Baby talk with Inconceivable’s production team

From pregnancy bellies, to onesies, to fake babies and pricey prams, Inconceivable’s production team had to get it right

M-Net’s Thursday night drama Inconceivable tackles the world of modern parenting and the impossible tug of war between work, marriage and raising a family. It’s a gripping new story, set in a familiar world. And that presented the production team with some interesting challenges.

As viewers, we might not know what a billionaire’s day-to-day looks like, what the latest spy technology can do, or even what this season’s “it” handbag is among the rich and famous. But moms and dads out there absolutely know what a top-of-the line pram looks like and costs.

If you don’t actually have kids, maybe you’ve still clocked the fact that luxury car manufacturers now also make baby wheels for a whopping price and had a giggle. Models like the Aston Martin Silvercross Surf start at R59,000 – and it doesn’t even have a motor: Mom and Dad have to push! That’s all fun and games until Brenda from play group smugly pushes her little Tobias past you in his Rolls Royce while you carry Petrus around in a plastic bag with holes poked in it so the child can breathe.

Since Inconceivable features all sorts of parents, from the laidback, to the down-and-out, to the hyper competitive and rolling in cash, the production team had to reflect that in their choices of baby gear. If the show was a baby, this baby was going to have the very best. Here’s what would have been on their basic wish list for a baby shower, and after that, they’ll take us into the details of the unusual shopping list the props and wardrobe department had this season, as well as talking about casting the kiddies.

What you want

Luarnae Roos, Production Designer for Inconceivable, says, “Rachel (Carine Rous) and James Bishop (Langley Kirkwood) are a very wealthy couple and they would obviously have the very best childcare products, which posed a real challenge to our art department, finding ‘expensive-looking baby props’ that were not actually expensive for budget purposes. We tried to keep the baby room props to under R10,000, which was very difficult to do.”

The top 10 items on Laurnae’s wish list for a baby shower would have been:

  • The Bishops’ wooden crib
  • The Steins’ Metal crib
  • Pram for the Bishops
  • Car seat for the Bishops
  • Baby monitor
  • Bottles
  • Mini medical kit
  • Breast pump
  • Baby bath
  • Changing pillow

With this sort of project, the devil is in the details -- but so is the delight. We asked Luarnae to expand a little on her wish list.

What single item raised your eyebrows because it was so expensive?

The electronic breast pump.

Which key baby-related props did you give Rachel that parents would recognise as “the good stuff”?

Definitely the pram, car seat and baby monitor. In fact, on the day the pram was first scheduled to be used, we had to exchange it for a more upmarket pram because our director didn’t believe that Rachel would use a normal, store-bought pram.

Was there anything you had to change your mind on?

The décor on the walls of the baby nursery had to change a few times until our art director was satisfied – she’s a perfectionist (this is Luarnae herself, so…).

Series Executive Producer Luke Rous chips in, “Because of the lockdown and losing some of our locations for various reasons, we actually had to change the shooting location for the babies room 3 times, which meant the art department had to dress 3 different baby rooms. They got really good at it by the last one. Luarnae went through great effort to create a beautiful baby room with gorgeous vinyl posters of trees in the room – the vinyl trees came off the first 2 baby room walls fine, but the third room had some different kind of paint on the walls and the vinyl ripped off the paint and the plaster. I had to steam off the rest of the vinyl with a dress steamer that I borrowed from our wardrobe master and re-plaster and re-paint that entire room!”

Baby, you got it

Inconceivable couldn’t tell a parenthood story without babies and young children. But long hours and intense shoots meant that one role in particular went to a real dummy.

“We did have a few baby dolls on set – it’s just easier for scenes where the baby doesn’t need to be ‘acting’ but still needs to be carried by an actor,” says Luke. “We had a newborn baby doll and a 2-month-old baby doll. There are companies that specialise in creating lifelike baby dolls. I remember coming across a stall at the Aardklop festival about 5 years ago that sold these lifelike dolls. You give them a bunch of pictures of your child, and they create a super realistic version of your baby, even down to the weight, hairs and obviously facial expression (you can get a sleeping baby, or an awake one if you like). I took a photo of the stall and when we were in pre-production, I looked through my phone and found the info and gave it to Luarnae. It was a little creepy in the beginning, but we all got used to it and eventually the doll was named Chucky. The doll became part of the family towards the end of the shoot.” The doll could also be exposed to situations that nobody would voluntarily place a baby in. “Driving at mad speeds around Bryanston and through red lights (blocked off by the JMPD) were some of the adventures,” hints Luke. “It’s in storage right now awaiting season 2 of the show – fingers crossed.”

And then there was the live cast...

How many babies did you have to hire for this show?

In the end, we had 5 babies in total. The laws with regard to how long a newborn can spend on set are very strict, so for shooting days where we needed the babies in multiple scenes, we needed to have a number of babies on set.

Did you have to re-cast the same characters because they aged faster in the story?

The shoot was only scheduled for 3 months, but due to lockdown it extended to 5 months, which meant our babies grew out of continuity and we needed to cast younger babies. We also had a set of twins star as the main role which helped cause when one of them was not feeling that great or sleeping, the other one could act instead.

How did you cast your child actors?

We cast child actors based on their personalities in front of the camera, casting children who enjoyed being the centre of attention and had good interaction with people. One of the child actors we really wanted to cast just would not allow their on screen father to pick them up during the audition, so as much as they had the right personality and the right look for the role, we had to go with a different child actor. Once we had the child actors cast, we arranged time for the actors playing their parents, namely Anel Alexander (Marieke) and Wayne van Rooyen (Wesley), to spend a few afternoons with them and build up a rapport.

How do you film scenes in which a baby is screaming? 

It’s always preferable to act out the scenes without the baby actually crying and add the crying in post. But where the director needs the baby crying onscreen, it’s a bit of a dance with the mother of the child standing just off camera, ready to comfort her child as soon as the director calls cut. For some of the crying in episode 1, we actually recorded Wayne van Rooyen’s daughter crying for a scene where he wakes up to comfort his daughter, which was rather meta.

Best dressed babies

Clothes shopping for babies is one of life’s great pleasures (The shoes! The little furry onesies!). That job fell to Inconceivable wardrobe master Bruce Bowers. If you look back at your baby’s clothes after a year and are shocked by how many clothes one tiny person can have, spare a thought for Bruce.

How many different baby outfits did you have in the end? 

In total we had roughly 100 baby items which included onesies, baby grows, hats, booties, bibs and blankets. A lot of the items were duplicates or even triple as we had twins to dress as well as the prop babies. And because the shoot took place over several months, the babies grew and post lockdown we had to start buying larger baby clothes.

What were some of your favourite outfits?

We had to source sets that were typical for an upper-class family. Due to shooting occurring in winter, we had to ensure we had the best fabrics and materials, so onesies were a staple with soft or fluffy linings. However, the item we most fell in love with was the christening outfit, which was specially handmade incorporating lace details by Wiggle Giggle Baby Clothing. But the majority of the clothing was purchased from Ackermans Baby and Pep Baby. The faux fur zip-up onesies with the bear-eared hoodie were purchased for only R199 each. The fabrics and materials are sturdy and gentle to the touch. Your baby can be styled in the most fashionable, yet affordable looks.

You’re shooting pregnancy stories as well – how many different prosthetic baby bellies did you go through?

We had 3 different pregnant bellies we needed for the various stages of pregnancy – a 3, 6 and 9-month belly. Because we used them so much throughout the shoot, we ended up buying these bellies. It was a big mission for the cast to get dressed in these bellies because they required 4 layers of different undergarments to correctly position the bellies. We also needed a life-like belly for an ultra scan scene that takes place in episode 1 and that needed its own make-up. It was quite a mission to get it matching 100%.

After reading that, just imagine what goes into having a real, live baby! No wonder there’s no end to the drama in Inconceivable.

Watch Inconceivable S1 on Thursdays from 3 September on M-Net (DStv 101) at 20:00

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