The Story Behind ‘The Blacklist’s Animated Season 7 Finale
The Blacklist was so close — just five days short — to finishing up Season 7 before production was shut down due to COVID-19.
What was the NBC drama to do? How about complete the finale with animation. Executive producer Jon Bokenkamp tells TV Insider all about it.
Did you consider any other ideas before you landed on animation?
Jon Bokenkamp: Oh, yeah. Originally, we thought we could play the episode like an old radio show — put the image of a radio up on the screen, and people at home could gather around and listen to the episode. Terrible idea. But that got us thinking. One of our former writers, Nicole Phillips, had written over a dozen comics for The Blacklist. We kicked around the idea of shooting those comics, using the images and likeness of the characters to fill out the scenes we hadn’t shot. Then I wondered if we could animate what we didn’t shoot.
What appealed to you about animating part of the episode?
The Blacklist has a lot of graphic novel-like elements. A larger-than-life anti-hero. A rogues’ gallery of bad guys. The look and feel of the show has a pulpiness to it that lends itself to comics, so the concept of animation felt organic for our universe.
What type of animation were you looking to do?
Any kind that we could get done in time! I know nothing about animation, I had no idea what we were getting into. Tonally, we knew we wanted the animation to match the dark, criminal-filled world of The Blacklist, and we used the comics as inspiration, but beyond that it was a bit of improvisation. Sony and NBC took a leap of faith on this concept without knowing how the final product would look. I really respect them taking the chance.
How was it accomplished?
We hired a company called Proof [which animated the non-live action scenes]. They do these great big sequences for tentpole movies. They typically have months to work on a single scene or sequence. We had five weeks to do 20 minutes of footage. So we did a gut check. We decided we could try and get it finished, despite the time crunch. We really worked around the clock. A scene would be worked on by animators in London. Our editors in LA would very quickly assemble the shots. First thing in the morning, [fellow executive producer] John Eisendrath and myself would watch that scene and give our notes so London could make the changes overnight. Later in the day, we’d do the same thing with an animation team in Atlanta. So we were constantly looking at shots, giving notes, trying to find the look of the show — I’m in Nebraska, John and the editors are in L.A., the animators are in London and Atlanta, the actors are all over the place. We really did have people in all sorts of time zones working simultaneously.
Did all the actors do their own voices?
The actors were all great sports. Zee Hatley, our post supervisor, arranged to have microphones sent to the actors where they were quarantined. The actors all found a quiet place in their homes to record their lines. You can imagine our cast hiding in linen closets and pantries trying to record their lines on their iPhones. Those audio tracks were then sent to L.A. where the performances were stitched together.
What can you tell us about the season finale story?
There’s a pretty seismic shift on the horizon. Liz’s [Megan Boone] mother Katarina Rostova [Laila Robins] has re-emerged with some very real information about Reddington and why he entered Liz’s life in the first place. What develops in this last episode, and how it propels us going forward, is something we’ve been working toward for years now.
Will Liz have to choose between trusting Katarina and her protector Reddington (James Spader)?
Yes. More than ever, Liz now finds herself stuck exactly where she did not want to be — between these two parental figures. Katarina and Reddington are hellbent on destroying each other. They both need Liz. They both hope they can trust her. The choice before her is not an easy one.
Does the episode wrap up that storyline?
I think it’s probably more accurate to say we embark on an entirely new one.
Did you have to rewrite the story to fit into the animation mode?
Slightly. Realizing that we had to modify this episode to serve as our season finale, we had an opportunity to make changes to the scenes that had yet to be animated. So we accelerated the story a bit, giving us a bigger push going into Season 8. Additionally, some of the sequences we had not yet filmed were action sequences, and we realized we had a chance to do things in animation that we could never do with live action because of our schedule and the restraints of physical production. A motel shootout, a car chase through the city, an action sequence with a helicopter — those are a few scenes that we goosed up a bit simply because we knew they were going to be animated.
Can we expect a somewhat changed Blacklist next season?
Yes. In the best way possible.
The Blacklist, Season 7 Finale, Friday, May 15, 8/7c, NBC