Main Photo
Serology Lab, Before & After...The little things count! Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

THE LITTLE THINGS

January 28th, 2021 by Set Decorator Susan Benjamin SDSA


Set Decorator Susan Benjamin SDSA

Production Designer Michael Corenblith

Warner Bros./HBO Max

Set Decorator Susan Benjamin SDSA and Production Designer Michael Corenblith have been the go-to team for Director/Writer John Lee Hancock for many of his revelatory feature films, including THE BLIND SIDE, SAVING MR. BANKS, THE FOUNDER, THE HIGHWAYMEN – you’ll find behind-the-scenes coverage on these and more, such as their fabulous work on Ron Howard’s FROST/NIXON, here at SETDECOR. 
Currently returning for her second season of the fascinating television series WHY WOMEN KILL, Susan took a few moments to reveal aspects of the set decorator’s process...and a peek of the little things that help create a fully realized set, visual storytelling as here Denzel Washington and Rami Malek's characters try to track down a serial killer. 
–KB, Editor
 
From Susan...
How do you “decorate” the apartment of a dead girl, or a suspected serial killer?
 
These were the questions that weighed on me as I read the script of THE LITTLE THINGS, the latest film by Writer/Director John Lee Hancock. Clearly, there was an audience to watch the star-studded cast of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, but how would we get anybody to care about solving the mystery of a dead girl whom we meet after her demise? It was important to show the tragic loss of her life instead of letting her slide by as a numbing statistic.   
 
To do this, my buyers Jennifer McClaren, Emma Verdugo, and I worked hard to create a portrait of a young girl hoping to make it in the music industry in Los Angeles.  The script was written in 1990, and we were filming it for that time period.  We had a lot of fun assembling posters, flyers and tickets for concerts for bands of the time period. 

Photo 3
Julia Brecht apartment. Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

 No Doubt was just emerging so we modeled the character Julie Brecht loosely around Gwen Stefani. We had lots of CDs, a guitar, a stereo with turntable and a boom box crammed into the space, as well as a sewing machine to suggest she created a lot of the sparkling clothes we scattered around the apartment.   

Photo 4
Julia Brecht apartment. Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

 Our favorite piece was the poster of Tura Satana that Jen found, who was the badass star of many exploitation films in the 1960s. It was a funky apartment, but we all knew that girl and there was a part of us that was that character at one time in our lives.

Photo 5
Julia Brecht apartment. Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

 
Fortunately, none of us had any intimate experience in the home of a serial killer. I loved the series MINDHUNTER, and decided to read the book in order to better understand the behavior of a serial killer—namely what you deduce by the way they kill—and the techniques of the detectives that hunt them.  

Photo 6
Detective Jim Baxter [Rami Malek] on the hunt...Photo by Nicola Goode ©2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 Los Angeles was recovering from the terror of the Night Stalker in the late 1980’s so I looked up the gruesome crimes of Richard Ramirez as well as the Golden State killer. I’m a very squeamish person, so this part of the research was not easy for me. I approached it like a psychological puzzle that we needed to piece together. Gleaning clues from the script, we decided the suspected serial killer, Albert Sparma [Jared Ledo], kept his apartment neat and organized, reflecting the methodical way he killed and the pleasure he derived from these killings.   

Joe “Deke” Deacon, the detective played by Denzel Washington, rummages through his apartment, so we put an empty frame on the wall with a slide projector pointing towards it.  
What he finds is curious and suggestive but not enough to convict a person of a crime.  

Photo 7
Sparma Apartment. Denzel Washington as Joe Deacon aka Deke. Photo by Nicola Goode ©2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 Like Deke, the audience thinks Sparma might be the killer but we can never be one hundred percent sure.
 
The other sets of interest for us were the Serology Lab and the Los Angeles County
Sheriff’s Station
. We were able to visit the Serology Lab of Los Angeles County. That was an enormous help to us.  We shot it in an empty room in Pomona and brought in all the furnishings.  

Photo 8
Serology Lab. Before [upper right] and After...Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

 Jen contacted a supplier of one of the labs used by the LAPD and as luck would have it, they were moving their facility.  We were able to get a lot of their older lab equipment to use and, thereby, create an accurate period laboratory.

Photo 9
Serology Lab. Before [inset] and After...Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

 The enormous police station set was designed by Michael Corenblith and was built in a warehouse out in Santa Clarita. After so many years of Set Decorating, I always grunt a 
bit when I read about the possibility of creating a police station on set but this particular station, built in the Brutalism style, was unique with all of it’s jarring angles and glass walls.  

Photo 10
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station... Photo by Lauren Polizzi, courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment 2021.

 
As always, I could not have put anything together without my amazing Leadman, Joel Prihoda, and his group of Set Dressers that have travelled to many time periods with me:  Brant Boling, Bernardo Osorio, Rafael Somarriba, Ben Robertson and Xavier Corby. Merdyce McClaran had our back on set.
 
I’d also like to give a shout out to our fellow time travelers, Pam and Jim Elyea at History for Hire. Warner Bros. Property, Alpha Medical aka Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals, Advanced Liquidators, U-Frame-It, Practical Props and LCW Props are just a few of the SDSA Business members who contributed to our sets.  



Editor's note:
For Additional photos, see below and the click through gallery at the top!



Photo 11
Kern County Sheriff station where Deke now works as Deputy Sheriff, in contrast to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office where he was a top-notch homicide investigator...Left: Photo by Nicola Goode ©2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Right: Photo by Lauren Polizzi, courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment 2021.

Photo 12
Interrogation...Serial killer suspect Albert Sparma [Jaren Leto] psychologically out-manipulates Detective Jim Baxter [Rami Malek]...Photo by Nicola Goode ©2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 13
Julie Brecht’s Apartment...The murder victim’s hoped for music career was cut short... Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.

Photo 14
Julie Brecht’s Apartment...There is no doubt this story is set in the ‘90s! Photo courtesy of S. Benjamin/Warner Bros. 2021.







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