Emmys: How to Create a Gotham City That Feels "Fresh"

'Gotham's' production designer, along with the masterminds behind 'Wolf Hall' and 'The Knick,' reveals the secrets behind their shows' sets.
Courtesy of FOX
'Gotham'

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Gotham

"The police precinct is emblematic of the entrenched corruption in the city. We wanted an extraordinarily strong image that's cinematic," says Doug Kraner, production designer on Fox's Gotham. "We looked at many versions of Gotham that have been done in film and television [including the movies of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan], but we wanted something fresh." This set was inspired by "powerful" architecture such as the old Penn Station in New York and the St. Pancras railway station in London, as well as Europe's Gothic cathedrals. "It has an arch inspired by the train stations and has multiple levels -- the bullpen and an upper level -- which provide great shooting angles. We also put in a great big window for spectacular lighting." The goal was not to define a period, though. "If anything, it speaks to the '70s and '80s -- the primary reason is that we wanted the look of New York before it started to get cleaned up," says Kraner. "We were careful about not putting in much modern stuff, so they have computers but old CRT screens."

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall, from the BBC and PBS' Masterpiece, is a drama set in 1530s England as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to King Henry VIII. Cromwell's actual house no longer exists. "[The site] is now part of London's financial district," says production designer Pat Campbell. "We had to create it, and there are very few illustrations. We had a free hand of artistic license." Nonetheless, she notes, building the set involved "a huge amount of research -- months and months -- and scouting with the director [Peter Kosminsky]." For the exterior, "we wanted a beautiful Tudor building which we felt could be enlarged in size and could grow as Cromwell grew in power." They found an original Tudor in Great Chalfield, east of Bristol. "The well and pillars were constructed to give a central focus in the courtyard," says Campbell. "It gives a focus point for people arriving at the front of the house." The London surroundings, seen in wide shots, were added using computer graphics.

The Knick

This 85-foot by 45-foot operating theater was built at Brooklyn's Greenpoint Studios for filming Cinemax's period drama The Knick, about medicine at the turn of the 20th century. Production designer Howard Cummings says director Steven Soderbergh initially envisioned the show -- which centers on a hospital staff during the early 1900s -- in black and white, so he created the set with a lot of contrasts in black, white, browns and grays to give it the feel of a vintage photo. The look also was inspired by The Agnew Clinic, a famous 1889 painting by American Realist Thomas Eakins. Such operating theaters existed only during that era, so the furniture, among other details, was copied from original pieces. "Steven likes to shoot ceilings, so we had detail in the ceiling with wood," says Cummings. "And it was a teaching hospital, so other doctors would come to watch procedures. To underscore the academy quality, we added busts of Greek philosophers."

comments powered by Disqus