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Bringing the evocative Broadway hit to life onscreen... Set Decorator Gene Serdena SDSA gives us The Evolution of a Set! Photo: Tuc Watkins, Andrew Rannells, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Charlie Carver. Photo by Scott Everett White ©2020 Netflix.

THE BOYS IN THE BAND

November 3rd, 2020


Set Decorator Gene Serdena SDSA

Production Designer Judy Becker

Netflix

The Evolution of a Set
by Set Decorator Gene Serdena SDSA

Production Designer Judy Becker designed a pre-war rooftop apartment with the notion it had been converted to a loft space, probably in the 1950s. I’d collaborated previously with Judy on the films, INFAMOUS (2006) and THE FIGHTER (2010). She’s got a wonderful, intuitive sensibility that’s filled with nuance and deeply rooted in character. We shared a lot of research and scrabbled together moments of inspiration to arrive at a base layer of design and decor that helped us erect a narrative framework that accommodated the events of the story. 
 
The really interesting part of the job is the developing and deepening of character within the space — details that enable the audience to discover events within the space that help their understanding of the Michael character [Jim Parsons], who hosts the party that is central to the story. 
 
One of the methods I employ in set decorating is illustrating the space with as much detail as can be imagined. With Michael’s apartment, I started by photographing the set while it was still under construction, with an eye toward angles that contained the most information 

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Michael’s apartment, under construction... “Production Designer Judy Becker designed a pre-war rooftop apartment with the notion it had been converted to a loft space, probably in the 1950s... I photographed the set while it was still under construction, with an eye toward angles that contained the most information.” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

 
The next step is laying down the foundation of furnishings. This method is employed by referencing both visual research I’d collected and incorporating actual furnishings and decor that my team—Buyers Katie Childs and Allison Isenberg—and I had sourced.

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Michael’s apartment, Gene’s sketch overlay... “One of the methods I employ in set decorating is illustrating the space with as much detail as can be imagined...” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

 
Judy and I are both similarly iconoclastic in the sense that we consciously try to avoid period signifiers that have become convenient tropes in historical visual storytelling. Which is to say that, if our story is based in summer 1968, the home of the main character should be rich with a history that well preceded its setting. 

We wanted the space to be richly eclectic to suggest Michael’s habit of collecting was a function of taste, but perhaps born of some pathology to surround himself with luxury and comfort. 

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Michael’s apartment, overhead shot... “We wanted the space to be richly eclectic to suggest Michael’s habit of collecting was a function of taste, but perhaps born of some pathology to surround himself with luxury and comfort...” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

 
Some of the trends of the period that piqued our interest were Victorian revivalism, and Oriental revivalism in Modernity. Our research dictated a rich palette of emeralds, oranges, reds and teals. 
 
We talked of Michael’s home functioning as a kind of dream nest where he could fortify himself...and friends...against a harsh world that was constantly imposing its moral opposition to his homosexuality. 
 
Central to the story is the viewer’s question of homosexuality in the context of its 1968 story origin, and the story’s cultural relevance to a larger understanding and acceptance of homosexuality in our current place in time.

For me, the keys to broadening the meaning, and therefore, relevance of the story can be found in moments in the screenplay when we recognize a familial bond between the characters that transcends mere sexual orientation. While their orientations may be the thing which brought them together, their affection for one another...shot through with its imperfections and betrayals...is the thing which binds them. The cruel game Michael initiates during the party has, as its central motive, the challenge to name one’s single greatest love. We question whether the series of events that lead to its dramatic climax will result in the complete disintegration of the characters’ bond, but there are signals that all is not lost. Harold [Zachary Quinto) says to Michael, “Call you tomorrow.” 
 
And really, isn’t that the essence of family life? When there’s been a display of familial fireworks, full of recriminations and hurt feelings, we pull it together and find a way to move on. 
 


Spearheaded by our wonderful Director, Joe Mantello, my team and I were empowered and inspired to create a space that would not only accommodate the story telling, but would create a richly varied viewing experience to sufficiently engage the audience who has to spend the duration of the movie inhabiting the space with the characters.

Joe and I had frequent conversations where he challenged me to deepen my own understanding of Michael’s world. He asked questions of me like, “Do you think this expresses the joy and exuberance Michael has of being a man living in New York City?” or “Do you think Michael would have these books?”
 
It’s established in the story that Michael has a compulsive shopping habit. We conducted extensive research into shopping bags of the period (they’re really fabulous) and set about extracting and developing graphic files so we could manufacture bags for Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Henri Bendel and others. Judy found a cache of brilliant Hermes boxes on eBay. We populated the set with bags hung from doorknobs, stuffed in closets and the wardrobe, bags near the front door, bags casually flung on the bedroom floor. 
 
In the script, Michael and Donald [Matt Bomer] speak of how many days Michael has counted being “on the wagon.” We purchased period calendars online, and tacked one to the refrigerator, where we “X’d” off the days Michael had refrained from drinking.

The story transitions from afternoon to late evening, which necessitated changes in lighting. My team and I collected great period lights from online sources—Practical Props, Omega Cinema Props, Universal Property, Warner Bros Property, and many others—to put together a lighting plan that would enable Director of Photography Bill Pope a wide array of options for practical sources.
 
THE BOYS IN THE BAND was a labor of love, made with a team of craftspeople who inspire me and draw on my utmost admiration. I feel so fortunate to have collaborated with Judy and Joe, with Producer Ryan Murphy, the deeply talented Cast, the fantastic Costume Designer Lou Eyrich, and the exquisite Lensman Bill Pope on a script by Mart Crowley with Ned Martel. 
 
I had to straddle working sets in Los Angeles and New York, and all that was made possible by the dedicated and always hard-working crew that facilitated it all, who gave their best, and for whom I have immense gratitude.


They really are everything and I thank them by name: 
Los Angeles:
Kiel Gookin, Art Director
Grant Samson, Leadperson
Katie Childs, Lead Buyer
Allison Isenberg, Buyer
Jory Alvarado, Drapery Foreperson
Set Dressers: David Agajanian, Kristen Granados, Donnie Elliott, Michael Timman, Erik Soderstrom, Francisco Vargas, Derek Dean
Giovanni Aurilia, On-Set Dresser
Payton Stafford, Set Dec P.A.
New York City:
Annie Simeone, Art Director NY
Candice Cardasis, Set Decorator NY
Christopher Kelley, Buyer NY
Doug Fecht, Leadperson NY
Heidi Wenzel, Shop Mgr NY
Martin Boyle, John Driscoll, Set Dressers NY
John Mastrodominico, On-Set Dresser NY 
 
 



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Michael’s apartment... “We talked of Michael’s home functioning as a kind of dream nest where he could fortify himself...and friends...against a harsh world that was constantly imposing its moral opposition to his homosexuality...” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Michael’s apartment, corner detail... “Spearheaded by our wonderful Director, Joe Mantello, my team and I were empowered and inspired to create a space that would not only accommodate the story telling, but would create a richly varied viewing experience to sufficiently engage the audience who has to spend the duration of the movie inhabiting the space with the characters...” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Michael’s apartment, detail... Swatches to initiate reupholstering of a prophouse piece... Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Set dec department... The seeds of a set... Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Set dec department... “I had to straddle working sets in Los Angeles and New York, and all that was made possible by the dedicated and always hard-working crew that facilitated it all, who gave their best, and for whom I have immense gratitude...” Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Set dec department... Note the pieces you will discover in the fully realized set... Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Michael’s apartment bedroom, Gene’s sketch... Although a sketch, it already conveys not only the essence but also a focus on visual details, clues to the character... Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Michael’s apartment bedroom, Gene’s sketch... The next step... Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

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Michael’s apartment bedroom, Gene’s sketch... Note the fur bed cover and the re-upholstered bench at the foot of the bed...fabulous visualizations of character. Photo Courtesy of Netflix.