The production designers of 'The Wizard of Lies,' '13 Reasons Why' and 'Harlots' also discuss their favorite sets.
Eugene Lee, 78, has been a production designer on every season of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. This time around, his work has included a number of political sets, including this one of the White House Press Briefing Room that has featured in a series of segments with Melissa McCarthy as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “The season is great when there’s politics, but this season you can hardly make it up. I’m losing sleep.
“We have a very small studio. The briefing room set is maybe 20 ft. wide and 12 ft. deep; people say it looks bigger on TV,” he relates, admitting that for the live, weekly series “We copy things as much as we can. The main part of the set is the podium. We have copied the podium successfully, seeing how light we could make it. It’s made of paper and form so that Melissa could pick it up and use it as a weapon to attack the reporters.”
On the live, weekly series, time is the biggest challenge in creating the sets. “The amount of time we have is no time,” admits Lee. “We do the read-through on Wednesday and they decide what they want, and we have Thursday and Friday to do the work."
"Towards the end of the block of shooting in the Madoff offices (we’d stripped out a floor of an office building at a Westchester Co. executive park, to create the set), Barry had the idea to shoot an element for the hallucination sequence that would put Bernie in the office environment, in a very abstracted way; Madoff alone, his scheme in flames,” says production designers Laurence Bennett. “Quickly dismissing the efficacy of a practical burn, we decided on feeding all the screens on the trading floor with out-of-sync looped flame footage. I love the result, largely for its artifice; the shots have a detachment and unreality that I feel serves that moment in the film beautifully."
This set from the Netflix series is the bedroom of Clay Jenson (Dylan Minnette), who “starts as a somewhat confused, introverted young man, but by the end of the story, he emerges as a more confident, stronger character and the hero of the story. He’s trying to tell young people to stand up for themselves; I love that arc,” says production designer Diane Lederman. “With bedrooms I like to show a sense of history, so I tried to show what his life was like growing up, not just what is important to him now. He’s a geek who loves astronomy. The music posters (i.e. The Shins) show he likes vintage music and doesn’t just go along with the crowd. We also have his childhood toys, the toy robots on the shelf. Blue is Clay’s color and plays a role in the story. The entire tone of the production design is based on a cool palette—mystery and sadness. The color does evoke an emotional response.”
“A lot period drama is serious, and filmmakers worry about keeping it accurate; I tried to keep it real and alive,” said production designer Tom Bowyer of the Hulu drama, set in London during the 1760s. “We did a lot of research, studying books about the period, pictures. The artist William Hogarth was very good at depicting the world of the Harlots, an that was very useful. It was important to keep it authentic. This set, built in a period house, is the Covenant Garden living room of brothel owner Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton). It conveys her desire to go up in the world. The furniture is as good as it could be; the room is painted to look decayed and to give it some depth. It conveys not poverty but limited means. In this period, lighting came from candles, fire and light from the windows. We lit candles in the day as well as during the night to give more atmosphere to the set. The paintings are small because she couldn’t afford big paintings.”