March 28th, 2022 by Lance Totten SDSA

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The dystopian aftermath of an American civil this century. Image courtesy of HBO Max

Set Decorator Lance Totten SDSA

Production Designer Scott Dougan


We were intrigued with the in-depth adaption of the popular DC Comics books based in an apocalyptic Manhattan, and asked Set Decorator Lance Totten SDSA for some insider notes.
 –Karen Burg Editor

“DMZ was a challenging but extremely rewarding project that I was very proud to be part of. Creating a decayed and war-ravaged NYC in the not-so-distant future, 8 years after a civil war has cut Manhattan off from the mainland, was no small feat...adding to the challenge, this was filmed entirely in the Atlanta area, unknowingly at the beginning of the pandemic.”
“We shot the pilot from February to mid-March 2020, with several brutally cold and windy downtown street sequences, suddenly wrapping principal photography on March 15, 2020 (the final day prior to the industry-wide COVID-19 shut-down). Our last couple of days had to be compressed into a full weekend of shooting, locations scrapped and compromises made, in order to finish. We walked away from wrap after two days of hurriedly returning rentals, leaving purchased assets and our personal kits behind in storage at WB’s Atlanta facility.”

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DMZ cityscape

“Fast-forward to over a year later, Summer 2021, when we gathered together once more...with almost all of the original crew shoot the 3 remaining episodes of the 4-hour limited series for HBO Max.”
“This time it was sweltering hot Georgia summer nights, filming in debris-strewn downtown Atlanta. We dragged truckloads of rubble, real and fabricated, out to numerous locations both during the 20-day pilot and the 30-day series run. The work of the Greens Department piling wild grasses and overgrown vines on top of our twisted detritus was a heroic endeavor in itself.”

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DMZ cityscape...Inset: Rosario Dawson as Alma Ortega who has been looking for her missing son for 8 years. Images courtesy of HBO Max.

“I give enormous credit to Production Designer Scott Dougan for tying all of the disparate scenic elements together in every set, so that each department could work harmoniously towards a common goal. I was fortunate to have relentlessly creative collaborators on my team, including Buyers Lauren Adams Jones and Noelle Jean-Baptiste, Leadmen Mike Ellison, Shun Jester, and Kurtis Campbell, SD Coordinator Lisa Perry, and On-Set Dressers Joshua Justis and Ezekiel Ducksworth. Without the stamina and resiliency of these folks, I could not have made it through the physically and mentally taxing shoots over a year apart.”
“Special thanks also to Ava Duvernay, Roberto Patino, and Ernest Dickerson for their creative vision that drove us to do the best and most detailed work we could each day, as well as Producers Paul Garnes and Dale Williams for their financial support and creative problem-solving.” 
Set photos from DMZ...

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“Entry gate to the Barclay Center, now the site of all immigration into the USA from the newly formed Free States of America. Alma Ortega, our main character, works here as a medic, still searching for her son, Christian, who became lost during the evacuation of NYC. We had a single Sunday to dress the entire floor of the Gwinnett Infinite Energy Center for this scene of mass migration and human suffering that serves as the opening expository sequence of the series.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Lin’s lair...“Wilson Lin is one of the most powerful men in the DMZ, vying for control of Manhattan from his lair inside the Yunnu Tea Room in Chinatown.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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“Because of his wealth and control of Chinatown, Wilson Lin lives in great opulence, surrounded by famous works of art stolen from local museums, crystal chandeliers, exotic taxidermy animals, and bold furniture. Thanks to Wilson, Chinatown is one of the most prosperous areas of the DMZ, even having electricity.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Hoon Lee as Wilson Lin. Photo by Eli Joshua Adé ©HBO Max. All Rights Reserved.

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Wilson and Alma have known each other since before the war. Hoon Lee, Rosario Dawson. Photo by Eli Joshua Adé ©HBO Max. All Rights Reserved.

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“An abandoned basement restaurant in Chinatown, which Wilson now uses for secret meetings and as a makeshift torture chamber.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Suzie’s Library inside Wilson Lin’s Yunnu Tea Room in Chinatown. Note the tea room area through the glass partition. Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Suzie’s Library...“Most of the major characters in DMZ are collectors or caretakers of something from the past. With Wilson it’s gold, Parco has weapons, Marcel priceless artwork, and Suzie has books and knowledge.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Marcel’s tent... “A former guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and now a homeless vagrant, Marcel has meticulously collected some of the world's greatest works of art and hidden them away inside a tent for safekeeping from the scavenging mobs outside who might otherwise use them for firewood.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

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Skel’s Loft... “Along with the canvas art, the street artist’s studio we created in an empty warehouse featured a backdrop of over 1,000 spray-paint cans custom painted and grouped by color, an art installation in and of itself.” Image courtesy of HBO Max

*Editor’s note: Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below to discover much more of the DMZ world!