I Checked Into The Continental, And Found A John Wick Spin-Off With Something To Prove

BY BILL BRIA/SEPT. 18, 2023 11:00 AM EST

The "John Wick" films are action masterpieces, but let's face it: They're tightly focused on Mr. Wick and his battle against the High Table of assassins. With a world surrounding him that's enticingly rich, intriguingly layered, and ambiguously constructed, there's a wealth of possibility for other stories to be found within that world — stories that have the potential to be just as exciting.

That's where Peacock's new three-night event series "The Continental: From the World of John Wick" comes in. Written by Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, Ken Kristensen, and Shawn Simmons and directed by Charlotte Brändström (Night 2) and Albert Hughes (Nights 1 & 3), the series is set in 1970s New York City and follows a young Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) as he attempts to avenge his brother Frankie (Ben Robson) and take over the mysterious hotel full of assassins known as The Continental.

I had the pleasure of attending a special event celebrating the series recently, which was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The building had been transformed into The Continental, and I, along with other attendees, witnessed a series of talks and demonstrations from the show's director, executive producers, costume designer, action director, production designer, and sound editor — including the choreographing of a fight scene in real time.

A show born from an Easter egg

As things got started, we were taken into the Roosevelt's opulent, speakeasy-esque "CineGrill" room to have a "fireside chat" with Hughes and executive producers Erica Lee and Basil Iwanyk. The latter explained how the entire crux of "The Continental" series is spun off from a throwaway line delivered by Ian McShane's Winston Scott in the first "John Wick":

Of course, there are some more traditional Easter eggs to be found in "The Continental," both from the Wick-verse (like the appearance of Wick's 1969 Mustang Boss 429) and other films and TV — a setpiece seen elsewhere during the day contained graffiti that read "Come out and play," a reference to David Patrick Kelly's immortal line from 1979's "The Warriors" as well as "John Wick Chapter 4."

Ultimately, though, the main element Hughes, Iwanyk, and Lee seemed to be excited about is the fact that "The Continental" brings the world of "John Wick" to the so-called small screen without sacrificing the movies' distinctive aesthetics or action. As Iwanyk elaborated:

Bringing the 1970s to Wick action

A hallmark of the "John Wick" franchise is the way it blends together a number of aesthetics, from the cinematography, to props, cars, costumes, and so on. It does this well enough so that one can't easily say exactly which year "John Wick" takes place. "The Continental" sets the series distinctly in the 1970s (with real-world issues like NYC's sanitation strike cropping up), but continues that original tradition by not quite committing to a specific year during that decade.

Such a choice allowed costume designer Sarah Arthur free rein to be inspired by both real-life fashion designers of the period as well as larger-than-life designs seen in famous '70s-set films. As she explained:

Arthur showed off a number of the costumes she designed and created for the show in person, including the wild, comic-book-esque designs for the murderous Hansel and Gretel twins (Mark Musashi and Marina Mazepa) and the striking outfit for this series' masked Adjudicator (Katie McGrath). One of the most important elements Arthur had to keep in mind was that just about every actor's costume had to be able to move along with the series' action, something she told me about at a roundtable chat later in the day:

Literally phoning the action in

Next, we were whisked off to another suite in the hotel, one outfitted with all the accoutrements needed to make an action TV series: A couple of black crash mats on the floor in front of a '70s NYC set, with a graffiti-laden phone booth at its center. This is where production designer Drew Broughton got to explain a little about his efforts in creating the sets of "The Continental," and where action director Larnell Stovall gave us a live demonstration of the techniques he likes to use when choreographing a fight.

Broughton spoke a bit about building environments that support the story and the action choreography, something he elaborated on later during a roundtable discussion:

During the demonstration, Stovall explained that the actress who plays the role of Lou, Jessica Allain, had never done any on-screen fights in her career before, and, due to the nature of TV production, there was no time for the months-long training regimens typically arranged for actors in big-budget action films. So, he adopted a technique where he assigns each move a behavior and emotion. For example, if you're throwing a punch, you can begin by "picking up a phone" and then "giving the other person the phone." Stovall brought up two volunteers from the audience, teaching them a combination using that technique in record time, so that each person was able to perform it on the spot in the phone booth with relative ease.

It was a real-time example of Stovall's approach to screen action, using some of his own techniques as well as those espoused by the 87eleven design team that has worked on all of the "Wick" movies. During the later roundtable discussion, Stovall explained how working with production design can elevate the action's impact:

The world's most deadly keyboard

Venturing back to the CineGrill, the stage was now set up with equipment belonging to sound editor Luke Gibleon. At its center was a keyboard with some curious labeling on each key, labels that only made sense after Gibleon ran through a demo of the show's opening fight sequence. In it, Frankie has just stolen something belonging to the High Table from the Continental on New Year's Eve, and is fighting his way out of the hotel up a huge stairwell. Gibleon played us the scene as finished, then again with the sound effects removed (while keeping music, dialogue, and foley intact).

It turns out that his keyboard was programmed with all the necessary gunshot sounds needed in the scene: A chunkier blast for Frankie's hero gun, a less bass-y sound for the bad guys' gunshots, as well as attendant whizzes and ricochet sounds from when the bullets would hit wood or metal. Bringing up two volunteers, Gibleon had them try and perform the sound effects in real time, resulting in the expected amusing effect of seeing a gun fire and hearing the blast a split second later. Proving that it could be done, Gibleon performed the entire scene by himself, so naturally you'd almost swear he'd been cheating.

Later, during a roundtable, Gibleon spoke about how, as a veteran of the "Wick" films, he approached designing the sound for a show, knowing most audience members will be listening to it through smaller speakers than a movie theater's:

'The Continental' has something to prove

As the day wrapped up, we spoke to the crew of "The Continental" at various roundtables, and throughout these conversations, it became apparent that everyone who made the show was passionate about it on two levels. One was the normal love of their craft, but the other level was that, knowing they're following four of the most acclaimed action films of all time, they had something to prove. Albert Hughes summed that attitude up nicely while discussing the morale of the crews he worked with in Budapest:

Despite the ambition of "The Continental," the people behind the John Wick series have a healthy approach to continuing and expanding its world from here. As Basil Iwanyk explained: