The stakes were high for Jim Fiscus when Showtime commissioned him to shoot the key art for the historical drama The Borgias, which “chronicles the corrupt rise of patriarch Rodrigo Borgia to the papacy, where he proceeds to commit every sin in the book to amass and retain power.” (More on the show here.) Jim had one day to photograph the concepts: seven sets, all of them drastically different from each other.
“One of the most exciting ones involved a lot of fire. We had a huge pyrotechnic set,” says Jim. “And I don’t mean a polite New York pyrotechnic set—this was a big Eastern European over-the-top thing.”
The shoot took place in a remote location in Budapest, but the gear came from London. Jim mapped out everything he would need to get the images on Showtime’s list, right down to the head extension cables, because he knew there was no margin for error—once he was on location, there would be no running to a local rental outfit for extra gear. “By the end of the shoot, I had used every stick of gear,” he recalls.
Precisely plotting his equipment needs was only part of his prep process; he also needed to get into the appropriate mindset to photograph what Showtime cleverly calls “the original crime family.” But the network—a longtime client for whom Jim has also shot Dexter and United States of Tara key art, among others—was carefully guarding the scripts, so Jim consumed three books detailing the Borgias’ dramatic tale. “It’s a very interesting story, and it’s a very interesting show,” notes Jim, whose knowledge of the Borgias’ history impressed the cast.
With so many setups to shoot, this would by necessity be a long day, even though Jim and his crew took care to light every set ahead of time to minimize the wait between shots. Speed and efficiency were essential to keeping the cast—which includes Jeremy Irons as the ruthlessly ambitious Rodrigo Borgia—fresh and interested. “I have a longstanding reputation for working quickly,” notes Jim, “and it was absolutely necessary for a shoot like this.”
Here’s a look at more of Jim’s key art for The Borgias…