How ‘Swarm’ Built Billie Eilish a Cult Compound to Die For

Weird stuff can happen at Bonnaroo, but stumbling into a wellness group/cult situation led by Billie Eilish is pretty extraordinary. Episode 4 of “Swarm,” written by Ibra Ake, Stephen Glover, and Janine Nebers and directed by Ake, puts Dre (Dominique Fishback) in Eilish’s path and simultaneously creates one of the most stable-seeming and dangerous-feeling locations that the murderous fan has encountered yet — which is saying something for a character who bit the show’s Beyoncé stand-in an episode earlier.

The show goes to great lengths to make Eva (Eilish), the head of an NXIVM-esque female empowerment collective, feel as powerful as she does. This included custom building the sweat-lodge location where Eva entrances Dre into reliving repressed moments of trauma from her past — and spilling compromising details about herself. “[It was the most] creative build that we had on this show, actually,” production designer Sara K White said of Eilish’s lair.

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“Originally, the scene was scripted to take place in a different location that we ended up not being able to find,” White said. “So in order to come up with a space that these women could be together in this heightened environment, I worked a lot with our director and the writers to come up with the idea of the sweat lodge, and that was an amazing process.”

“Swarm” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video
“Swarm” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Courtesy of Prime Video

White needed to build a structure that visually complemented the home used for Eva’s compound but could do much more than just pump in heat, repressed rejection, and vibes. “We built it so that if somebody hung a light off the top of any weight, it would really hold. Then, in choosing the material, it was all about, ‘How are we letting the translucency of that material affect the way that the light hits these women?'”

The way that the light hits these women is more than a little vampiric. But then again, so is Eva. “We are in the wellness world of these upper-class white women. So all of the color is sort of washed [away], aside from these amazing hints of red in some of their wardrobe palettes,” White said. The goal of the sweat lodge was to capture a pallid cult feeling even inside a building that’s typically dim. So White shaped the build to let in as much natural light as possible, which, after a long sojourn through clubs and a lot of dark nights, leaves Dre looking pretty vulnerable.

Cinematographer Drew Daniels had a lot of fun perfecting the lodge and the rest of the DecaWin compound to be just the right balance of isolating, entrancing, and lecherous. “It was the most amazing location. It was all there. It was all so beige, and there were just these big windows. It was greens and beige and really monochromatic. And then we just brought in reds and, really, when we meet Billie, it’s just so violent and lush,” Daniels told IndieWire.

“Swarm” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video
“Swarm” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Courtesy of Prime Video

But no matter how much the background of each shot hints that these women can’t be trusted, it was Eilish herself who spiked the environment with its sense of latent danger. “I was just really impressed immediately with her acting,” Daniels said. “And I think she gives one of the best performances in the show.

“She played a character; she didn’t play like a version of herself. Shooting the whole group was really fun. It was really fun to go through that space and come up with a plan and figure it out and find the best light and the best times of day.”

And whenever the time of day could bleed a little red into the light, as with the campfire sequence where Dre realizes these women caused her to miss a Ni’jah performance? Even better.

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