Two broke girls waitressing at a Brooklyn diner dream of opening their own cupcake shop…and eventually do…with unexpected results! The sarcastic Max, who has never had money, allows the now-penniless but still sunny former billionaire Caroline to move into her apartment…and her life. Odd characters and situations abound—this IS set in New York, yet humor and reality mix well in this unique comedy.
Creator Michael Patrick King wisely chose Production Designer Glenda Rovello and Set Decorator Amy Feldman SDSA to help bring his SEX IN THE CITY quirkiness and ingenuity to the sitcom world with the delightful, inventive, yet realistic sets of 2 BROKE GIRLS. SET DECOR checked in with each them for an insider view of the hit show.
SET DECOR: Please tell us about your collaborative process…
Set Decorator Amy Feldman SDSA: Everything starts off with MPK. He’s so creative and has such vision. And he knows what he wants!
Glenda takes that, interprets it...we talk about it…and we always try to take it to the next level. Glenda is a phenomenal designer. Her sets have superb texture, color, depth and detail. She often uses real tile and beautiful wallpaper, which adds enormous life to the sets. She gives us so much to work with and it’s a wonderfully collaborative relationship.
Michael is very specific, yet at the same time he gives us creative freedom. He really is quite a brilliant man…his mind is always going, he’s always thinking…
Creator Michael Patrick King: I would be lost without Glenda and Amy. They are both wildly creative and amazingly competent. They both love a challenge (or pretend they do), which makes them even more amazing to work with.
Production Designer Glenda Rovello: It is fantastic working with both MPK and Amy. Michael is very clear about what he wants the set to "emote". He is also extremely clear while looking at the drawings about how he imagines our characters will use the space. Being able to have detailed discussions about the drawings is effectual in that most of our questions are answered before construction begins. Michael also embraces our sometimes "out there" color schemes or decor details!
When Amy and I meet to review the set decoration choices, I have no doubt that I am looking at what is available. Amy comes to the meeting with an organized set of photos which we narrow down, then she "curates" the final selections.
I believe that Amy gets the same delight that I get every week when these sets come alive. After all these years of being a production designer, I am still excited to come in early to see Amy and crew dress those sets!
Was there a mandate for the sets?
MPK: We started with a very specific "vibe"—well, as specific as a vibe can be. We wanted the diner to reflect a realistic diner that has enough of a fading, groovy, ‘70s design feel that hipsters would come there because they thought it was authentic and cool. Also, the "faded" dynamic would let the audience know there was very little money in play in this world.
Following that idea, I asked Glenda to make Max's apartment as narrow as it could possibly be and still fit all 4 cameras—because, with the word "BROKE" in the title, we didn't want the main character's reality to be busted by the expanse and luxury you see in most sit-com sets.
AF: That gave us our center point. The apartment initially was Max’s and mostly reflects her personality. She doesn’t have much money, but she’s always been imaginative and resourceful. She probably finds stuff at local swap meets and flea markets, or on the curb! Perhaps someone would doodle on a napkin at the diner, and Max would take the doodle home and put it up on her wall as a piece of artwork. A lot of stuff isn’t framed, because she wouldn’t spend the money for framing, so we hung several pieces from binder clips and pushpins. We approached it from the perspective of, “How would Max think?” If she couldn’t frame it, then how would she display it? Caroline, having always had money, has no workaday skills, but is certain she can adapt…or adapt the world! She begins with carving a small space for herself in Max’s apartment, building a Murphy bed and decorating it in her own great sense of style. These are the foundations of the many layers of their set.
The sets are absolutely realistic, yet always up a notch, either artistically or with touches of humor, often both! Could you comment on this?
GR: Amy and I absolutely strive for REAL and since we are designing for a funny show, often what is appropriate is also funny. I love working through new palettes with Amy: color, pattern and texture are key.
MPK: I believe that the fun part of having such inspired designers is to let them inspire you. The sets and the stories should go hand in hand. Glenda and Amy and their staffs bring our specific comedy world to life every scene—and then on many occasions, when we see what they have brought, the writers write jokes based on the design.
AF: In one episode, there was a very large character, the greeting card guy. It was Michael’s idea to blow up a huge image of the guy and use it for his wallpaper. “Big” was the operative word. Albert at Square Deal Plumbing happened to send me a photo of a humongous toilet on display in his storefront window, and I said, “I need that toilet!!” Now, how many people can say they’ve ever said that about a toilet? When MPK walked in and saw it, he not only laughed, he wrote the piece in! Every now and then, he’ll write jokes about the set dressing, which I love…it’s very flattering. He pays a lot of attention, he really does.
Is there a standout set for you…a favorite? Or a specific piece of set dressing/decoration?
MPK: I loved the world that they created for Max and Caroline’s first cupcake shop – and not just their shop, but also the shops that you could see surrounding theirs through all those amazing windows. I loved the dimension and reality it created visually and story-wise. I loved that we had Candy Andy’s adorable candy store just a few feet from their front door and we could just run the characters back and forth between these two sets without ever cutting. It created fun and a flow.
And secretly, I’ll tell you, my very favorite thing about our diner set is the swinging kitchen door—such a great punctuation for comedy entrances and exits.
Please talk about the importance of detail in these sets...
AF: Well, obviously, as a set decorator, detail is essential, whether candy-filled jars, a gigantic chandelier, a porch swing as apartment sofa, a posh penthouse office, funky art or hundreds of cupcakes. We love to include the unusual and make it real....and a lot of this inspiration comes from MPK. Sometimes these details are scripted and the challenge is to find these pieces. But it is these details that MPK comes up with that makes the characters come to life and, well, let’s face it…more funny!
GR: [Re: other visual details…] Recently, we did a spa set for which we wanted a green plant wall. Cathy Ball of Hollywood Vines installed it, and it was spectacular. The set also had rocking chairs, which normally might have raised concerns about timing and continuity, but MPK loved the movement and how the actresses used them.
AF: Cathy, our fabulous florist, is great to work with…she often will come to the sets as I dress them, before they’re finished, which helps her see the actual environment that her arrangements will be in before she creates them. In this case, it was this gorgeous living wall of greens.
And I have an amazing crew! I depend on them for so much…they are all a part of the creative process, often coming up with great ideas as we dress. They care greatly about the work they do. Quent Schierenberg is an incredible, dedicated leadman, and on-set dresser Anthony Lamorte and set dressers Erich Petros and Greg Renta are awesome. I love working with them, and I appreciate everything they do. We make a great team.
Any inside stories about a set…or a particularly challenging request made for a set?!!
MPK: There are so many! Well, not so much challenges – more like gauntlets thrown their way. The subway tunnel the girls had to walk through and then jump across an abyss. The barn that the two Amish boy characters had to realistically build in the girls’ backyard to house Chestnut, Caroline’s horse…
…and, of course, Oleg’s apartment! That was quite an idea to live up to – I mean, what’s more of a mine field than creating a bachelor pad for a beloved, outrageously sexual comedy character on network TV? But they did it, right down to his elevated exploding waterbed and Ukrainian porn posters. Did I mention the anatomically correct “love doll” we rented?
GR: The most challenging sets - the empty room!
AF: Design-wise, I think the bar is set pretty high, which is exciting and rewarding…and great fun! I agree with MPK about Oleg’s apartment. It was crazy fun…challenging…but we all pulled it together, lighting and special effects included. And, yes, Ukrainian porn isn’t easy to come by. That’s all I’ll say about that!
Any hints for next season?
MPK: We have Max and Caroline’s new cupcake shop that we’re all very excited about. It has a window that opens right out onto the street – and they’ve created this very realistic exterior on our stage, using clever old-fashioned set magic and cutting edge green screen technologies.
Plus, I’m sure there will be many more design challenges – I mean gauntlets – thrown their way.
Anything we should know about Glenda or Amy?!!
MPK: Yes. The most important thing to add to a show. They make everything seem possible – even if it isn’t.