, Josh and Dylan were amazing co-riders. When you have a combination of a location that is beautiful and accessible, has really cool stuff to explore, plus you have a great person to do that with, it's actually pretty easy. At that point, the show becomes a lot easier, and you can relax a little bit because fun stuff is going to happen for sure.
Q: I should have guessed, but I didn't realize that you also have to go out and scout ahead of time.
A: Yeah, that's where we really find out a lot by being in a place in person. We do a lot of exhaustive research remotely, but once we're on the ground, that really answers the questions of where we're gonna go and what we're gonna do. In going to these places and seeing what's on the ground there, we can then plan for spontaneity, and we can adapt a lot more easily on the ground when we've been in the space, met the people, and seen what's around them.
Q: This season seemed like a good opportunity to reflect back on the immense amount of people and places you've experienced over the years.
A: Honestly, at the beginning we had concerns like, "Do we have enough? Can we put these episodes together?" But then during the process we were like, "There's way too much, we could do many more episodes like this!" It was really nice to be able to look back on how the show has evolved and the people we've met. It made me really appreciate on a whole other level all of people that we've met along the way, and the great diversity of characters we've had over the years.
Q: Since the season is all about reflecting, do you have any favorite memories that you'd like to share?
A: Every episode starts with a prep/build day, and at the end of that day we have a tradition of doing 'family dinner' with Norman and the whole crew. We run through plans for the shoot, but it's also a time for our crew to reunite and catch up, or meet our local team if there is one. We've now had these dinners all over the world, and every shoot has started with that chance to connect as a team before we head into the field. Our prep days are super busy and it can be tough to fit in, but looking back, it's nice to have made a point of spending that time together.
The full Season 5 of Ride With Norman Reedus is available to stream now on amc.com, the AMC apps and AMC+.
Read a Q&A with Norman Reedus here, in which he chats with amc.com about his New Zealand motorcycle trip, his new friendship with Josh Brolin, and how the pandemic made this season "unique" and unexpected.
Read a Q&A With Executive Producer Anneka Jones here, in which she describes how Ride dealt with global quarantine, her favorite memories from the show, and more.
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