June 14th, 2018 by Karen Burg

Main Photo
FBI academy, Quantico, Virginia, Chief Shepard’s office… In 1977, frustrated FBI hostage negotiator Special Agent Holden Ford [Jonathan Goff] meets with unit chief [Cotter Smith]... Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Set Decorator
Tracey A. Doyle SDSA
Production Designer
Steve Arnold

In the late 1970s two FBI agents expand criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder and getting uneasily close to all-too-real monsters.
Catching a criminal often requires the authorities to get inside the villain's mind to figure out how he thinks. That's the job of FBI agents Holden Ford [Jonathan Goff] and Bill Tench [Holt McCallany]. They attempt to understand and catch serial killers by studying their damaged psyches. Along the way, working with Boston University psychology professor Wendy Carr [Anna Torv], the agents pioneer the development of modern serial killer profiling.
The crime drama has a strong pedigree behind the camera, with Oscar-nominated director David Fincher and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron among the show's executive producers, and Fincher directing the first episodes.    --Netflix
Add in Production Designer Steve Arnold and Set Decorator Tracey Doyle SDSA, and you know it will have a carefully curated stylized realism mixed with fully realized layered reality. Sets that could be paintings, except they seem so real.
We checked in with the duo for snippets about the making of MINDHUNTER, Season 1...
SET DECOR: We immediately get hints of time and place, yet there is a modern classicism.
What was your approach and what did you wish most to convey?

Production Designer Steve Arnold: I was fortunate enough to be given a backstage tour of the actual buildings at Quantico that are relevant to the story. Although much of it is unchanged from 40 years ago, some parts have been updated. I used elements such as the oak paneling, dark anodized aluminum windows and type of brick prevalent there that I knew were original to Quantico in my designs to try to be as authentic as possible.
Set Decorator Tracey Doyle SDSA: We’re trying to convey the institution, the place and each character within, so our approach for Shepard’s office, for instance, was to make him look important and established, not stylish but true to the early ’70s.
SET DECOR: The minimalism throughout the FBI sets gives us the opportunity to appreciate details such as the echoing of pattern of the carpeting and sofa in his office...or our first look at the basement home of the nascent BSU/Behavioral Science Unit. We love the shot of them arriving in the elevator, the trophy case juxtaposed with the workaday bulletin board and cleaning bucket...great symbolism!
Arnold: The actual basement rooms where behavioral science at the FBI got it’s start no longer exist but many of the elements you see in our set such as the trophy case, the tile flooring, florescent lights, small framed plan maps of the building and pipes in the ceiling are based on the actual basement spaces I saw at Quantico. 
The behavioral unit was very experimental at this time. They wanted to hide them from everyone else, consequently the only room they were allowed was in the basement which was a storage area.

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SET DECOR: There are contrasting warmer palettes for the university sets and the detective’s office in Iowa. The photos we show above do indeed seem almost painterly and yet very real. McGraw’s office is another instant portrait...
Arnold: This was a beautiful old actual former police station in Ambridge, PA that was in pretty rough shape before we did quite a bit of restoration to bring it back to life. I used what I think of as a period police green palette throughout and Tracey added all old oak desks, bookcases, file cabinets, chairs and the period accouterment.
SET DECOR: Then we begin to experience the prison sets, first with the California State Penitentiary in the 1970s. Who would consider a prison set artful? But with the subtle geometric interplay and the huge prisoner...
Doyle: This set was done in a closed-down prison. We were lucky for all the ceramic tile walls to play against...
Arnold: Yes, we built this set into a location at a former prison in Greensburg, PA. Ordinarily for a set like this with so many pages of shooting, we might have built as a stage set, but we really needed the check-in guard station connected to a super long prison corridor connected to the interview room, so this worked well for that arrangement. We did small things with the set and how it was shot to emphasize Ed Kemper’s height.
SET DECOR: From information derived from that interview, the agents were able to help solve a case while in California, which became their first success at profiling. The sets for this part of the story were so poignant...
Arnold: This was one of those fantastic locations that you sometimes run across – it was already rundown and falling apart we had to do very little to give it that trailer trash feel. We changed some of the greens to try to give it more of a California vibe. Part of the kitchen was still intact, we added to it with some great flea market finds. Our buyer Diana Stoughton has over the years collected a stash of old stock vintage wallpaper, which we did the living room with.
Doyle: Yes, and it was a very cramped set! We added simple trailer trash type accents...
SET DECOR: We know the agents are fictionalized versions of the early profilers, but the stories are based on real cases. And there are several more prisons, with interviews of some now infamous killers, each set decidedly different.
Doyle: Because we had so many prisons and police stations, we approached each one with a different style of desks and color of upholstery for the chairs, tables and benches for the prisons...angles and innumerable shades of gray!
Arnold: Many of these were based on research but we were constantly striving to make each of them unique and fit the feel and mood of the characters and still have the look of the part of the country they were supposed to be.
{Editor’s note: All, while shot in Pennsylvania! Check photos above for details on the key prison sets}
SET DECOR: And there are details for all the sets that are unique or highly detailed but might require a second look to realize. Tell us about...
...Lamps & lighting
Doyle: Lighting was always a treasure hunt especially when needing multiples!
Arnold: Having worked with Fincher before I knew going into this how important practical lighting fixtures are on his sets – sometimes we use only practicals to light a scene so on more than one occasion we have had to fabricate special practical lights that need to look period but also provide a very specific kind of light
...Ashtrays, the ubiquitous obets d’desk/table for that period...
Doyle: I would give the OnSet dresser baggies full of cigarette buts at least once a week. Ashtrays are still out there and we had hundreds of them. Again in multiples for the bars and restaurants. I even had some of the classic black plastic ashtrays painted turquoise for a pool set.
...Pipes! Were these all locations that already had them, or did you put in all the “pipes” as well???
Arnold: We put all the pipes in as dressing.
Doyle: Oh yes, there was a lot of pipe construction and the painters were masterful with their gunk and rust.
...Curating/editing set elements...Tell us about the minimalist standard you held to and how you were able to achieve such a maximum effect.
Arnold: Fincher is all about stripping things away – less is more is more.
...Palettes. How these helped define time and places...
Arnold: With Fincher it’s all about controlling what the eye sees and this is particularly true with palettes. He tends to favor lighter backgrounds – it offers more chances for silhouetting the actors. On his shows I tend to use quite a few neutral tones but depending on the character who might be inhabiting the set I will use a warmer or cooler hue. The same is true of the place – cooler for northern or warmer for the south. These colors tend to be quite complex in their makeup. I will almost never use primary colors
SET DECOR: What were the biggest challenges on this production?
Arnold: As with most television it’s always about time or lack of and money or lack of.
Doyle: The biggest challenge was just the unending schedule of episodic TV on location...and add to that, the ‘70s period style. The furniture shopping was great, but I had to use NY sources for period fabric.
SET DECOR: And conversely, what came about much more easily than you expected?
Arnold: Shooting this show in and around Pittsburgh is probably the wisest decision for a show of this period.
And a favorite set?
Doyle: That’s easy, Debbie’s apartment, with all the drippy candle wine bottles of the ‘70s!

Photo 3
FBI academy, Quantico, Virginia Shepard’s office… Shepard introduces Ford [Jonathan Goff] to veteran agent Bill Tench [Holt McCallany], and thus creates the Behavorial Science Unit of the FBI... Holt McCallany, left; Jonathan Goff, right. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 4
FBI academy, Quantico, basement… Production Designer Steve Arnold explains, “The basement rooms where behavioral science at the FBI got its start no longer exist, but many of the elements you see in our set such as the trophy case, the tile flooring, florescent lights, small framed plan maps of the building and pipes in the ceiling are based on the actual basement spaces at Quantico,” Holt McCallany, Jonathan Goff. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 5
Behavioral Science Unit, FBI… “The Behavioral unit was very experimental at this time. They wanted to hide them from everyone else, consequently the only room they were allowed was in the basement, which was a storage area...” Holt McCallany, Christopher Mann, Anna Tory. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 6
Behavioral Science Unit, FBI… The irony of the Behavioral Science unit being stuck in a windowless and concrete setting... Agents Tench & Ford [McCallany, Goff] have recruited Boston University psychology professor Dr. Wendy Carr [Anna Torv] to help them in profiling serial killers... Photo by Patrick Harbron ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 7
Behavioral Science Unit, FBI… First the two team up to travel the country teaching the FBI’s methods to local police. Then discuss the results... Holt McCallany, Jonathan Goff. Photo by Patrick Harbron ©Netflix 2017.

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FBI academy, Quantico, Classroom… Arnold informs... “The Quantico classroom we built is a dead match to the ones still at Quantico. We cheated it to seem like we had more of them, but only built one...” Jonathan Goff. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

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FBI academy, Quantico, Atrium… These sets are beautifully curated. This photo of the Atrium seems a daytime “Nighthawks”... Very Hopperesque, very David Fincher... Jonathan Goff. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

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FBI academy, Quantico Conference room… As in the previous photo/set, based on rooms at the Hoover Library... Jonathan Goff. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 11
FBI, Quantico… “The exterior of Quantico was shot at a VA hospital that was closed down in Pittsburgh. We added this guard shack and did extensive work to the outside of the buildings and grounds.” Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 12
Boston University… Note the quiet symmetry... While few pieces are involved, the set dressing immediately lets us know that we are no longer at the FBI, but at an older institution... Holt McCallany, Jonathan Goff. Photo ©Netflix 2017.

Photo 14
California State Prison, Vacaville… The first of the numerous prison sets. Notice the subtle geometric patterning interplay here... Who would consider a prison set artful? Jonathan Goff. Photo by Patrick Harbron ©Netflix 2017.