How do you ensure authenticity so that your designs don’t look like sets and props? What film of TV series do you hold up as a gold standard in production design?
These were some of the questions answered by six of today’s top TV production designers when they joined Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” group roundtable panel with 2022 Emmy contenders: Tony Fanning (“The First Lady”), Stephan Olson (“Live in Front of a Studio Audience”), Bill Groom (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Laurence Bennett (“The Offer”), Kave Quinn (“Pistol”) and Aiyana Trotter (“The Wonder Years”). Watch our full group chat above and click on each name above to view each person’s individual interview.
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“For me, realism is the number one,” Olsen says about ensuring a level of authenticity on set. “I mean, that’s what I try to go for, even though we’re in a sitcom, I want it to be real.” Groom agrees, noting that “we’re there to create an environment that the material can settle into and not make a joke on a joke or any of that. I agree with Steve, that realism is important in comedy as well as drama.For Trotter, the characters’ backgrounds are also important, as she notes that she attempts to work out “who’s the character or characters inhabiting the set and take a deep dive in their personality, their habits, their beliefs, and maybe try to assign feeling to those and what materials bring up these feelings. Is it the texture? Is it the color?”
“I think for me, similar to Aiyana is that I’m immersing myself in the characters and how they use the space and what their backgrounds are and history,” Fanning concurs. “But also for me, I enjoy the oddity in making choices that don’t seem so nice or presentational. I really try to find little details,” he says. “If you look at a building that’s been there for a while, a structure is never going to have true lines,” says Quinn. “The building has moved. So you might have the window wouldn’t be totally straight, the wall might be slightly bowed. There’s like this character in the actual environment, so I made sure that I tried to build that into every set that I did,” she explains. “The larger focus for us was the environments behind the scenes of which no one was aware,” Bennett explains. “It’s the unexpected and undefined in actual architecture that makes it really interesting,” he says, adding that the key for him is “the backstory of the environment.”
Fanning is an Emmy winner for “The West Wing.” He won at the Art Directors Guild Awards for “The West Wing,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Call of Duty,” with other nominations for “Amistad,” “The New Normal” and “Better Call Saul.” Olson won an Emmy for the “Academy Awards” and four more for “How I Met Your Mother,” among 14 career nominations. He was won at the Art Directors Guild Awards four time for “Academy Awards” and another for “Titus.” Groom has won four Emmys for “Boardwalk Empire” among seven career nominations. He was won at the Art Directors Guild Awards three times for “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Bennett was nominated at the Oscars, BAFTA and Art Directors Guild for “The Artist.” Other projects have included “Once and Again,” “Crash,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Show Me a Hero,” “Billions” and “Panic.” Quinn is a British Film Designers Guild double nominee for “Black Narcissus” and “Emma,” and has designed for projects including “Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting,” “The Woman in Black,” “7 Days in Entebbe,” “Judy” and “The Great.” Trotter is an Art Directors Guild Awards winner for “Family Reunion” among three career nominations. Other projects have included “Ugly Betty,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Animal Practice,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Black-ish,” “The Enforcers” and “Modern Family.”
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