If you ask Silo star Rebecca Ferguson how many stairs she walked up during production — well, it’s too many.
“30,000 a day? I don’t know,” she laughs. “The team — the amount of stairs everyone’s climbed is just bonkers. We’re in good shape!”
For another show, and another set, this would be seen as an exaggeration. But on Apple TV Plus’ Silo, the adaptation of the Silo book series by Hugh Howey, the central staircase and its thousands of stairs is more than just “one of the main characters really.” They’re the things that define the life and look of the entire world.
The series takes place in (where else?) an underground silo, where some 10,000 humans live, generations after the Earth became uninhabitable. There are hundreds of levels to the silo, and transportation between the floors is done entirely on foot. That’s one thing when you’re just going down a few floors a day, and something else entirely when you have to traverse dozens of floors, or even the entire thing top to bottom. Traveling the whole thing can be a days-long pilgrimage, which also makes it a very rare feat; it’s enough to silo (ayyyyy) whole parts of the community from each other, and perfect for conspiracy to fester.
In the show’s universe, the design of the silo is very particular (and, predictably, a mystery left by the enigmatic “founders” that will be untangled over the run of Silo). But these first few episodes had to sell a very specific reorienting for the audience of the realities of a world that consists entirely of one vertical building, and one showrunner Graham Yost wanted to get exactly right.
“It was incredibly arduous to build,” Yost says, crediting production designer Gavin Bocquet with coming up with the design of the silo, the first thing they “really embarked on” when making the show. “We knew that there would be some blue screen involved, and you could move blue screen in to sell it [and] dress it a certain way so it looks like a certain part of the silo. You could redress it but that takes days or weeks.
“But the stairs themselves never change. [...] And this design was fantastic.”
The set’s design is surprisingly intuitive: There’s three levels of stairs, built in a refrigeration warehouse about an hour outside of London. The stairs themselves stand in for any of the various floors the characters find themselves on as they try to unravel the intrigue they’re caught up in, and having so many stairs allows the actors to really descend and ascend as they need to. It is of course, as Howey notes, huge. “You walk onto this set, and it’s like, Are you guys trying to prepare for the end times? Why are you building this?”
But at every stage, Yost and Howey wanted the silo and its world to feel plausible, and even a little too much like something people could really find themselves in.
“We would be thinking: how would this really work? How would you build that?” Yost asks. That meant that there were little details everywhere, often ones the camera wouldn’t even linger on. “Alleyways where people live — would it just be smooth walls? And it’s like no, they’d want parts to punch out and be recessed and have separate levels within a level, because they wouldn’t want people to go insane immediately; you need some variation in the form so it’s not all just smooth lines.
“And so that ended up becoming a more attractive looking design. And yet it’s also a little claustrophobic — well, that works because we want that sense of claustrophobia at times. So in a certain way, form did follow function.”
Though Silo’s first two episodes barely have time to get into it — there’s a conspiracy afoot, a murder, and maybe even more nefarious forces at play in the subterranean society — the stairs are the feature that comes to define every part of the show’s world. They can make or break anything, from transportation to peril, and everything in between. Like New York in Sex and the City, Silo’s stairs are a bit of a character unto themselves, and one that tests each of the players in the show’s mystery. They’re a concrete behemoth, always at the center of the action. And like the silo’s citizens, you’re gonna be seeing a lot of them.
The first two episodes of Silo are now streaming on Apple TV Plus. New episodes come out every Friday.