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Canada How Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle proves challenging for set decorators of the Vancouver-shot, Nazi-focused drama

The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, about a world where Germany and Japan won the Second World War.

Amazon Studios

On the big screen of a downtown Vancouver cinema, venerable Point Grey Secondary School looks like something out of a nightmare.

Banners with swastikas hang from the exterior of the west-side Vancouver school – production art for the Amazon streaming series The Man in the High Castle.

In reality, the banners were there, but the swastikas were not.

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The Man in the High Castle finished production of its fourth and final season in March. The show is based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, about a world where Germany and Japan won the Second World War. The show required some sensitive, complicated efforts on the part of the production team, who had to address the question: How do you tell a story on very public locations featuring the open display of offensive Second World War imagery?

At an industry forum last week, set decorators Jonathan and Lisa Lancaster explained it took caution and consultation.

The Nazi banners at the school were created with visual effects. Flags over the entrance were real, but the swastikas were added later.

There were banners with swastikas in the school, though, as well as arrangements of red and white roses that formed the symbol. Those were easy enough to keep from full public view, and the show never received complaints from the school, where it filmed twice, Mr. Lancaster said.

But there were challenges on other shooting days in more public locations. At one point in 2017, Nazi soldiers were out on downtown Georgia Street for a sequence set in New York. It was shot outside the former Canada Post processing plant, a complex completed in 1958.

According to a newspaper account, the setting was dressed up with vintage Mercedes cabs, a Mercedes limousine and period American cars. Signs placed to announce productions acknowledged the presence of Japanese and German historical symbols from the Second World War and said the team was “doing [its] utmost to be respectful.”

Ms. Lancaster, who said the spirit of resistance in the show’s epic story line was appealing, explained that the production necessarily got very good at hiding controversial imagery from the public until it was needed for a scene. “We had to be very, very diligent in our efforts with locations and protection to cover this up," she said.

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Nico Slobinsky, speaking for the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, gave the production good marks for their efforts. The director of the Pacific Region Office of the Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent for the federation, said series representatives were in touch before shooting began to explain what was planned and to provide dates and locations of production as well as the display of offensive symbols.

“We certainly appreciate the extent to which the production company went to avoid any distress in people," Mr. Slobinsky said in an interview.

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Once production ended, Ms. Lancaster said, a team spent two months going through items created for the show, removing emblems from everything and destroying anything that might be used inappropriately.

The Lancasters were in charge of accumulating thousands of items to dress up sets and locations for the series, set largely in New York, Denver and San Francisco of an altered 1960s.

Items, including cutlery, furniture, paintings and light fixtures, were either built or bought from around the world and stored in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse. (Costumes and props had their own space.)

Asked about their high-point accomplishment, the couple refer to deploying the contents of 17 five-tonne trucks to disguise a stretch of modern downtown Cambie Street as downtown 1960s-era Denver.

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Over the weekend, thousands of props, costumes and other items from the series were on sale as part of an effort by Jeff Schwarz, star of the reality series The Liquidator. Mr. Schwarz said the sale, held at a former production studio, involved enough items to fill 80,000 square feet of warehouse space. It began two weeks ago, and about 70 per cent of the inventory has already been sold.

Mr. Schwarz said there was nothing for sale with offensive symbols. “Anyone who is a collector of that stuff? Don’t bother showing up,” he said.

Mr. Lancaster said the meticulous effort to vividly recreate the show’s altered history while remaining cognizant of the offensiveness of the material took its toll.

“I would dream of Nazis and horrible things,” he said in response to a question from an audience member. “You can’t not engage in this subject matter without bringing it home.

“It does always put the hair up on your neck. You don’t have good feelings all the time, that’s for sure.”

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