Following on from the success of BBC1’s drama ‘What Remains’ I now publish a complete behind-the-design-scenes of the art, props and construction departments. First though, a showreel:
My interview lookbook below helped get me the job and it was a good start for discussions with the Director but the ideas were about to go on quite a journey…
We accumulated thousands of reference pictures from all sort of places but here are the key images that both my Set Decorator & I found most inspiring:
Then we finalised our colour palettes for the house interior, using orange as our ‘clue’ colour: anything you see the programme that is orange means danger – orange goldfish, orange bin in Joe’s flat, orange cooking pot in Kieron’s, orange desk lamp in Melissa’s. We tried to introduce it, not as a warm colour, but as something acidic and alarming.
Then came THE STAIRCASE. This design went through many evolutions because of changing location, studio, budget and schedule. Here’s a gallery of images including model pics and drawings to see how it came to be:
The LOFT came next…slightly earlier than we had planned. It was a last minute decision to build the loft in the same studio as the staircase at Ealing – due to schedule changes we had to shoot the loft up front. This meant a radical rethink about how we ‘get up’ into the loft. The solution was an overnight turnaround of the staircase entrance hall into the loft hatch with a bit of magical rigging care of Blitz Rigging. The loft, as a design, was greatly inspired by German Expressionism and how you can appear to create space using shadow and light. The structure needed to be easily accessible for cast & crew, camera & lighting which lofts generally aren’t – so we used prefab timber trusses and engineered a clever system of black drapes and polythene, and suspended water tanks and overhead beams made of polystyrene from the studio grid above. The artist that inspired the finish – the painting, colour palette and texture – is the amazing Romanian painter Adrien Ghenie.
I didn’t design this set on paper, I went straight into sketch model. I knew that the triangular chimney piece would be the focal point – it links to all the fireplaces in each of the flats. The rest was playing with shapes to see if we could give the illusion of a loft space without actually building a roof above!
And now…the build & the finished set…
And finally in the studio…THE 5 FLATS. Working at Wimbledon Studios, we built just one master set. We had hoped to build two and alternate between them, shooting on one whilst re-dressing/re-building the other to achieve all 5 character flats. But time and money had other plans! So we built one main flat that had a cross-shaped corridor and a system of ‘headers’ above under which we had a collection of wall pieces with various doors & windows that could be continually rearranged. The windows had to match to the exterior so we had a set of windows that plugged-into each flat. I played with many models before the final set was locked down – you can see that whilst I kept hold of some elements of Melissa’s & Vidya’s flat, they changed quite a lot. Once the final design was decided & costed, I created floor-plans (dressing plans) each week to see exactly how we would transform it:
The next challenge was to do these turnarounds either overnight (in just 12hours) or over 24hrs because of the tight shooting schedule. These meant we had to be very clever with how we were going to change one flat into another – we could repaint & move some elements but we also had to make time to strip out the existing furniture and props and put the new dressing in. We had hired another stage at Wimbledon and created a ‘rehearsal’ set – white tape lines a la Dogville marked out on the floor the boundaries of the main set and I would spend the week set decorating this space, arranging the furniture and making sure we had all fixtures & fittings ready for the night-time turnaround. We started off with Elaine & Peggy’s set and turned that into Vidya & Michael’s, then Kieron’s, then Melissa’s (and Len when he moves in), and finally Joe & Liz’s flat. I have put together a gallery of all snaps that were taken on the turnaround nights to show how it transformed throughout the 5 weeks: