June 13th, 2020 by Karen Burg. Video: Chase Helzer

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Downtown Art Expo... Issa Dee [Issa Rae] and Lawrence Walker [Jay Ellis] enter the Downtown Art Expo through a custom cloud installation created on site by Set Decoration and Construction Departments, erected and ready to shoot in under 48 hrs. Production Design and Set Decoration teams, led by PD Kay Lee and Set Decorator Amber Haley SDSA, collaborated to give Director Ava Berkofsky an ‘ethereal and magical’ moment for the ex-couple’s reunion... Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/HBO.

Set Decorator Amber Haley SDSA

Production Designer Kay Lee


INSECURE is an honest snapshot of the life of a young woman, Issa Dee [Issa Rae], dealing with relationships, workplaces, unemployment and reality...a down to earth and extremely witty depiction of life in the Leimert Park and Inglewood sections of Los Angeles. We are immersed in the world of Issa Dee, limited and expansive as it can be, and her evolution from shallow-perspective relationships to deepening awareness of the responsibilities they involve, both for her and her friends and lovers, who may or may not be on a growth path as well. Much of the time, she is not aware, but we share the foibles and lessons...and many twists of life, and we somehow laugh through the process...often!  
At the end of four HBO seasons, the most notable factor is Issa’s growth, which is represented in the sets as well. At the beginning of the current/most recent Season 4, we step into Issa’s new apartment, a huge leap forward for someone who has been, and still is, financially challenged. Happily, we see her not defining herself from that measure. However, she is still awkward in negotiating the far more valuable aspects of life, especially relationships...but she is, indeed, starting to define herself from within instead of without, which has an impact on life decisions and friendships that may no longer have the depth of influence and commitment they once carried.

SDSA Executive Director Gene Cane spoke with Creator/Co-Writer/Star Issa Rae about the sets that range from huge to personal...a depiction of the music festivals in Coachella, a major block party, a multi-block downtown LA Art Walk...all pulled together by Set Decorator Amber Haley SDSA and her teams...including, most importantly from a character standpoint, the everyday places and the new character-defining apartment. 

Issa Rae reveals, “This season, the 4th season, when I walked into that fully-decorated apartment the first time, I was just floored at how great it looked. How much it represented her and how much it elevated her without us having to say much.”  She adds, “That was something that I had really been adamant about, just making sure that it look like a real girl’s apartment...I think that often times you see such overly decorated sets with pieces that this person can’t afford this at this time...
I think it was about having those conversations, because Issa’s broke-ness is a huge plotline throughout the series, and Amber is very intentional about how she shops and the story behind each piece. 
I absolutely love Issa’s apartment.” 
And, so do we.
Not for the decor per se, but for the characterization, the essence of fine set decoration.
Check the gallery above for amazing behind-the-scenes, from sketches & plans to finished sets...

Watch the video for details from Set Decorator Amber Haley SDSA and Set Decoration Buyer Natalie Contreras SDSA, and a bonus at the end...a phone conversation about the sets with Issa Rae!

Karen Burg, Editor   

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Block Party... Market Street in Inglewood glows for 1 week during the shoot, celebrating a fantastic feat of extensive location negotiations, community engagement, weekly site visits and months of planning. A production in nearly perpetual motion, PD Kay Lee and team were able to present final plans to new Director Stella Meghie just days prior to the Technical Scout, with the initial pitch taking place with Issa Rae while on set in-between takes! Image courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Merchandise Tent… The party is decked with Merchandise Tents announcing the summation of character Issa Dee’s long-awaited planning efforts! Image courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Food Truck Lawn… Tensions loom as Issa [Issa Rae] and Molly [Yvonne Orji] finally front of a packed Food Truck Lawn crowded with party goers! Leadman Ashby Wharf and his team scaled the whole of Market Street to provide the celebratory scattering of cafe lights... Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/HBO.

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Block Party, Director’s plan… A look at the Block Party Layout by Set Designer Lia Burton. Extensive collaboration between Set Dec and Art departments is essential in planning and executing a Meta-Environment of this kind, servicing both the needs of a scripted environment and real-life block party vendors. The team integrated Production Offices and Logistic items within each of the businesses, dressing in storefronts and basecamps... Image courtesy AS/HBO.

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Block Party, Food Truck Lawn… Empty plots of land vacant for years on Market Street are negotiated with City and opened to serve as Green Space and Access to Base Camps... Images by Andrew Sloane, courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, VIP Area… Haley’s party decor takes a glamorous turn, with custom cabanas outfitted with event sponsors and real-life products... Photos by Andrew Sloane, courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Location Installation/Art notes… A look at Zone #1-of-7 detailing the division of work between crafts. In non-traditional Sets such as this, wherein the environment is handed over to Real-World vendors that would also serve to populate the space as extras, the logistics can be an exercise in not just Set Design and Decoration but also Event Planning and Coordination... Diagram created by Art Director Andrew Sloane. Images courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Main Stage… The Main Stage was originally planned to include a fabric overhead structure inspired by Music Festivals, for light and shade but was cut for character-based reasons and budget constraints. The Stage also served to block off the East Queens Street entrance to Market Street with Security Areas that functioned both fictional and non... Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/HBO.

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Block Party, Tec-Leimert VR booth… Working directly with real companies to imagine their brands in ways not yet seen, Set Dec and Art departments kept an interactive online grid to continuously update, monitor and service the needs of the contributors... Images courtesy AS/HBO.

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Block Party, Sonos Booth/Sponsor Area… Due to the frantic TV pace, established companies scripted to stand in as fictional Sponsors willingly handed over Trade Show specifications and style-guides to re-create their environments. Collaboration all around. Telegenic fields games were added as final layer throughout. Photo by Andrew Sloane, courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Tent Layout and Distribution… Color-blocking was celebrated, in an attempt to look energizing but also random and slightly lacking in overt finesse. Set Dressers spent their days fluffing each booth and redressing when needed to withstand the 5-day shooting schedule. Diagram by Assistant Art Director Kirby Feagan. Image courtesy HBO.

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Block Party, Vendor Booths… Buyers worked closely with LA brands to add depth to their merchandise and raise the eye-line of their items to read on camera. On-site arrivals were coordinated by Set Dec Dept’s Christine Huynh with Set Dec Coordinator Paige Haley... Photos by Merie Weismiller Wallace & Andrew Sloane, courtesy of HBO.