Alfred Sole (Production Designer)

Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and comments. (September 16, 2005)

We've had the goddess Diane, and we've had the wizard Rick. (You've seen them, right? You bet we'd like to think we've had them that way, but, alas, no, not that way.) Now, we are proud to say that we have Alfred the Great. Not the English king who burned the cakes (look it up), but the production designer on Veronica Mars. As King Alfred marshalled his subjects to fight off the Danes, so Alfred Sole creates the sets and marshals his band of carpenters, construction workers, painters, set decorators, and other creative folk to produce the show's look and feel. Environment creation maestro (he studied architecture in Italy, don't you know) and all-around good guy (he loves Veronica, don't you know), Alfred bares his Sole. The first question is, how'd you join the show?

Alfred: I interviewed for the job. My agent called me, and they set up an interview for the show, and I came down. I read the script, the pilot, and I loved it. I thought it was really, really fun. I came down and interviewed. I met Rob, and I met the director, and I got hired on the spot. I was supposed to do Entourage, and they couldn't make up their minds. It was between me and another designer, and they were hemming and hawing. I just said, "Okay, yes," because I got a call from my agent saying, "You have to decide now."

It was really nice because Rob was so gracious at the meeting, and so nice to me. And the script was so good. The pilot I thought was dynamite.

[Editor's note: Oh, oh, oh, Rob stole Alfred from the Piven.] So when you said you came down, were you in L.A.?

Alfred: I was actually in Utah. You were in Utah?

Alfred: But I didn't come down specially. I'd come down to do some interviewing. I had actually come down to meet for Entourage. Was this your first TV show?

Alfred: No. I've done movies-of-the-week. I've done Everwood, I don't know if you've seen that series. It's on WB. Everwood? Oh, that wasn't listed on your bio.

Alfred: So I did Everwood. What else did I do? I've done a lot of movies of the week. I've done lots of television. Lots of television. And I've done a lot of Disney Channel Halloweentowns with Debbie Reynolds. I did those. We looked up your bio, and it said you were an actor.

Alfred: No. That wasn't you?

Alfred: [laughing] I don't know where that bio came from. No, I'm not an actor. It said you were in Glory Daze.

Alfred: [cracking up] Yeah, but I was a production designer, and they stuck me in a scene, but I'm not an actor. As a joke, we did it as a hoax. I was walking around holding a big fish. [both laugh] That's all it takes.

Alfred: I would never... You should check it out. It says: Glory Daze, you were an actor.

Alfred: [still cracking up] No, no. I don't know. I have to check this bio. Production designer, what exactly does that mean?

Alfred: Production designer works with the director, and the producer, and the cameraman. It's the look of the show, the style of the show and the look of the show. You design the sets, and you build the sets. I guess that's the best way to describe what a production designer does. Most of the stuff that you see on the screen, the production designer is involved. Except for television, it's a little bit different because wardrobe does wardrobe. But after wardrobe, every thing else is camera, and production design, and director. And of course, the producer. I mean, Rob created the show. It's his show and it's his baby. Whatever makes him happy is where Veronica should be, what the look of the show should be.

[Editor's note: Golly, we can only hope Dawn Ostroff and Les Moonves share the same philosophy.] So how much say do you get? Do you have an idea and then you run it through Rob? Or does he have ideas and....

Alfred: It's collaborative. Sometimes he'll leave me alone, but most of the time....It's his show. I draw sketches and show him what I think. Most of the time we're all on the same page. Can you take us through a typical episode? You get a script, then what?

Alfred: I get a script. We break it down, what the sets are. And we go through....It depends, if it's a doctor's office, if it's another detective agency, or this new episode we are in a women's club. We just discuss what....I go scouting, because if it's a location, then I go scouting to find a location. Or if we build it, then I draw it up, and we make plans. And then we have a draftsman; he drafts it. Then construction builds it. So what determines if you build a set or go on location?

Alfred: Our show shoots in eight days. They like to be, in terms of budget, four to five days on stage, and then the rest out on location. And there's never a location where I don't do something. I'll have to build a wall or build....We always redesign our locations too. I mean, it's not like a big deal, but we paint, we add....Like this last show we were at the exterior of a house, and I added a brick front to the landscaping to make the house look better. Or we add doorways. There's always something that construction is involved in. So as a production designer, I'm always trying to give....We have a look on the show which I think we're all very proud of. How would you describe that look?

Alfred: More in tone of music videos, in terms of the high contrast, and the sharp colors that seem to come from nowhere. I put a lot of colors in the windows. Thanks to the DP, they make it really look great instead of cheesy. There's all that stained glass stuff.

Alfred: Yeah. If you notice in her bedroom, in the windows I put green and yellow. And I kind of worked off of that and made a lot of monochromatic light sources. The more light sources, the more color we use, the better I think the show looks. I'm not afraid to use green. Especially, you know, green was always like a television "No you can't use green. You can't use green." I've done a lot of music videos. And if you look at music videos, the colors are always more interesting, and more contrast-y. It kind of filters down. What happens in music videos and commercials eventually gets to, except for big features, it kind of filters down eventually to television. They're getting more savvy. The shows I'm seeing on television today are looking greater and greater. Did you get a lot of ideas from your music video background, in terms of color and...

Alfred: Yeah. I worked with Mary Lambert a lot. Who's she?

Alfred: She's a director. Madonna, Sting. We did a Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey duet. In our music video days, we did "Like a Prayer." Mary, at one time she was really hot, when they were doing expensive music videos. And she's also a director. We've done a lot of things together. Yeah, I think that's one of the things about the show is the colors. People do screen captures. Just by looking at the screen captures, one scene's green, then the next is blue, and red. All these really strong colors, which is really cool.

Alfred: Good. Most of the time it's coming through the lights or windows. I put a lot of gels on the windows.

I go to the movies a lot. Do you know the director who did In the Mood for Love? Do you know that movie? Nope.

Alfred: He's my favorite director. He's got a new movie out called 2046. He's from China. I think he's absolutely brilliant. I can't remember his name [Wong Kar Wai] and I love him so much. He uses a French cameraman. If you look at should rent it. It's called In the Mood for Love. It's like kabuki theater. The colors are breathtaking. Color is really important, especially from a production designer's point of view. I'm really careful what we paint the walls and how we paint the rooms. I'm really proud of the new set we've built, which is the hotel suite. Is that a permanent set?

Alfred: Permanent set, yeah. So there's going to be a lot of hotel stuff?

Alfred: Yeah. And great color. I have all the panels of orange glass. It's pretty cool, actually. It's kind of nice, in contrast to all the white/beige scenes that you see in other places.

Alfred: Like I said, if you get a chance to watch that movie, rent it. It's just beautiful. He's so far ahead of the curve. Do they ever tell you to tone it down?

Alfred: You know what, no one has said anything so far. [chuckles] The Echolls house was pretty white.

Alfred: Yeah, that was a location that we weren't allow to paint. We get some of these big mansions, and we're barely allowed to do anything because the people get very, very nervous. So the only painting I do is I paint the walls white again because there was damage on the walls. Also, we can't afford to go in and paint. In a 10 to 15 million dollar mansion, if we asked to paint the walls, they'll say, [curt voice] "No, thank you. Go away." That's one of the hardest things to find, especially locations. People who own a home like that, they don't let you in their home for the money. They let you in their home because maybe they have a daughter or someone who likes to look and wants to watch. Most of the time that's why we are there. Is that how you got that house?

Alfred: Yeah. It was looking, and looking, and looking, until finally we got a house that we all liked and someone said yes. So you're always looking for places?

Alfred: Yeah. We're in the van a lot scouting locations. Are you personally in the van?

Alfred: I'm in the van. The location person is in the van, and the director, and the producer Howard [Rigsby] is in the van. Do you look in San Diego or do you go even farther out?

Alfred: Mainly in the San Diego area because of production. If you go too far, then it eats into the day of filming. Is it normal for a show to do three days on location?

Alfred: It depends on the show. Some shows are in....I think Charmed is on the stage all the time, so they don't go out at all. Maybe they go out for a day. It depends on the requirements for the show. But the more on stage you are, in terms of cost of production, it's better for the show. But on a creative level, it gets kind of claustrophobic. One thing I like about Rob's scripts is he's always off somewhere interesting. You're always going from one place to another place. For me, I enjoy that. Has there been a location that you've really wanted, but then the people said, "No"?

Alfred: Yes, that happens all the time. [laughs] We get a lot of no's here. Sometimes I feel like that ad where he says, "No. No. No." It's an ad for Capital One.

[Editor's note: "No, No, No"?! What's the matter with you people? Dumb, dumb, dumb.] So basically you're saying if anyone in the San Diego area has a location that you would like, you'd take volunteers.

Alfred: I mean, last week we were shooting in a hotel. Looking for a great hotel like the W or the Standard in L.A. We found a few but they all strung us along, strung us along, and then last minute said no. We get that a lot. Which is understandable, you know. We're in their world. They have to run a business.

Alfred: Yeah.

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