December 30th, 2021 by Karen Burg, Editor

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Moondance diner... Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, Bernadette Peters as Sunday Legends bringing Jonathan’s musical tribute to Sondheim to life in his imagination. Photo by Macall Polay ©2021 Netflix

Set Decorator Lydia Marks SDSA

Production Designer Alex DiGerlando


“An adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, who revolutionized theater as the creator of RENT, the film follows Jon [Andrew Garfield], a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?” --Netflix

Set Decorator Lydia Marks SDSA and Production Designer Alex DiGerlando sat down with Oscar winner Jan Pascale SDSA for a conversation about bringing this young theater icon and his world back to life in their extraordinarily accurate depiction. Even though the 1990s might seem not that long ago, NYC has changed vastly, and rigorous research into his life, talking and meeting with many people close to him and having the resources of his estate available enabled them to be vigorous in the accuracy and dedicated to his friends’ personal memories of this young man, whose clock did indeed boom...

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Jonathan’s apartment...Andrew Garfield as struggling but determined theater composer Jonathan Larson in a dedicated re-creation of Larson’s NY apartment and life. Photo by Macall Polay ©2021 Netflix.

Jonathan’s apartment...
Set Decorator Lydia Marks SDSA points out, “We really did try our best to re-create Jonathan’s apartment as closely as possible, often using, real pieces that the estate lent us. Some of pieces were so powerful to have, that I actually was sort of uncomfortable to use them on camera, because I didn't want anything to happen to them. So, there were pieces like his green director's chair, for example, where I opted to get an exact replica and not use it because it just would have broken my heart if something happened to it.”

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Jonathan’s apartment...The iconic green chair! See the video conversation for more details, including the sagging shelves! Courtesy Netflix.

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Jonathan’s apartment...Set Decorator Lydia Marks talks about the loving generosity of Jonathan’s friends and family in sharing memories and photos...and also actual items from his apartment or gifts he had given them, so in this set, there is pinpoint accuracy, including the splatter-canvas sofa! See video conversation for more details! Courtesy Netflix.

 “We really had good luck finding facsimiles of things when we couldn't find the exact piece, and in the very end, we even ended up doing some 3d printing of some small pieces...and they were the very last detail. For example, we made, as you can see on the fireplace, potato print Christmas cards that were copies of what Jonathan had made and sent out to his friends. Those are Jonathan's markers that he used to draw. Those things, I think, for the actors as well as for us, just really made him very real and alive to us."

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Jonathan’s apartment...Kitchen area complete with bathtub/shower! One of Jonathan’s friends had kept his handmade shower curtain, so it was accurately re-created here. Watch the video conversation above for Lydia’s fun reveal about Director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sly daily tweaks! Courtesy Netflix.

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Moondance Diner... About this set, Miranda shares, “It’s a loving re-creation of the late great Moondance Diner in New York City...the diner in which Larson waited tables for 10 years in order to pay the rent while pursuing his career in musical theater.” Courtesy Netflix.

Moondance diner...
Production Designer Alex DiGerlando notes, “The number ‘Sunday’ is an homage to the song of the same name in Stephen Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Although, instead of the Seurat setting, it's a greasy diner in Soho. But Lin's idea was to kind of re-create the positioning and the choreography from the Sondheim piece and transpose it to the diner, so he wanted the diner to open up in some way. It took us a little while to land on the wall coming down, which was you know, in retrospect should have been obvious because it becomes a stage and creates a proscenium...” [For more, see the video conversation above!]

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Moondance Diner...Production Designer Alex DiGerlando notes, “The number ‘Sunday’ is an homage to the song of the same name in Stephen Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Although, instead of the Seurat setting, it's a greasy diner in Soho.”

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Moondance Diner...Jonathan imagines the Sondheim piece reconstituted in the diner! He is now standing on the wall the opened and became the proscenium for the number. For the fascinating details of how they made this happen practically, not with visual effects, watch the video conversation with Lydia and Alex! Joel Grey, Andrew Garfield, Bernadette Peters. Photo by Macall Polay ©2021 Netflix

“Some of the some of the vendors, in particular, who really helped us achieve our look,” reveals Marks, “were City Knickerbocker for lighting, because they just have the inventory. You know, the period inventory is wonderful. Fennick Studio Props has a really great collection...the seats for the theater were from Fennick, and a lot of a lot of other pieces as well. Eclectic/Encore for furniture and smalls and sometimes for artwork. 
For Jonathan’s friend Michael's upscale office, we used Aronson Props, and Art for Film was very helpful. This is a more modern look, so Bridge Furniture & Props was useful for that set as well. Aisling Flowers did all the flowers for the lobby. That was very interesting to me, because the head floral designer at Aisling Flowers has a lot of experience with actually decorating lobbies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, on the upper East side. She was a great guide to me in terms of what flowers were used in that era, and how the arrangements looked. And that's the kind of wisdom that, you know, I really rely on from these vendors.”
Here’s her full list of the resources she particularly wanted to acknowledge: Aisling Flowers * Arenson Prop Centre * Art for Film * Bridge Furniture & Props * Carpet Time * Chairish * Eclectic/Encore Props * Fabric City * Fabricut/S.Harris * Fennick Studio Props * Furnish Green * Kravet NYC * Zarin Fabrics 

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“Swimming”...One of Jonathan’s songs...the team discovered that the pool he actually swam in regularly had lines of tiles along the bottom that for the film could be translated into a musical composition sheet...and the magic happened. Courtesy Netflix.