The Continental Preview: How the Creative Team Brought John Wick to Television

The Continental Preview: How the Creative Team Brought John Wick to Television
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John Wick is something special. It’s rare to see a completely original action movie light the world on fire without some form of existing IP or source material to fuel it. However, John Wick is not immune to all that comes with blockbuster success. As of 2023, we’ve had three sequels, and we’re about to get the first spin-off TV series in The Continental.

Bringing the unique aspects of the John Wick world to television is no easy feat. The series has a large legacy to live up to and one that wasn’t lost on the creative team.

Ahead of The Continental’s premiere on Prime Video, Lifehacker Australia spoke to executive producer Basil Iwanyk, director of episodes 1 and 3, Albert Hughes, and episode 2 director, Charlotte Brandstrom, to find out how it all came together.

John Wick without John Wick

john wick chapter 4
Image: StudioCanal

In 2014, a dog was killed, a hitman came out of retirement, and a franchise was born. As the subsequent sequels have shown, John Wick has remarkably been able to cut through a movie slate oversaturated with franchises, and that largely comes down to the man in the suit, Keanu Reeves.

“You have to start with the John Wick character, which people love, and people love Keanu. I think that was the way into the overall franchise and the cover charge that people paid on John Wick 1,” Iwanyk explained. “But I think, once you get past people’s love of Keanu, I think [it’s] the world that we created.”

“I believe it’s because we didn’t really over-explain it. We gave people hints of what the world was like, like we have the coin but didn’t really explain how the coin works. We have these hotels, we have these people, and we didn’t really dig deep into who those people were. It just made people lean forward in their seats wanting to know more.”

Iwanyk added that John Wick’s unique brand of action and its aesthetic are also big contributors to its success.

“I think that actually sets our franchise apart from a lot of action franchises. People who don’t usually like action movies admire and like our franchise.”

There’s no doubt John Wick has built itself a world that audiences keep coming back to. But how does a series like The Continental: From the World of John Wick survive without the man in the title?

“That’s kind of the , you know? We could talk all we want about ideas and stories but, at the end of the day, how do we link Keanu to a TV show?” Iwanyk said.

“We couldn’t figure out a way to layer in a real-time television show – real-time in terms of the John Wick universe – that centred in and around present-day-John, without derailing some of the stories that we had in our back pockets for the film franchise. And so hence we went to the prequel.”

The Continental Winston Colin Woodell
Image: Prime Video

Thus, The Continental was born; a series that takes place roughly thirty years prior to the John Wick movies.

In this world, the character of Winston, made famous by Ian McShane, is still a young man (played by Colin Woodell) and has yet to rise to the powerful position of hotel manager at the Continental.

It was an idea that was met with support by the brains trust, particularly Chad Stahelski, the director of all four John Wick films, who boarded the series as an executive producer.

Hughes recounted how he was on the fence about directing The Continental, but after a few Zoom calls with Stahelski he was convinced.

“In talking with him, I knew that this was the one because he was encouraging. He was like ‘do your thing!’” Hughes said. “… he kind of just set me free.”

Transitioning the John Wick world to television

The Continental Cast Mishel Prada
Image: Prime Video

The Continental has an interesting sense of time for a TV series, with each of its three episodes taking place over the course of three consecutive nights.

As Iwanyk pointed out, this is not dissimilar to the non-traditional structure of the John Wick films, which are “essentially one big chase over four movies,” with three of those movies taking place within a few weeks of each other. However, the format of television allowed for added depth.

“I think that the transition to slowing down the storytelling, going a little deeper into the characters and, not just the first-level characters, but the second and third-level characters, explaining the world a bit more, was definitely a shift. I think the TV structure was reflected in that shift,” Iwanyk said.

For Brandstom, it wasn’t her first time overseeing the launch of a successful franchise on television, having also directed for Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In this regard, she said it all comes down to grounded characters.

“I feel like Tolkien is very similar to the John Wick world in a way because it’s all heightened worlds, fantasy worlds, but the people we like because they are grounded. We believe in them. If we don’t have characters who we believe in, I mean, people just won’t watch it anymore,” she said.

the continental cast
Image: Prime Video

Something else that wasn’t overlooked during the shift to television was money. Hughes said that he “didn’t feel a pinch of budget” during the production of the three episodes, which essentially made them feel like mini feature films.

“I must say, for the first time in my career, all the heads of departments were hitting on all cylinders at the same time. They were all very ambitious, and they were all hungry to prove,” he said.

Brandstrom added that most of the sets and action sequences were done physically, with visual effects work largely reserved for creating extensions.

“That’s what everybody’s intention was from the very beginning, is (sic) for it to be cinematic and have a lot of scope,” she said.

Easter eggs and familiar faces

The Continental adjudicator
Screenshot: Prime Video

While John Wick may not have a role in The Continental, fans will definitely recognise more than a few things.

Winston and Charon are the two main characters appearing in their younger years, but The Continental also introduces its own adjudicator. An adjudicator of the High Table was first seen in John Wick: Parabellum, played with calm power by Asia Kate Dillon. In The Continental, Katie McGrath fills the adjudicator’s shoes, highlighting just how menacing those in the position can be.

For episode 2, Brandstrom said she was focused on expressing the adjudicator’s power.

“There was this big secret [which is] what does she look like behind the mask?” the director explained. “And Katie is a really good actress because it’s not that easy to act with that mask on, a lot needs to be shown in your eyes. So she did an amazing job.”

In terms of Easter eggs, fans should look out for, Hughes teased there are “a lot of them”, and not just from the John Wick franchise either.

“They’re laced throughout each episode… we were having fun placing them,” he said.

As a lover of 1970s cinema, Hughes made sure to add a few easter eggs for himself, including a vehicle from Starsky & Hutch, a hearse from The Warriors, a tribute to Taxi Driver and plenty of 70s music.

As for John Wick-related easter eggs, Iwanyk said he was still finding new ones in each rewatch of the series.

“If you look closely at the cars, one of them may look vaguely familiar to John Wick’s car. If you listen closely, some of the character names match the characters that we see in the films. And if you look closely at a lot of the locations, they are the beaten up, 70s-wrapped, version of locations that we will see later on.”

The future of John Wick

the continental john wick winston
Image: Prime Video

With The Continental wrapped and ready to go, the question remains, will the expansion of the John Wick world continue?

Brandstom was hopeful for more of The Continental:

“I think that we have a lot of unforgettable characters so we want to continue with them,” she said.

Hughes, meanwhile, wants to see a spin-off featuring the Adjudicator.

“I told the producers from the film series in the studio, I’m so into this adjudicator. Like I would love to see something, an episode, a movie, I don’t care what it is, about this type of person. Particularly a woman with that much power, and that kind of cleverness,” he said.

Iwanyk pointed out that the wheels for more John Wick are already in motion. Ballerina, the first spin-off John Wick film featuring Ana de Armas and Keanu Reeves, has already been filmed and is scheduled for mid-2024. However, the team is conscious of jumping the shark.

“I think this prequel idea has got us really excited about where else we can go with it,” Iwanyk said. “I think we’re trying to discipline ourselves, not to go overboard, not to kind of flood the market and not for any of the audience to feel like we sold out for big paychecks.”

“So for us to create more pieces of this universe, which we will, it has to really go through a pretty intense filter.”

John Wick may not be immune to its own franchise success, but there’s no doubt it takes something pretty special to get it there in the first place. We’ll find out whether that continues in The Continental: From the World of John Wick when it premieres September 22 on Prime Video.

Lead Image Credit: Prime Video

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At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


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