Stephan Olson interview: ‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’ production designer

“It’s really about capturing all of that detail and then you’re deconstructing it and you’re reconstructing it and figuring it out how it all plays together,” reveals production designer Stephan Olson about ABC’s latest iteration its “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” series of live specials, who recently won the Art Directors Guild Award for production design on a Variety Special. “What we did on this and what they did in years prior is go through old videotapes or on YouTube and just screenshot every possible angle of the set and every architectural detail and furnishing, and just screenshot everything,” he explains, adding for our recent Q&A, “we did find some drawings of one of the sets, but they were preliminary drawings and they weren’t ‘as built,’ so they were kind of helpful too.” We talked with Olson as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with 2022 Emmy Awards contenders. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

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ABC’s latest installment of its “Live in front of a Studio Audience” series of specials aired on December 7, 2021, boasting a star-studded cast performing a live revival of 1980s classics “Diff’rent Strokes” (with the episode “Willis’ Privacy”) and “The Facts of Life” (with the episode “Kids Can Be Cruel”). Stars included Jennifer Aniston, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, John Lithgow and Ann Dowd.

Olson has amassed five Emmys out of 14 nominations to date — four consecutive wins for “How I Met Your Mother” from 2006 to 2009 and one for the Oscars in 1999. It’s no wonder that the “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” team turned to him to design and re-create iconic sets from yesteryear, given his panache for the specialized nature of multi-camera comedy and live television. “I’ve been doing it over 20 years for multi-cam and also these sets were laid out by a great designer back in the day who did multi-cam. So, it’s already built into the whole layout. The trick on this one is, typically we have four cameras on a sitcom. They had nine cameras on this and a jib,” he explains. “So, that’s over twice as many people on stage. It’s a much bigger camera than we normally have too. So many people in front of the set, and I’m just trying to capture everything. It was all shot on December 7th, broadcast out to the world live and they didn’t miss a beat!”

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UPLOADED Jul 12, 2022 9:11 am