Set Decorator Beth Wooke SDSA
Production Designer Clarence Major
A stranger appears...
“After an unspeakable tragedy happens to the CEO of CompWare, a mysterious consultant arrives to take over. Employees experience new demands and challenges that put everything into question, including their lives.” -Amazon Prime
As often happens, the pilot, which became Episode 1, was shot before and separate from the series. Set Decorator Nya Patrinos SDSA and Production Designer Ramsey Avery established the CompWare
set – a game development high-tech company with a lobby flowing into the open workspaces and communal areas, and an upstairs loft containing the executive realm. A steep contemporary staircase designed by (then) Art Director Clarence Major commands the entire space, visually defining the unease and mystery.
When the series went into production, Major became the Production Designer, teaming with Set Decorator Beth Wooke SDSA. We spoke with Beth via email, with notes from Clarence as well, about the myriad aspects of this mysterious, somewhat eerie, somewhat comedic, definitely sinister, thriller.
CompWare. Stairs to Sang, designed by Clarence Major. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
SETDECOR: Please tell us about the essence of the visual symbolism...
The intention, Clarence notes, "Was to symbolically entice, entrap, and finally imprison the characters and, in turn, us as the viewer.”
Beth: Clarence shared with me, one day, the Greek myth The Sword of Damocles, “epitomizing the insecurity of those with great power due to the possibility of that power being taken away suddenly...or, more generally, any feeling of impending doom.”
This shaped my decisions for everything on the set to feel figuratively like the sword hanging overhead, such as the dramatic knife-like chandeliers in the SkyBar (“Starburst” from FormDecor) set...
Skybar. Photo by Andrew Casey © 2022 Amazon Content Services LLC.
Or a cage-like floor lamp (Warner Bros). Even the rusty tools (EC Props) hanging in the Jewelry Back Room, the cage wall of televisions in CompWare, the large overhead logo at top of the stairs and the glass maze of walkways overhead give an impression of unease.
SETDECOR: Please tell us how you expanded on the CompWare set for the series, i.e. the labyrinthian Server Room and the hugely atmospheric and claustrophobic Records Room.
Beth: Clarence’s concept was “to create something that was taking you from the modern/digital of the CompWare offices” through the ominous maze-like room of crumbling plaster walls and towering computer servers, “to the analog/dungeon of the Records Room.”
As Clarence conceptualized these sets with beautiful pre-visualization renderings, and got glowing approvals from Show Runner Tony Basgallop, it was now up to Set Decoration to bring that vision to reality on stage.
With only 3 weeks to build, I ended up having many side meetings with the episode’s Director of Photography Elie Smolkin and Director Dan Attias on how they would choreograph the actors, and the lighting, and ultimately synchronize the server lighting flowing into the Records Room. If you watch carefully, the lighting seamlessly changes from blue to red as Patoff [Christoph Waltz] walks through the “labyrinth”. I rented all the servers from LCW Props weeks before so Elie Smolkin could completely rewire all the lighting with his team.
The Dungeon-like pipes were hand selected from EC Props and aged to perfection by the scenic artists. My leadman Mike Sunga procured hundreds of yards of blue cabling to hang from the ceiling in what Clarence designed to create another tangled web for our characters to get entrapped in…
Server Room: Only the beginning of the maze to the dungeon. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Server Room: In the maze to the dungeon. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
When Patoff, Elaine, and eventually Patty, enter the Records Room, was set up to be another maze-like space, this time with old wooden or steel, pre-computer age/analog file cabinets. I rented as many original antique file cabinets (over 50) from Omega Cinema Props, Advanced Liquidators and Sony Property as possible. However, Director Dan Attias, on the day, pulled more than half out, so he could have his hero shot directly from the door to the typewriter unblocked. I was simultaneously emotionally crushed watching all our hard work being pulled out and rearranged, but full of glee when I realized the cage lamp over the head of Patoff created the perfect “in the crosshairs” symbolism. The characters were figuratively “under the gun”, with the magic of a rusty old green cage light.
Records Room entry. There is no exit.. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Records Room. You are in the crosshairs now. LCW Props, Omega Cinema Props file cabinets. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Records Room, detail...note the gold tone, it has significance. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Propmaster Pat Russo and I had worked together years ago on MURDER IN THE FIRST, and we immediately had that former familial bond working again together. He found the perfect typewriter (ISS Props) for that set, but I found the ashtray with that touch of gold. He and I collaborated almost daily on what set dressing I would be getting and vice versa props.
SETDECOR: Stepping away from the CompWare sets, please tell us about other key sets, i.e.
the culmination of design, décor, and symbolism in the Skybar...
Beth: Shot completely on location on the roof and penthouse of the W Hollywood hotel, this was a blank slate/an empty room, with minimal set decor on site available. All set pieces, walls, furnishings, and lighting had to be brought up to the tenth floor in one elevator shared by all departments with 2 days of prep!
Skybar, reflections in the bar back. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Everything had to be customized for the Skybar...
...Renting booths from Air Design but rushing to create slipcovers in blue velvet at Warner Bros Upholstery department.
...Ordering 20 additional chandeliers, & overnighting them to accommodate the schedule change to the first days of shooting...AND hanging them up!
...All bar glasses and liquor bottles were custom ordered, the tables were rebuilt to light up from rented tables.
...Those fabulous gold lamé sectionals and blue velvet lounge seating were rented from FormDecor.
...I mentioned before the symbolism of the rented fixtures/chandeliers, but also Clarence ordered neon bars hung of blue lighting to create a harrowing vision of a cage overhead with “no end in sight”. Is Craig dreaming this? Can he escape?
Skybar rehearsal revealing the lighting design, again, swords of Damocles. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Skybar. Golden lamé sectional from FormDecor. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
Beth and Clarence on the Skybar set!
SETDECOR: Following that, the rooftop restaurant & lounge... the variety of lighting used to create a romantic-yet-slightly-off-putting atmosphere, including the somewhat caged-in quality of the curtains of lights, echoed by the pendant lights in neon cages hanging overhead.
Beth: The restaurant was another location that needed a lot of modification. Despite being this open air and lovely-at-sunset restaurant with views of the ocean, we still needed to “imprison” Elaine, make her feel trapped outside of her workplace as well as within.
We installed rows and rows of overhead lights all aiming towards a target point on Elaine, the caged pendant lights (Lennie Marvin’s Prop Heaven) and the “crying tears” of lights. Even though you would think that those light “curtains” are easily purchased online, not a single version was incandescent, and we are unable to film LED lights. I tried, with our Director of Photography Edwardo Mayen (whom I knew personally from having worked with on GORDIMER GIBBONS: LIFE ON NORMAL STREET), to make the store-bought versions work, but he sampled several brands and, sadly, those LED lights tend to flicker on camera in a terrible way. At Clarence’s suggestion, Green Set saved the day! We had them custom make that lights drapery from clear incandescent holiday lighting.
Rooftop restaurant. Not as carefree as it might seem at first glance! Cage lights from Lennie Marvin's PropHeaven, “tears” ...the light drapes from Green Set. Image courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Studios.
By the way, If you ever need that same effect, using incandescent non-LED lighting, Green Set has them now hanging on display and completely rentable for your next set…in their Christmas tree section! You’re welcome!
SETDECOR: The Jewelry store... and its back room – a very significant set!
Beth: While the exterior of the Jewelry store was on location, we needed to build the interiors on stage to be able to control that violent scene. Renting jewelry cabinets from Lennie Marvin's PropHeaven wasn’t enough, Clarence needed to copy the cabinet exactly to build a faux candy-glass version the characters could literally smash and grab jewelry in the scene.
Murphy’s law: One of the actors accidentally hit a real one, breaking real glass, so that was scary, but, thankfully, no one was hurt. All the jewelry was rented from RC Vintage and from fellow Set Decorator Susan Eschelbach SDSA, who owns an incredible collection of faux diamond jewelry on display at RC Vintage.
That Jewelry Store Back Room was a crash course for me on forging gold!
Clarence knew from personal experience on exactly how to forge jewelry. Back in his early 20s, during his post graduate work, he wanted to learn jewelry making directly. So, he actually knew the exact temperature for gold to melt. To illustrate his point, he sent me many research videos on how to make gold bars...er…bones (!)
My buyer and Set Decorator coordinator Devin Lennon-Davey found the perfect jewelry workbench out in West Covina from an ad on the Facebook marketplace! We rented many rusty tools and furnishings from the usual suspects, such as EC Props, LCW, and the Warner Bros Basement. We also bought online actual forging tools, then between borrowing from our special effects coordinator...he opened his warehouse for us to use and hand select...and the shadowy lighting, we were able to make the Back Room look so real, but safely on stage.
Editor's note: Click on SHOW MORE PPHOTOS below for detailed images!
SETDECOR: There are so many other interesting sets, but is there one last one to visit right now?
Beth: The Catholic Church…a location, but not Catholic! Production hired a Catholic Priest consultant that I could call on anytime for advice. Clarence, who grew up Catholic in Omaha, had specific visual reference that I needed to find: the confessional, the candles, the art, and all the way down to the color of the cloth across the altar (green), all had to be accurate for the scene.
Starting with the extra-large Cruxifix, I had my buyer Melissa Horning driving hundreds of miles to all the different dusty storage warehouses that Sony Property, Universal Studios and Warner Bros maintain, just to measure and take many photos of, to get approval from Production with 2 different Directors! As you can imagine, these are not in an aisle on some prop house floor, these were well over 14feet tall and stored in off-the-beaten-path of normal set dressing shopping! (Warner Bros, by the way, had the winner!) We had to buy the Virgin Mary downtown at Cotters, a Christian Supply store when no prop house had the right sized version.
The flowers provided by Corri Levelle at Sandy Rose Floral had to match the feel of a Springtime Easter Sermon for two different episodes filmed back-to-back. Corri had all the flowers completely remade after 3 days of filming under hot film lights! The confessional was rented but slightly modified from Omega Cinema Props and the long, wide red-carpet runners along the aisle were purchased from another SDSA business member, Linoleum City.
Fun Fact: DP Elie Smolkin insisted I provide double wick candles! I’m sure this is common to most filmmakers, especially those who do period work, but this was new to me in my 25 years of Set Decorating. I was utterly fascinated to learn such an old school trick to literally double the light source from doubling the wicks on all the candles. What fun! Now where to have those made on short notice? I was fortunate to go to one of Hollywood’s beloved candlemakers, Antonino Ajello House of Candles, Culver City, to purchase tapers, tea lights, and 3” wide candles custom-made by the dozens. I ordered so many extra, as I wasn’t sure of the lifespan of these hot burning candles and wanted to be sure my On Set Dresser Casey Van Maanen had plenty of replacements. We ended up with hundreds left over that I gave to the appreciative Smolkin. He said he uses them in every candle scene he has (i.e. THE OFFER). When you view the wide shot of Patoff and Patty walking down the aisle, those bright candles in the background are truly gorgeous.
Ediitor's note: You can see the reults in our SHOW MORE PHOTOS gallery below.
SETDECOR: The unexpected...
A “little” thing that you wouldn’t think would be problematic?
Beth: Well, Nya Patrinos who decorated the pilot, had created a super large round custom rug for inside the lobby of Compware. With only 1 week to go before filming, a grip accidentally smashed into the automatic sprinkler fire prevention system and flooded the entire set including this custom-made rug. Of course, the rug was made from two different vendors and their limited supply of red and darker red shags they had when Nya had it manufactured was no longer available. There was no way to replicate…so all hands on deck with large air blowers, we had to dry out the carpet in time for first day of filming. It may have been slightly damp for weeks but you will never know…
Editor's note: Yes, we have an image for you! Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS!
SETDECOR: And on the other side, something serendipitous?
Beth: Two things immediately come to mind. Patoff is technically the consultant, but we didn’t want him to use the late CEO’s office “as is” without any touches of his personality. So, between Hand Prop Room and Faux Library, I brought in small desk items that perhaps amongst them one or two Patoff would have brought with him.
One item of note was the crystal ball I rented from Faux Library that had an interesting embedded solar system inside the glass. I liked it aesthetically, but had no idea that Christoph would hold it in his hands during many days of filming. He loved it so much, that he requested to keep it once we completed filming. I tried to find one online but ended up giving it to him and telling Faux library it was going to a good new home!
Edito's note: A perfect close to our SHOW MORE PHOTOS gallery.
Beth: And I am so grateful to the SDSA Set Decorators I have met along the way and can call on when in major crunch times to solve a puzzle-like set challenge. While filming at the W Hollywood hotel, Director Dan Attias suggested we shoot a different scene in the lobby location. Of course, this being last minute, we looked up and saw large oil paintings of iconic rock stars on the walls that would never clear from the artists in time. I remembered that Set Decorator Brandi Kalish SDSA opened up the prop house Studio Arts, with fantastic modern art. I sent her a text of the wall we would be filming, the dimensions and asked what she would do if she were in my shoes. She immediately sent me options via text and I was able to send a truck to her downtown Los Angeles showroom and pick up 3 large oil paintings the next day.
Another fun fact, Dan Attias just wrote a book that was released last year called “Directing for Television: Inside TV’s NEW Golden Era” sharing his own process honed overs a decades long career. If you are interested or want to buy as a gift, its available on the all new setdecorators.org/SHOP
SETDECOR: And, finally, let’s talk about collaboration.
Beth: Clarence and I have known each other for over 20 years, before he had kids in college even! We started in low budget independent movies and worked our way up to high end, big budget commercials for Honda and recently, Sofia Vergara’s “Rooms to Go” furniture line. He and I have a friendship that I cherish, and I was so grateful he was able to hire me on THE CONSULTANT. He is a master of lighting design and I learn so much every time we work together. In the Sky Bar set, he designed the blue bar lights hanging from the ceiling, the elaborate back bar lights on the wall, the light up tables, the “Crying” tree with the cold blue color and so much more.
My leadman Mike Sunga and his amazing crew, including gang boss Branden Grice, always had a positive “make it work” attitude that I was grateful for. No one liked having to drive from the valley every day to Culver City, but they were always on time and cheerful.
I also want to mention our amazing Graphic Designer Miguel Rosario, who custom designed and printed so much artwork. From the sketches in the back room of bones, to the biblical drawings the child makes in secure room, to the 12 stages of the cross printed with gold and framed for the Catholic Church.
And...what is your advice to those who dream of being in your shoes?
Beth: Change Happens! Nothing is static in this business, and unfortunately there are compromises needed sometimes on short notice. I like to keep up-to-date on the prop houses, personally walking the aisles even after I receive hundreds of photos from their websites or from my buyers, in preparation for obstacles that may arrive on any production. Nothing beats seeing in-person the scale or color of a sofa or double-checking the height of a chandelier, for example. It is not always possible, so you have to ask your buyers to use shared photo folders and “mark up” with dimensions text on the image to show Directors on the many location scouts. The production prep times continually compress and with added locations, schedules are always in flux, so knowing what is available can save you stress sometimes. And don’t forget to breathe, and smile!
Editor’s note: Set Decorator Beth Wooke SDSA would like to acknowledge the SDSA Business members on whom she relied for this series, especially:
A-1 Medical Integration | Air Designs | Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals | AMCO American Screen & Window COVERINGS Art Pic | Alley Cats | Advanced Liquidators OfficeFurniture | DAZIAN | E.C. Prop Rentals | Faux Library Studio Props | FormDecor Furniture Rental | Green Set | Hand Prop Room | Hollywood Studio Gallery | ISS/Independent Studio Services | Jackson Shrub | LCW Props | Lennie’s Marvin Propheaven | Linoleum City | Mannequin Gallery | Nest Studio Rentals | Omega Cinema Props | Pinacoteca Picture Props | Practical Props |RC Vintage & Susan Eschelbach SDSA (her Faux Jewelry rental at RC Vintage) | Sandy Rose Florals | Show Biz Balloons | Sony Property/Sony Pictures Studios | Studio Arts LLC | Town & Country Event Rentals | U-Frame-It Gallery | Universal Studios Property and Drapery | Warner Bros Property and Upholstery