Produced by Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks, the comedy series SHRILL stars Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a young woman who wants to change her life...but not her body. On a journey of self-discovery, Annie is trying to start her career while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, house-sharing and a perfectionist boss, knowing life isn’t a one-size-fits-all. --HULU
Melissa Arcaro, SDSA Associate Member, spoke with Set Decorator Jenelle Giordano SDSA Set Decorator about her work on Hulu’s groundbreaking series based off of Lindy West’s memoir “Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman”.
We know you’ll enjoy!
Melissa Arcaro, SDSA Associate Member, for SET DECOR:
Creator Lindy West shares a personal story. What was it like collaborating with her?
Set Decorator Jenelle Giordano SDSA:
“Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman”
[the book] is such a revolutionary text.
I had reached a certain point in life where I had become complacent with the inequities and misogyny in our society, and SHRILL really shook me out of it. The story of Annie
has many differences that we had to address but Lindy’s work and presence on set really helped us to keep the tone and message in sight.
We spend a lot of time in Annie and Fran's home, a blend of their personalities that seems to lean a little more towards Fran telling her story and representing queer culture. Can you share more about the backstory behind it, how you approached it, and what were your inspirations?
Production Designer Schuyler Telleen and I collaborate conceptually, and in our discussions about our pasts we often touched on our times in shared housing and what that looked like. A home like this becomes layered with the past and present tenants, as leases were very fluid and roommates moved in and out.
We wanted to have remnants of that past evident. Maybe a past roommate was an artist, or dated an artist. We also thought that Annie’s
[Lolly Adefope] may have taken artwork and decor as payment for her services, and wanted to show evidence of the barter/ gig economy in their home. At the beginning of the story, Fran
appears as a more confident character, and Annie
is still finding herself. Aidy and Executive Producer Ali/Alexandra Rushfield wanted this to be evident in their home, which is why Annies’
room is more basic and haphazard, until she begins to find her voice in the second season. As for the queer culture, we actively sought out queer POC artists to help us bring realism and depth to this set.
Annie and Fran's home feels so welcoming. One unique aspect is the Sunroom. Can you tell us a bit more about how that space came to life?
The home we shot in for Season 1 was owned by some expert horticulturalists, who are part of the Portland green boutique scene. I worked closely with our Greensman Chris McFadden, to re-create this feel throughout the house, but we were able to really go crazy in the Sunroom
. We had so many shared trips to the flower markets to select and discuss the indoor greens for all of the sets. By setting the post abortion scene with Fran
there, the writers really cemented that room as the space for the home that was more intimate and separate from the main living space.
Schuyler and our locations team worked hard to find a rougher Portland foursquare house with the unique nooks and crannies desired to set these intimate scenes, and they found the perfect iconic Portland home that reflects the cash poor, communal living experience that we all had.
Though it was daunting to re-create that on stage for Season 2 it all came together seamlessly!
[Editor’s note: And now the series has been renewed for a third season!]
There was some really great artwork in Annie and Fran's home. It felt youthful and specifically helped represent Fran as being queer. Where did you source the art, and did you have any particular favorites or discovered any newer artists?
Aidy was a huge part of discussions about art choices for Annie
. She guided us to Gentle Thrills, Lorien Stern, Leah Reena Goran to name a few.
art we were so lucky to have many connections to queer, feminist and POC artists within Portland. We were able to source artwork from Jean Woodall, Carol Rossetti, Ursula Barton, Kayla Larson and John Lavin as well as small press artists Etc Letterpress, press friends, power and light press, Modern Woman and Makelike.
We leased, then purchased, artwork from these artists from NationalE gallery: Lindsey Cuenca Walker, Carson Ellis, Annie Swiderski, Emma Kohlmann. We found Joan Findlay, Jay Hill while out shopping. So many artists and galleries helped us define these characters, they all deserve a big shout out!
Annie works for a weekly paper called The Thorn. It's a local paper that has its finger on the pulse of Portland.
How did you bring the pulse of Portland into the offices of The Thorn?
First, we toured the local weekly paper PORTLAND MERCURY.
[Arcaro notes: Portland’s version of THE STRANGER
This gave us some clues as to how to give each station its own personality, as well as what makes a more casual office feel. Their office was a bit updated, so we had to go back in time to when a paper feels more like a start-up and work up from there. We wanted a place that felt cool, informal and transitional, where desks can move at any moment.
Setting the office in an industrial warehouse-turned-creative-office-space made sense for Portland as we struggle with our urban usage in every area of the city. We made mobile partitions that could keep the space fluid and help hide equipment and crew when necessary.
Another fun fact about The Thorn
is that status is reflected by the chair each employee has. Obviously, Gabe’s
[John Cameron Mitchell] chair is the best, and when Calendar Cody
[Gary Richardson] takes Annie’s
spot, he also has a much nicer chair than Annie
To reflect the papers long history in Portland, we took advantage of our connections to Portland’s music scene and got works from Mike King, Voodoo Cat Box, Chanda Helzer’s amazing vintage PDX rock posters, Casey Jarman, Andrew Colgan-Young, and venues like Doug Fir helped us to layer, layer, layer! Also, our graphics team made some amazing The Thorn
covers that we had framed.
What’s something you included on a set that you really loved that we never got to see?
The two things that come to mind are some small details at Tony’s Art Show
[Joel Kim Booster] and some things at Gabe’s
house. I am a huge John Cameron Mitchell fan, and always felt compelled to add some special touches to his sets. For the Art Show,
I sourced some preserved insects [dragonflies and beetles] as well as assorted bones and antlers from Paxton Gate, and our amazing florists at Giffords Flowers added them into the arrangements. They were stunning!!!
house we really had filled every corner with amazing rock n’ roll artifacts, as well as some glam touches that were not focused on...of course, it was a party! But I think they added to the atmosphere and helped show Gabe
as being in a different economic class and social strata than Annie
There are some very interesting characters with eclectic and unique tastes. Did you have any favorite go to vendors you sourced dressing from to help bring their characters to life?
Our Portland vendors are so amazing! We are so fortunate to have their cooperation. There is a very strong vintage vendor community that we source from liberally, as well as our very good friends at City Liquidators, a huge and eclectic business with warehouses in SE Portland...in fact, we shot the queer club in one of them.
We are also lucky to have a strong Asian influence here and are able to utilize businesses like Cargo, Asia America, Wild Shaman to help us with the sets that lean global, like Annie’s
parents’ house. Our local prop house Rose City Props is small but mighty, as well as our local event vendors are always there for us. We have managed to find local drapers and framers who can work at our speed and their support and good humor are huge part of making Portland such a wonderful place to film.
Annie and Fran have such fun and vibrant clothes. Did you coordinate with Wardrobe to make sure there was a cohesiveness?
Amanda Needham is an incredible Costume Designer, and she is really in tune with the look of the show. I walked the lines several times with her to get a sense of the styles, colors and textures they were using. It really helps inform the vibrancy of the characters.
What are your favorite aspects of being a Set Decorator in Portland?
Are there any challenges?
Having lived here for 25 years and Set Decorating here for 13 of those, I’ve seen a lot of changes, but Portland never fails to surprise me. Our picking and buying community is so eclectic, each vendor has a very strong sense of style and it really makes a difference. On the other hand, it makes thrifting incredibly competitive and drives costs up, too. We have limited traditional prop house resources, which makes renting a challenge. Location-wise we really have it all, and that keeps things interesting! Portland vendors and location owners really respect and enjoy the filmmaking process too, making Portland a perfect place to film.
Were there any sets or particular pieces you struggled with?
I struggle with all of them! I can’t be happy until things make sense in my head, and I often take risks that may or may not pay off.
room was a struggle for me. In the beginning I had dressed it much more vibrantly and completely, and we ended up stripping it down quite a bit to help emphasize her metamorphosis. Now going into Season 3, we are excited to keep that moving forward.
Annie's parents’ home gave you a chance to show a different side and generation of Portland culture. Can you tell us more about your approach with their space?
Another struggle! Schuyler showed some real design insight by selecting that location, the “Wedgwood House of Tomorrow”, a restored model home from the 1960s by architects Donald Blair and William Fletcher. The house had such a strong style, but we needed to make it feel warm and natural for Annie’s
parents, her Dad Bill
[Daniel Stern] being a jazz musician and Mom Vera
[Julia Sweeney] a nurse...and to give it the artsty, boho feel without going too modern and keeping it middle class.
We found a lot of help with the rugs and textiles, and our leather settee was such a find! For artwork, we chose pieces from the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery. Local artwork from more established artists like Kathryn Cotnoir, Andrea Benson, George Hamilton, Beth Kerschen, Deborah Marble, JR Stahl, as well as posters from Voodoo Catbox, helped it to feel put together, casual and real, and it remains one of my favorite sets.
You and Production Designer Schuyler Telleen have worked together on a few productions. What is that collaboration like?
It’s amazing! He is so trusting of all of us, both creatively and logistically, while also having firm expectations. Schuyler really looks out for our needs during meetings and scouts as well, keeping budget and logistics firmly in mind. He holds a strong relationship with producers and creators, which is so important for gaining their trust and expectations. He is also supportive personally and that makes our working relationship that much stronger.
Your Lead Chandler Vinar and Buyer Teresa Tamiyasu have also worked on a few projects with you. What is your team dynamic?
Do you have any specific ways you like to approach the collaboration that you feel works best?
I love my team so much! Chandler and I started working together as dressers in 2005, and he really taught me so much about that craft. Our friendship is strong, and he really holds me together at times. Yet we aren't afraid to hash the shit out and we’ve overcome some real challenges over the last few years.
Teresa is also amazing! She has worked as a Buyer in Portland since the ‘90s, and really knows the town and the aesthetic.
My set dressing team is strong. We have found our rhythm and trust. I’ve had some very intense episodic-making experiences that can drive my decision-making speed and demands, and having people that are great at listening, collaborating and troubleshooting with me are imperative to my decision-making process.
What was your absolute favorite part of getting to be the Set Decorator on SHRILL?
I’m so grateful to get to work on SHRILL, a project that has been fundamentally important to so many people. I’ve had a lot of great feedback from friends and others who are moved by this project, it’s very gratifying and positive. Our Producing team is strong and supportive, and getting to work with so many powerful women above-the-line has been truly inspirational. Our Directors are challenging and insightful and the network has been supportive. What more could we need? Oh yes, did I mention that I love working with John Cameron Mitchell? I can’t wait to get back to it!