April 25th, 2022 by Kimberly Leonard SDSA
Still in headlines today, awaiting sentencing in September, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of the biotech company Theranos, had rocketed to the pinnacle of microfluidics technology entrepreneurship, landing on the covers of Fortune and Forbes magazines in 2014 as “the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire” for her company’s seemingly breakthrough blood-testing device, purporting to not only “change the world, but change the world for good”. By the end of the following year, revelations in the press about the inaccuracies of the tests, and the steps Holmes and Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani took to hide the information, brought on a series of legal investigations leading to a Federal Grand Jury indicting them on multiple counts of fraud.
It’s a tech fairy tale/nightmare with all of the trappings of Silicon Valley, except that it is a true story!
Theranos, EH office...CEO/Founder Elizabeth Holmes [Amanda Seyfried] and COO Sunny Balwani [Naveen Andrews]. Photo by Michael Desmond ©2021 Hulu
The Limited Series THE DROPOUT takes us into the world of this “unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong,” as HULU describes, conveyed by the dynamic and oft times uncannily accurate sets by Production Designer Cat Smith, Set Decorator Kimberly Leonard SDSA who was responsible for the permanent sets and establishing episodes, Set Decorator Regina O’Brien SDSA who handled the swing sets for the final episodes... and their seemingly indefatigable teams. We were particularly curious about the Theranos configuration, and all the various labs depicted to get to that point, so Kimberly has shared with us some great behind-the-scenes notes.
Note: Look for an article with Regina next month re: her upcoming show: I LOVE THAT FOR YOU! And check out our fabulous article with Kimberly, in 2021, for the phenomenal sets on BLINDSPOTTING!
And, as always, enjoy!
Theranos, conference room. Courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
From Set Decorator Kimberly Leonard SDSA...
“I first learned of “The Dropout” project right before the Covid shutdown in 2020. I had been following the Elizabeth Holmes case since the beginning and was completely obsessed! So, when I was asked to set decorate by Cat Smith in 2021, she could barely finish the sentence before I said ‘Yes’!”
“The challenge of block shooting four episodes at once...tons of sets over multiple time periods, including countless labs...and, of course, the crown jewel of the sets, the Theranos headquarters at Page Mill. I couldn’t wait to start collaborating. This was going to be a great challenge.”
Theranos, “brainstorming” room. Courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
“Where to start? We knew that everything for ALL sets had to be planned and ordered right away! We were finding that with several things at work...like our tricky schedule, lots of and far locations, shipping containers being backed up, Covid supply chain issues, etc...staying focused on timelines was going to be even trickier than usual.”
Theranos...Open concept: glass-walled rectangular meeting room transitions the different curvature work areas. Courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
Theranos...Open concept: Multiple workstations and work areas. Screen image courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
"Theranos headquarters, Page Mill was, by far, the most challenging, and rewarding, set. The open concept design, distance and scale...approximately 60,000 sq ft, including labs...made this our biggest challenge. This was on location, created at an existing office building where a floor was gutted, reconfigured, and re-created to emulate Theranos. This is the set that most people think of when they think ‘Theranos’! There were over 150 workstations created, including custom tables made by our Construction team, that could be seen throughout the multiple walk-and-talks of the set.”
Theranos...Left: Stephen Fry as British biochemist and Theranos chief scientist. Screen image courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
Theranos...In this closer view of that work area, you can see clients waiting in the glass meeting room, right. Note the details for the individual workstations, including someone has received a Valentine’s gift! Not only does it bring more character to the space, it also subtly defines time of year, no calendars on the wall here! Screen image courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
Theranos, BTS...Workstations have to be freshened and either set back to camera, or slightly changed to depict another day. Courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
Theranos, BTS...More set details to attend to behind the scenes! Courtesy ©2021 Hulu.
“To create the workstations, multiples of period (and working!) Apple desktop set ups, telephones, rolling chairs, guest chairs, file cabinets, customized Theranos folders, window shades, plus actual motorized blinds and drapery (for Elizabeth and Sunny’s Offices).
The work on this set was constant, customizing each workstation and office, until it was completed and revealed! The Set Dressing crew was critical to making these sets come alive. Their experience, focus, and eye for detail was crucial.”
Theranos, Sunny’s office...CEO/Founder Elizabeth Holmes [Amanda Seyfried] and COO Sunny Balwani [Naveen Andrews] scramble to find solutions to their technological failures, while trying to keep a veil of secrecy about them. Photo by Beth Dubber ©2021 Hulu.
Theranos lobby...Elizabeth Holmes [Amanda Seyfried]. Photo by Michael Desmond ©2021 Hulu.
Amanda Seyfriend gives 20/20 a tour of the set...
And there's so much more!
Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below to see how the labs evolved with the story and the mystery of the secrets and lies, including a secret lab!
* Set Decorator credits for THE DROPOUT:
Set Decorator Kimberly Leonard SDSA: Episodes 1-6
Set Decorator Regina O'Brien SDSA: Episodes 6-8