Set Decorator Daryn-Reid Goodall SDSA has come full circle!
After a variety of positions in live theater, the multi-tasker extraordinaire jumped into television set decoration with Disney’s mid-90’s reboot of THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, the version with Mouseketeers Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, Nicki Deloach and Tony Luca. From there, he leaped into the mad, mad, mad world of MadTV – all 15 seasons of it, for which he received 9 Emmy nominations, and during which he served as president and chairman of the SDSA. He did numerous pilots and other series work…and now he’s back in the world of Disney, as the set decorator of all three seasons of the Disney Channel’s hit SHAKE IT UP…He has also stepped in to take over for Set Decorator Peter Gurski SDSA for another of the network’s ultra-popular shows, GOOD LUCK CHARLIE.
SHAKE IT UP
While the latter is about a big family and is set mainly in their large home, SHAKE IT UP follows the antics of two best friends, CeCe Jones [Bella Thorne] and Rocky Blue [Zendaya], who have realized their dream, becoming background dancers for the television show SHAKE IT UP, CHICAGO. They reside with their families in a multi-story apartment building, and often end up babysitting CeCe’s younger brother Flynn [Davis Cleveland], an energetic handful. The show has seen the tween girls blossom into teenagers, dealing with many of the situations of teendom coupled with those of the dance world. Key sets are the Jones’s apartment [Rocky often appears through the fire-escape window], Crusty’s – an iconic Chicago pizza parlor located on the first floor of their building, the dance studio and the school. The range of swing sets is huge, including several depicting places in Japan and an upcoming episode set in Provence, France.
SET DECOR met up with Goodall at his rather amazing office on the SHAKE IT UP backstage.
A combination of organization and playfulness, with walls of shelving filled with both wondrous and practical objects, a floor to ceiling rack of brightly colored paper arranged by rainbow hue, computers and split-screen stage monitor…the busy, yet cozy nook Goodall shares with his assistant, Lead Natalie Contreras SDSA Associate, is devoid of the angst which often accompanies the intense schedules series carry…and it seems that at least half of the production staff stop by at some point during the day’s shoot, whether with questions or notes, or just to spend a moment or two in the welcoming space.
Goodall and Disney are a perfect fit. Keeping an emphasis on fun, there are also myriad responsible actions that are not just corporate mantras, but a way of life, a philosophy that runs true to the man. He points out that underlying the selection of foods that are presented on set is the mandate to depict healthy choices, which translates into more fruits and veggies, less cookies and little junk food seen on camera. Throughout his career, Goodall has produced many high-styled and sometimes seemingly extravagant sets, and yet thrift is very much a hallmark. Raised on a family farm, he has retained the farmer’s distaste for waste and appreciation of recycling and repurposing. And everything needs to make sense.
As he explains with the recurring swing set of CeCe’s bedroom, “The first time we did it, three years ago, it came up quickly and we didn’t have a chance to really establish it, so you just saw a teeny corner. Now that she’s a little older and we know her character more, we had meetings and time to really develop the set. I try to recycle things and use items over again, because the thought of using something once and throwing it out just infuriates me. So we re-painted her vanity, re-painted her desk…the bed is the same…her door had googly eyes on it, this time we did a collage. Originally, there were hand-painted storage boxes at the foot of her bed, so we upholstered them and they became a bench. There was a previous episode where the kids re-enacted CeCe’s parents’ first date, which had a Bollywood theme…so I bought saris for that episode, and then we had the saris made into curtains for CeCe’s …because, really, the stuff has to come from somewhere.”
“The producers didn’t want a retro-look for the apartment, they wanted fresh. So we have a good eclectic mix…Crate & Barrel and Ikea with an ethnic influence…wicker, and paint and shiny. Our palette is different from the other Disney shows, and shiny is our favorite color! I have so much fun with lamps and throw pillows…and we make a lot of tablecloths here, a lot of tablecloths…I could open a fabric store!”
Fresh is a key word throughout the Disney franchise…the studio knows its audience, so new sets or major set changes happen in well-timed intervals. The pizza parlor was added after the first season; this season the dance studio was completely revamped. Goodall points out, “With this fabulous new dance studio, you can shoot 360 degrees and have high tech, very fascinating sets.”
Contreras adds, “We've done some pretty great ones, like Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein's Lab, Smooth Criminal, Beach Party, Hot Havana Nights, A German Cuckoo Clock and as Daryn mentioned, Bollywood. There was also a construction site, Halloween grave yard, Mardi Gras and 50's American Bandstand. We ‘walked on the moon’ and had the huge metric dome from SIU Japan, a speak-easy, a museum and Paris, just to name a few. It’s wonderful how the stage performances come to life with these vignettes.”
There’s also a complete backstage area, with fully-stocked light bulb-framed makeup tables, wardrobe rack and a crafts service section. Goodall grins, “Natalie had a ball on this…I just set her loose and said, ‘Have fun!’” All of the hundreds of makeup items are glued in place, additional pieces are added at the last minute…the tables and racks are on wheels…so everything can easily be moved into whatever place needed, and then quickly become camera ready.
Growing children can affect a set as well. In fact, Goodall keeps a growth chart of sorts near his office doorway…a life-size poster cutout of the young Davis Cleveland, with increasing height measurements. “When you start out with little kids, you see stuff you don’t usually see otherwise…a lot of the floor, the coffee table, more end tables…you see stuff that’s lower, like under the counters of the kitchen.” The usual sitcom will have a shoulder/head sightline for camera that is fully dressed for tight shots. “I have a broader range of what has to be dressed. It’s from knee to head…2 ½ feet to 7 ft. And since at some point in almost every episode we’ll hear Davis say the line, ‘I’ll get it, Mom!’, and Flynn then answers the door, the set dressing in the entry area has continually changed as he’s grown.”
“This year, we realized Zendaya, who plays Rocky, has become this tall, willowy…actually, both of these cute girls have become beautiful teens…but we had to make the window bigger this year, so she wouldn’t have to crouch down to come through from the fire escape. Problem-solving is part of the set decorator’s job, so when the window height was suddenly enlarged over the weekend and we came back to find the backdrop was no longer tall enough and the curtains and blinds now too short…and since the script for that week’s episode called for the blinds to be closed, which of course would reveal their now inadequate length, we had to scramble! There wasn’t time or budget for a custom remake of the blinds, so we matched as closely as possible and had another set stitched to the bottom of the original. A shade was hung behind to cover the seam of the backdrop, and we let the hems out on the drapes….problem solved for now…and it will be fun to redo the whole window when Disney’s ready to ‘refresh’ that set.”
“We do try to help all the actors in any way we can. Davis loves skateboards and the color orange, so when there was an episode that showed his bedroom, we had the headboard made out of skateboards. But it was a swing set that immediately went away, and he loved that headboard, so we converted it into a wall sculpture that hangs in the doorway leading off to his room. We take into consideration the girls’ favorite things and the charities they support, as well as the idiosyncrasies of their characters, such as CeCe’s and her mother’s passion for crafting. My dear friend Leslie Frankenheimer* decorated the pilot…it was a tiny apartment then…and she had included on a shelf a beautiful pair of ballet slippers with a beaded motif. That sits in a place of honor in our apartment set…and Natalie sweetly and laboriously spent months completely hand-beading a pair for CeCe’s room. Those are among our treasures.”
“We had some enormous swing sets last year…for the trip to Japan, we had a traditional tea restaurant, a karaoke restaurant and a very high-end cool restaurant where I mixed stuff from AUNTIE MAME with Philippe Starck furniture,” he laughs. “With this, you get to have a little bit of play as well as authenticity. It’s about making everybody happy and seeing if you can get them to gasp when they come out to the stage. I don’t know anything about Japan. I did take my whole crew to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, so that we knew that we would be doing some things correctly. And it really helps when 300 Japanese extras show up, and they give you notes…” he says with a twinkle. “They don’t know what you go through about getting clearance or all that’s involved in clearing art and other objects, but extras will show up and they will feel free to give you notes, which is actually kind of nice. I’ve taken a completely different view on things the last couple of years, in that all these people are here to help you have a better product. It’s not just your team that always works to make it best…the producers are here to help you have a better product, the actors are here to help you make a better product, and even the extras are trying to help.”
For the episode being shot while we were visiting the set, Richman, Assistant Art Director Rhea Rebbe, Goodall and team had created a farmhouse in Provence…an exterior with an arbor, a well and a large farm table, plus interiors of shallow entry/staircase and kitchen…and a smaller set extension with a pig sty and mud pond. Walking through the sets, he talks about the basic process: “I get the script 4 days before the table read, usually, and that gives me a couple of days to do some investigating and solve some problems. I have a conversation with the production designer, and he parlays to me the conversations that he’s had with the producers. I will be the first to admit that there are times I can’t imagine what is going through their heads when they write things…and what their vision is…so it might take you a couple of strike outs to hit the stride. But if you can do something that makes them happy, it’s pretty gratifying to have that final product.”
“Sometimes the script will go into great detail. With this episode, I think it just said that there was a French farmhouse with a well and that the house was upstage and a table downstage. The notes that I got were that the writers wanted the arbor heavily dressed with vines, and that there had to be a gate and a pig and some ducks. And a pig pen.”
“So we pulled photographs from WIZARD OF OZ, because of the pigpen, and from CHOCOLAT, because of the farm table outside…and some from the south of France, because, well…duh…we did more research and found several other inspiring photographs…and then I used my farming background and selected some ancient farm tools and old carts, and ordered some fruit and firewood. There were things that we wanted to include in this set, but couldn’t, like lavender and some citrus trees. Lavender is not very pretty in February and the citrus trees are quarantined, so we couldn’t move the citrus trees from the valley to the studio…You will note, there are no citrus trees.”
“There are things here I wanted to show. The working farm implements, for example, and textiles…and a real spice shelf…my cousin was cleaning out her spice cabinet and sent me all the old-style cans! That was such a gift. People don’t know…”
A good day…
“Speaking of gifts, my real joy comes when we do the network run-through Friday afternoons with our ‘audience’. We no longer have the standard multi-camera studio audience up in the bleachers…our ‘audience’ does the walk-through. They’re one with the production company and go from one set to the other set…and they get so excited.
There are often a couple of people here from the Make a Wish Foundation and it is so sweet. The kids show up in their tutus and in their perception of what Rocky and CeCe wear…and it is so far off the mark, and yet it’s their interpretation…and afterwards they not only meet the cast, but they also get to dance on the set. These little ones, some with eyes shining with joy and heads hairless from chemo, thrilled to be dancing away…And how can it not be a good day?”
*Editor's note: For Spotlight on Set Decorator Leslie Frankenheimer SDSA, click here... For Goodall’s log of a week of MadTV, click here!