Dianna Freas (‘For All Mankind’): 17 sets for Apple TV+ space drama had to be ‘grounded in reality’

Sure, Apple TV+ series “For All Mankind” tells a re-imagined history of the U.S. v. Russians space race from the 1960s to ’70s, but careful attention is paid to making the screen presentation impressively accurate. Veteran set decorator Dianna Freas insists that all of the 17 sets have “aesthetic integrity.”

The largest set is Mission Control, which took almost four months to create. The consoles have actual buttons (that work) as well as real graphics, and all the reference books on the shelves are authentic. There are even actual flight manuals in binders. “We used heavy visual research and we were able to match the consoles from NASA. About half of them are rented,” Freas says. “One of the most challenging things to find were the chairs for that room. They are tanker chairs and you cannot get that many matching chairs, and we needed 40 and they were all created from scratch.”

“For All Mankind” tells is the story of the U.S. space race to the moon, but the show upends history and twists it, re-imagining the Russians winning the race. The series is a space drama that deals with the lives of the astronauts both on the job and in their personal worlds.

“We looked at the actual interiors of the real astronauts’ homes in Life Magazine. There was a wealth of research out there,” Freas adds. It was particularly difficult for her to find period televisions from the ’60s. “The writers were very specific about the types of televisions they wanted.  The Baldwins are more conservative, so they got a console, and the Stevens are more mid-century—so they have a newer looking television.

“The Baldwin kitchen and family room combo are full of personal toys, magazines and newspapers from the period.  And the entire kitchen has period appliances and they all work.”

When the astronauts are kicking back, they visit their local watering hole, the Outpost Bar (modeled after Houston’s The Singing Wheel, just down the road from the Johnson Space Center.) “The back bar is packed with memorabilia and space-related things. The photos are from the days of test pilots.” Everything is mid-century from the dark walls and fixtures to the smoky environment.

For the Jamestown Lunar Base (the space base), “We didn’t want to go ‘Star Trek.’ We wanted to ground it in reality.”  The space craft has three beds, a shower and a bathroom area along with a control center.

Freas works with a core group of 13, plus a varying degree of set dressers totaling another 20 people. She starts by breaking down the script and “analyzing the characters, often the writers give background beyond what is in the script and that gives a sense of the personalities, how they live, the décor inside their homes. We do research and create a mood board or vision board. We show things to the show runners to get their approval.”  She also works closely with production designer, Dan Bishop (“Mad Men”), who happens to be her husband.

Freas got her start in indie films back in 1988 working with directors John Sayles and Michael Apted. “I’ve done period shows from the ’50s to the ’60s and I’ve never done a space show and it was a huge learning curve for me.”

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