Alfred Sole (Production Designer)
MI.net: Do you design all the sets?
MI.net: Do you start out with a sketch?
Alfred: If it's a location, we start out with a location, and we add things. But if it's a brand new set, we start out with a design. And then from the design, I give them a sketch of what it's going to look like. And then we go from that to a working, draft drawing. We have an art director who drafts all the details, like construction. And then from there we do a bid on what it's going to cost. Then we present it to the powers that be for approval or no approval. Or go back to the drawing board and do something a little bit more creative and less expensive. And ultimately, we build it. Most of the time I'm proud to say, if I do a sketch, it looks....I mean my sketches aren't that great, but it's pretty close to....You look at the sketch, you look at the actual room, they're pretty close.
MI.net: Did you study interior design or architecture?
Alfred: I studied architecture. I went to school in Italy and I got a degree in architecture.
MI.net: Would you rather do this or real architecture?
Alfred: Well, I've always wanted to be in the movie business. At one point, I tried to do other things. Ultimately, I managed to survive in the movie business. You know, I wrote....I've been around for a long time. Surviving in Hollywood from New Jersey.
MI.net: How did you end up in Hollywood? New Jersey, Italy, and then Hollywood.
Alfred: First I went to school in Italy. I was fortunate enough to do that. Then I came back and made a movie in New Jersey, which I kind of wrote and directed. And it got me to Hollywood. It was survival in Hollywood. Which was actually fun. I like what I do, I really do. I enjoy it. I look forward to coming to work everyday. Because I have the attention span of a three-year-old. There's always something new.
MI.net: So you like the fact that there's constantly stuff going on?
Alfred: Yeah, yeah. Every day is different. Every day I'm working with Rob, the directors, and the producers. It's really fun. This show, the karma of the people is very, very nice. That's nice. We laugh a lot, we work hard, and we're creative. It's kind of a family down there.
MI.net: We've heard that. A lot of people say it's pretty nice to work there.
Alfred: It's really nice. We're away from Hollywood so we're not so Hollywood.
MI.net: Because it's filmed in San Diego.
MI.net: So I guess you live in San Diego now?
Alfred: Yes, ten months out of the year.
MI.net: So how long does it take you to build a set, from your sketch to approval?
Alfred: Four to six weeks. That's a big set, a permanent set. Small sets, which are called swing sets, they're the ones you build and take down, two weeks, ten days. Even less sometimes. We have a full staff here. We have a construction department. We have a scenic department, which is painters and sculptors. That's usually what a TV series will have. We have carpenters, cabinet makers, and artists. My construction coordinator has a degree in fine arts. My art director I have right now is an architect himself. We have good creative people here.
[Editor's note: You guys have TWO architect graduates in your crew? Dagnabbit, I should have stayed in architecture school.]
MI.net: About how many people work there in your department?
Alfred: Let me count. Let me see, let me look at the crew list. I would say....If we are building major sets, then it's more, because we bring on laborers as we need it. But as the permanent crew, I have a decorator, he decorates the sets. I would say, 25 people.
MI.net: Wow, that's a lot.
Alfred: Yeah. We have the decorator; he has a swing gang. They dress the sets. He shops the sets. We have a big art department. I mean, not as big as some of the other shows, but we carry a nice art department. We always want more, but nobody wants to give it to us. The hotel set we added, we added more carpenters as we need them. More painters.
MI.net: These sets are kind of fake, but is it a pretty sturdy construction?
Alfred: As a production designer, I pride myself that my sets don't look cheap. Because you can look at a set and you can tell really cheap sets. Because everybody goes to the movies these days. I don't care if you have one hundred dollars, or one hundred million dollars, everyone watches with the same eye. I think you have to be really careful, because if the sets look cheap, and they don't look real, I think it reflects on the show. That's one thing that I do pride myself with, that the sets look really good in terms of details.
MI.net: So are you in charge of all these details or do you have the big idea, and let, like, the set designers do their thing?
Alfred: Ultimately, I'm in charge of that. The buck stops at the production designer.
MI.net: So you have to approve of all these decisions? You say, "No, I want this color wall."
Alfred: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MI.net: That's a lot of stuff to decide.
Alfred: It's a lot. Believe me, I don't want to sound like I'm on this ego trip; not only do I do that, but other production designers do that too. That's the job of a production designer. All the details, everything is....And it's also collaborative too. But most of the time all that detail, ultimately, it's the responsibility of the production designer.
MI.net: You've worked in film. Is working in film and TV as a production designer different?
MI.net: How's it different?
Alfred: In television the creator of the show is the person who you...for money and stuff, it's obviously the studio, but ultimately the creator of the show is the visionary of the show. So you need to make sure his vision and characters are in the right environment. It's ultimately his show; he created these characters. It's the strength of that, you know. In movies, the director has more power. So you work with the director, and the director has more say. In movies it's different; directors wield more power. But in television series it's the creator of the series who has the power. Which is rightly so because the directors come and go every week. The writers, it's like their children. It's like theatre.
MI.net: Do the directors have any say in the sets?
Alfred: Yeah. They have say when we go scouting. The directors are always with us. He's got to be happy with the location. The director has to be happy with the location. Rob has to be happy with the location. So it's collaborative. There are some times Rob will say, "Let's really stay here because it looks better. They'll listen to me because I know the show better than the directors who come in." For a series, it's different. I hope this doesn't sound like one big, huge ego trip because it's not.
Alfred: It's a process. But the art department has a lot of responsibility in films. You go to the movies, you see these great sets. It's really a good part of film making.
MI.net: How much do you guys spend per episode on just this part of the show? Are you in charge of budget?
Alfred: I'm in charge of being responsible to the budget. We're given the budget, we're given the parameters of where they want to stay. And we also hand in the budget. It's a compromise of the reality of what it would cost and what they want to budget each episode. It's a collaborative, compromising thing from the studio. Rob is really good at....His knowledge of filmmaking is really strong. So a lot of times he'll cut a scene or cut a location because he knows it's too expensive, we can't afford it. He's really smart about that.
MI.net: Is that one of the reasons why they changed the Lilly storyline from when she was found in the ocean?
Alfred: I'm sorry, the storyline when she was found in the ocean?
MI.net: In the original pilot, she was supposed to be found in the ocean. But later on, she was found in the Kane estate when it aired.
Alfred: Oh, I didn't know that. That's something new to me. Oh, yes, wait a minute, you're talking about Lilly.
MI.net: Lilly, from the first season.
Alfred: I don't know why. Because in the pilot we shot that actually in a swimming pool. Some neighbors. We found some woman, and we were hoping we could use her swimming pool. Yeah, I don't know why they did that to be honest with you.
MI.net: So you don't know why.
Alfred: I think that's a Rob question, actually.
[Editor's note: Dear Rob...]
MI.net: I just thought it might be cost or something because you were just mentioning cost.
Alfred: I think it was in terms of his creative storyline. I don't think it was in terms of cost. I think that was creative. Yeah, but I remember I had brought in all this kelp. We weren't sure whether it was going to float or not.
MI.net: Where did you buy kelp?
Alfred: I found this company that makes fake kelp. I thought, "Oh God." And we were doing it in a swimming pool, so we tied cinder blocks, and we sunk the kelp. [chuckles] And it worked! And then I put black panels in this lady's pool; she was freaking out. We didn't want to see the depth because you saw the tile in the pool.
MI.net: And they didn't use it.
Alfred: Actually, you know, it's in the title sequence in the early days. I thought, you see her floating somewhere.
MI.net: No, I think they cut all that stuff. It might be on the DVD, maybe, because they're supposed to have the original pilot. So we might see your kelp after all.
[Editor's note: Hmmm, forty bucks to see Alfred's kelp?
Totally worth it.]
Alfred: That was like crazy. See, that's what I like. The illusion, it's fun. When it works, you think, "Oh, that's a good trick."
MI.net: It looks cool, but it's just cinder blocks and black panels.
Alfred: All it is is cinder blocks and black panels in a pool. And when we first tried it, the panels started coming off the walls. [both laugh] I can remember that.
MI.net: Did you guys have to stay in the pool that long?
Alfred: We guys in the pool, yeah, we had guys in the pool shooting that. And it was this tiny pool. We had to be in the same neighborhood because we couldn't move the trucks. And so this lady, we were in her pool, she thought we were all crazy. We came in, knocked on her door, and said, "Can we use your pool?"
MI.net: Has anyone ever kicked you out after seeing what you guys do?
Alfred: Are you kidding me? You know one of the things that locations does, that we do here, is that we are very respectful of the places because we want to go back. Because you'll never know when we'll have to go back. We got kicked out of one mansion this season. The guy freaked out. He had a panic attack. When we arrived...because we are like circus people, with trucks...we're like elephants. It was a great house, too. First I was in shock that the guy said yes. The house was like a 10-million-dollar house. And most of these houses look alike when you drive around, but this was a great house. Great front. And he said, "Yes." And I'm thinking, [here-comes-trouble voice] "Oh, boy." So we arrived. We always have a location person there to make sure the owner of the house is happy and we don't do any damage. This group of people, the producer Howard Rigsby is really good at that too. He just panicked. He said, "I can't have you back again." We're like ants, we come there and invade his house and his things. [chuckles]
Oh, the other thing is that we put a painting on the wall. This guy has three homes, I think he said he had. He owns original art, you know. So when he saw we put this fake art on the wall, he had an attack. [laughs] [panic-stricken voice] "You're not going to leave that there are you? I can't believe you guys are putting that up." So I took him aside and I say, "Look, this is television, you know what I mean. It's going to look good on television." Because we have to clear all our art too, that's the other thing.