Nora Mendis Interview: ‘Couples Therapy’ production designer
How do you construct a space to film therapy sessions without visible cameras anywhere? That was the challenge production designer Nora Mendis had on Showtime’s “Couples Therapy.”
A docuseries, the show features Dr. Orna Guralnick’s weekly therapy sessions with various couples. In order to make the patients feel comfortable to open up for these very real and intimate conversations, a normal camera crew and operators could not be used nor could Dr. Guralnick’s actual office. Instead, Mendis built a whole office, including the hallways, and had to figure out how and where to hide the cameras.
“When I was first approached about the show, the idea was like, ‘Well, maybe we could do two-way glass or mirrors or something,’” Mendis told Gold Derby during our Meet the BTL Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “The initial idea was something that would look like an interrogation room and was awful. The idea was how to make something that looks and feels like a natural therapist office but where you could have cameras able to look in and let the subjects feel comfortable in the space. The subjects knew they were getting filmed, they’re mic’d up outside, but from the moment they walk in from the street, we wanted a space that did not feel like a set.”
Cameras are hidden behind every wall in the office and in the hallways. “[There] are 10-foot-long pieces of two-way glass angled at 45-degree angles so that the cameras could see in, but essentially reflects up what’s beneath and so it looks like it’s an intentional blank shelf. And it just required a lot of sort of gymnastics to figure that out,” Mendis explained.
Pay attention and you’ll see that there’s a lot of empty shelf space behind the patients, in particular, in the office. “Basically on every wall, there’s these long, intentional-looking mid-century style shelves that have glass in them, but it’s not really visible. It’s not really visible on the show and it’s not visible even when you’re in the room,” Mendis continued. “And then additionally, there’s mirrors that are placed near the door or near the entrance and exit that are also two-way glass but they look like mirrors. There’s also more camera spaces in other locations, but the cameras were behind the scenes on long sliders in big, black tents essentially.”
And no, the patients did not try to figure out where all the cameras were. “The thing about couples therapy is once you’re in the room, you’re talking about yourself and your problems,” Mendis said with a laugh. “You’re not really looking for the magic of the set. I think your average movie or TV watcher doesn’t know what is required to make a film or a TV show, so they don’t know that there’s huge cameras with operators, a whole apparatus that’s behind the scenes. Unless you’re an actor, you never really see that. I think they maybe thought there were surveillance cameras around. I don’t know what they thought, honestly. But nobody ever went around looking for cameras.”