Con­tenders: Cre­ative Arts

More than ever, to­day’s lav­ish series aim to cre­ate their own re­al­ity

Variety - - Contents - By RANDEE DAWN

The pro­duc­tion teams be­hind some of to­day’s elab­o­rate TV series are cre­at­ing their unique worlds from scratch.

NANCY STEINER, cos­tume de­signer for Show­time’s “Twin Peaks” re­boot, had a se­ri­ous prob­lem: She wasn’t able to do Naomi Watts’ first fit­ting un­til 5 a.m. on her first day of shoot­ing. The orig­i­nal plan had been to put the ac­tress in 1950s- style dresses, but when showrun­ner David Lynch hap­pened to see Watts in a blouse, jeans and a cardi­gan, he changed his mind about her whole look.

“You have to go with the flow, be­cause things change on a dime,” says Steiner. “When David fig­ures it out, that’s the right thing.”

Not every work­flow process be­tween showrun­ners and ar­ti­sans, or be­tween ar­ti­sans and other ar­ti­sans, rides on such last-minute changes or tilts on an au­teur’s whims. But every pro­duc­tion, par­tic­u­larly those in non- con­tem­po­rary set­tings or fan­tas­ti­cal or al­ter­nate worlds, must have be­low-the-line cre­atives who can be fluid and metic­u­lous about lin­ing up their vi­sions to cre­ate a uni­fied look and feel.

The work­flow starts from the top down with the showrun­ner, but of­ten first-sea­son ar­ti­sans are en­listed to help build the world along­side the cre­ators, as was the case on Net­flix’s “Al­tered Car­bon.”

“We de­vel­oped the look of the show with Carey [Miller, pro­duc­tion de­signer],” says “Car­bon” showrun­ner Laeta Kalo­gridis. “As soon as you’re set­ting some­thing in the fu­ture you have to come up with your own method­ol­ogy.”

Miller worked along­side a tight team in Los An­ge­les to cre­ate the show’s dystopic world; only when the pro­duc­tion lo­cated to Bri­tish Columbia did other ar­ti­sans’ ideas en­ter the mix. “Hav­ing a script early meant I could Gantt chart out the whole flow ahead of time,” he says. “When we moved up to Vancouver, that’s when the two DPS and cos­tume de­sign­ers came in, and we started to de­velop a color pal­ette and aes­thetic.”

Cre­at­ing a brand-new show is one thing, but for shows that sur­vive into new sea­sons, of­ten key ar­ti­sans swap out, leav­ing new­com­ers to play catch-up.

Showrun­ner Bruce Miller of Hulu’s “The Hand­maid’s Tale” ad­mits he doesn’t get too spe­cific with his be­low-the-lin­ers in terms of telling them what to do. “I tend to talk in sto­ry­telling lan­guage to my de­part­ments, then let them trans­late it. They’re there to tell a story, too,” he says. So when the show needed to re­place its ail­ing sea­son two pro­duc­tion de­signer, new hire Elis­a­beth Wil­liams de­pended on the in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory of her co-work­ers to help her get up to speed quickly.

“There were no notes,” Wil­liams says. “But [art di­rec­tor] Martha Spar­row walked me through the first cou­ple of weeks, and DP Colin Watkin­son was there last year, so he held my hand for the first lit­tle while so I could get my feet on the ground.”

She wasn’t en­tirely re­liant on the kind­ness of co-work­ers; the show re­tained ex­ten­sive in­ter­nal source ma­te­ri­als for ref­er­ence. But un­like other shows, “Hand­maid’s” does not keep a “bible” on hand — a com­pen­dium of the key ma­te­ri­als that’s used to make sure a series’ look re­mains con­sis­tent, even as it ex­pands into new ar­eas.

On HBO’S “Westworld,” how­ever, a bible is crit­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to showrun­ner Jonathan Nolan. For the sec­ond sea­son, the show was jug­ging hun­dreds of crew and run­ning two units si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“That kind of ground­ing is vi­tal so that every de­part­ment knows if they’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” he says.

But there’s more than one way for new­com­ers to find their way on an es­tab­lished set; pro­duc­tion de­signer Howard Cum­mings was fresh for sea­son two, but he’d been a close viewer of the first sea­son and that came in handy.

“There were sto­ry­lines that never made it to the screen in sea­son one, and some peo­ple were con­fused about what they had shot and what had aired,” he re­calls. “But as a viewer I knew what made it to the screen bet­ter than they did.”

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, pre­vi­su­al­iza­tion soft­ware doesn’t get much of a boost from th­ese shows; ar­ti­sans and showrun­ners alike seem to pre­fer old-fash­ioned meth­ods of col­lab­o­ra­tion. “I al­ways wan­der down to pro­duc­tion de­sign and look at what’s on their walls,” says Donna Zakowska, cos­tume de­signer for Ama­zon’s “The Mar­velous Mrs. Maisel.”

“We meet very reg­u­larly,” says Philip Mur­phy, pro­duc­tion de­signer on AMC’S “Into the Bad­lands.” “We tend to have faceto-face dis­cus­sions, and avoid texts and emails.”

How­ever they man­age it, when show ar­ti­sans find ways to collaborate, a series can seem as though it sprang fully formed from a sin­gle mind.

Even when some of those de­sign ele­ments are of the un­planned va­ri­ety.

“If a mis­take hap­pens on set, I al­ways tell my en­tire crew: don’t go back to square one,” says “Car­bon’s” Miller. “I’ll know in 10 min­utes if I can use that mis­take. If I can in­cor­po­rate a change or mis­take in to the set, it’s the same as if we’d planned for it all along. And you’ll get surprises you never would have got­ten oth­er­wise.”

Cy­ber Punks Rock “Al­tered Car­bon” showrun­ner Laeta Kalo­gridis and pro­duc­tion de­signer Carey Miller worked closely with a tight team on the look.

Shogun March “Westworld” re­lies on its style “bible,” crit­i­cal in a sec­ond sea­son that has in­tro­duced new worlds, like Shogun World, yet still car­ries on sto­ry­lines with sea­son one char­ac­ters and lo­ca­tions.

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