Emmys: How 'The Alienist' Built the Big Apple in Budapest

8:00 AM 8/6/2018

by Carolyn Giardina

The production pros behind 'Westworld,' 'Game of Thrones,' 'The Crown' and 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' also break down how they conjured gilded age and 1950s New York and invented fantasy locations with their own sense of time and place.

'The Alienist'
'The Alienist'
Kate Vermes/TNT

  • 'Game of Thrones'


    Courtesy of HBO

    The homecoming of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to Dragonstone was built on Stage B of the Titanic Studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “The art department was tasked with creating an audience chamber worthy of the journey and the anticipation of the character arriving into her ancestral home,” says production designer Deborah Riley. “Once visiting [Spain’s] Zumaia Beach, our location for the exterior beach landing, it seemed very obvious that the main inspiration of the space should be derived from the special rock strata found there. It was important to me that everything about the building should hinge on the idea that the castle was built around the strata and that the throne should be carved into it.”

    Construction manager Tom Martin sent a small team to Zumaia to take molds of the rock strata that could be shipped back to Belfast to create the throne. Says Riley: “Working very carefully on the concepts and later on the finishes with the plasterers and painters, we built the show a brutalist cathedral.”

  • 'Westworld'


    Courtesy of HBO

    The second season of Westworld’s sci-fi robot drama introduced Shogun World, a new park inspired by Edo feudal Japan.

    This Edo-period teahouse was designed and built (a full set with both the interior and exterior) in a tight six weeks at the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Santa Clarita, California.

    It’s largely based on imagery from Akira Kurosawa movies, particularly 1961’s Yojimbo, and the Huntington Japanese Garden in San Marino, California.

    “A lot of the furnishings are turn-of-the-century Japanese antiques, and some of the furniture is custom made,” says production designer Howard Cummings, who was previously nominated for The Knick (and won in 2015).

    Cummings and the team also worked with an adviser on details — for instance, to make sure the tea ceremony was set up correctly.

  • 'The Crown'


    Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

    Netflix’s The Crown centers on the life of Queen Elizabeth II and requires the show to re-create many of her royal rooms. The sitting room at Windsor Castle, as seen in the second season, was shot on location at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, U.K.

    For production designer Martin Childs and his team, research included watching films from the period as well as examining art and photographs. The series also employs a team of historians.

    For interiors, furniture was mostly rented, with “high-end replicas standing in for priceless 18th century pieces,” says Childs. “Some paintings in historical state-owned locations may not be moved. For close-ups, replicas — or paintings in other locations — worked as stand-ins.”

  • 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'


    Alex Bailey/Netflix

    In the Amazon comedy, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan), a woman who embarks on a stand-up career after her husband leaves her, is trying to make it on her own in New York in the 1950s.

    On the show’s first season, Midge’s upper-middle-class parents, Abe and Rose Weissman (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle), live in an Upper West Side apartment that’s in the same building (based on an actual Upper West Side apartment building) as Midge’s. Because the two apartments also have the same floor plan, the Maisel production team built one set at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, and it was painted and dressed differently for each apartment.

    Production designer Bill Groom says he chose a color scheme that was popular in the ’50s. “The furniture was probably selected 20 to 25 years earlier than when Midge moved into her apartment, and so the furniture style reflects this,” says Groom, whose work on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire earned him an Emmy for production design and three for art direction.

    “We spent a couple weeks antiquing, acquiring pieces,” adds Groom. “Some were reupholstered or rebuilt. Everything was based on research from the Library of Congress and online, also catalogs from the period.”

  • 'The Alienist'


    Kate Vermes/TNT

    The Alienist, following a psychologist (Daniel Bruhl) trying to solve a series of grisly murders, is set in New York but filmed in Hungary. This set picturing 1890s New York was built at Origo Stages near Budapest. Pictured are the tenements, part of a large set that also included midtown and uptown.

    Historical photos, archives and visits to New York’s Tenement Museum were also used as research for the 10-episode series, and Richard Zacks, author of Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, served as a consultant. 

    Production designer Mara LePere-Schloop says the team created a functional set with operational streetlamps. There were also real cobblestones imported from Europe, and the carriages were built or modified with authentic wheels. A variety of set dressings were created for the storefronts, which had to be adaptable with different looks.

    This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.