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'Mr. Robot' creator's 'Metropolis' series using tech even more advanced than 'The Mandalorian'

Sam Esmail's Metropolis is coming, thanks to some ambitious virtual production funding.

By Matthew Jackson
Metropolis (1927)

Writer/producer Sam Esmail has kept plenty busy since his acclaimed USA series Mr. Robot wrapped up its run. Over at Peacock, Esmail is developing an ambitious new version of Battlestar Galactica, with an approach to storytelling that could end up changing the way we view streaming, but that's not the only big project on his plate. Esmail is also gearing up for Metropolis, an Apple TV+ series that will reimagine Fritz Lang's iconic 1927 film of the same name. It's a big story, and it'll make use of some even bigger virtual production facilities.

VicScreen, the government-backed film and TV production facilitator in the Australian state of Victoria, announced this week that Metropolis will shoot with its support in the Melbourne area, and will be the "biggest ever screen production" in VicScreen's history. The project, produced by NBCUniversal's Universal Studio Group, will make use of VicScreen's Victorian Screen Incentive grant program, and it's also just the beginning of a partnership with NBCU that, according to the agency, will inject more than $400 million into the Victorian economy. 

But we're not just talking basic production funding here. New incentives for film and TV production pop up around the world all the time. What makes the Metropolis news interesting is VicScreen's reveal that the production will coincide with the launch of one of the biggest "LED Volumes," the virtual production backgrounds made famous by shows like The Mandalorian, in the world. So, as Esmail and company begin work on the series, they'll do it by shooting in front of massive screens that project virtual backgrounds for scenes behind the actors in real time, a rising production strategy that makes a lot of sense when paired with the Metropolis story.

Announced as an Apple TV+ series just last month, Metropolis tells the story of the title dystopian city, a massive futuristic landscape where the wealthy live in towering, gleaming skyscapers, while the poor labor in the bowels of the city's machinery, keeping the whole thing running. Within that world, a group of like-minded people will attempt to overcome the classist system put in place by their forebears, and find common ground to advance civilization forward. The original film is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time. Now, Esmail will serve as writer, director, producer, and showrunner on a new vision of that story, and the virtual production technology means he'll be able to convey the scope of the massive title setting. 

The eight-episode series does not yet have a release date, but it'll be very interesting to see the production ramp up, and to learn how Esmail hopes to use his new production facilities to the advantage of the epic story.