Neil Patel interview: ‘Dickinson’ production designer
“We are going for something vibrant and almost psychedelic at some level,” reveals production designer Neil Patel about his distinctive, elaborate designs for the sophomore season of Apple TV+’s hit period comedy “Dickinson.” “We use the word ‘luminous,’ where we’re going for something that glows when it is lit for camera and trying to avoid any dull flatness that you might associate with the Victorian period,” he says.
We talked with Patel as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the BTL Experts” Q&A event with key 2021 guild and Emmy contenders. Watch our interview above.
In “Dickinson,” Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld stars as poet Emily Dickinson, re-imagining the life and times of the literary icon as she rebels against the gender norms of 19th century America. The show is intentionally anachronistic in its language, tone and music, as it captures the spirit of her rebellious poetry for a contemporary audience.
Over the course of the second season, Dickinson is given a chance at public recognition for her poetry as it explores how she grapples with the push and pull of fame and celebrity.
While the show revels in bringing Dickinson into the twenty-first century, Patel’s brief is still to ground the show’s look and feel in something that resembles the Victorian age, but on a more amped-up level with a bright color palette and unexpected textural flourishes. Patel was also tasked with adding to the show’s existing sets with new sets as the show’s narrative moved beyond Dickinson’s home.
“The big challenge in season 2 for me, besides maintaining the incredibly beautiful designs established in season 1, was to really expand the world,” he explains. “In season 1 we’re mostly in the homestead Amherst and in season 2 we built an entirely new set, which historically was built for Emily Dickinson’s brother Austin and compared to the federal style New England homestead, this is a much more flamboyant, elaborate almost nouveau-riche at the time Victorian-Italian villa.