Alfred Sole (Production Designer)
MI.net: You have to clear the art?
Alfred: Yes, all our art work has to go through the legal department before it goes up on the wall. Because they are afraid of getting sued. We can't shoot anything without permission.
Alfred: Anything. Soda. Any product, we can't shoot. Any artwork, we can't shoot. Any pictures, we can't shoot. We have to get everything cleared.
MI.net: Is that why you use generic soda and label-less water bottles?
Alfred: Yes, yes.
MI.net: I was wondering why, because every time they show a water bottle, it has no label.
Alfred: Product has to do with television because they sell commercial time, so they never know who people buying time from them are. Artwork has to do with lawsuits because they'll sue you for copyright issues. We used to be able to....We saw a photograph, we'll call the photographer, and say, "Hey, can we use your photograph?" Now you've got to get permission from the people in the photograph and also from the person who took the photograph. We have someone on clearance all day long.
MI.net: I didn't realize that the issue was that complicated.
Alfred: Very complicated. Then we also have to show them that everything that's cleared, that the lawyers have looked at it. Standards and Practices sometimes has to look at it because we can't show any nudity, or anything offensive. It's all in the matter of eight days, because we are rushing so quickly. So most we time we create it ourselves. You interviewed Rick, right?
Alfred: Rick does great graphics, and he's always creating something. I'll go to him and say, "Hey, we need a painting," or, "Do this for a sign."
MI.net: So it's easier to get Rick to make something rather than to clear it through all this legal stuff?
Alfred: It's easier. I have painters, scenics, and they paint. Like we had this episode where we are in this really great beach house, where we just painted all these abstract paintings. I wanted these really big paintings that are eight feet tall. So we got on a ladder, we threw paint on the canvas. We made paintings.
MI.net: Is there any set that you liked in particular, that you are really proud of?
Alfred: I think the high school, because you can be in the school and you can walk outside and you're in the school.
MI.net: How big is that high school set?
Alfred: It's about 5,000 square feet inside and 5,000 square feet outside.
MI.net: Wow, 10,000 square feet.
Alfred: Well, maybe less. Say six all together.
MI.net: That is a pretty amazing set, how it's both outdoors and indoors.
Alfred: That I'm kind of proud of. And the hotel suite, in terms of being just a little more creative than the average sets. Her bedroom too. I love her bedroom.
MI.net: Her bedroom, how come she has windows on three sides of room? How's that physically possible?
Alfred: It's possible because we needed to light that set from different angles. What we are saying is that it's a corner room. The windows behind the bed are not supposed to be window-windows. They're supposed to be more like backlit. In the '70s, some of the apartments used to have fluorescent fixtures behind panes of glass. That was the genesis of that. Because she has windows in the bathroom, windows on the side, and then behind the bed, it was supposed to be more decorative than a window. Somehow, when they photograph it, it sometimes comes off like a window.
MI.net: Oh, so it's not a window.
Alfred: Yeah, it's just a light. It was very typical of modern apartments in the '70s. Not typical, but kind of the trendy ones that they started building. The development kind of apartments where they have lots of apartments together in courtyards in California. That was a feature they always had.
MI.net: And why did her furniture keep moving around in the beginning of last season?
Alfred: The directors come in, they have these shots, and they kind of move the furniture. We ask them not to, but sometimes they have these really great shots. It's not my call, I can't say no. The producers have to really say no to something like that.
MI.net: Oh, I see. Because it was really confusing. Sometimes her bed is near the window...
Alfred: Her bed moves from one place to another place.
MI.net: You're like, "Why is she doing that?" But it's the director.
Alfred: All the walls on the sets are wild. So sometimes to save time, when they don't want to pull a wall, they'll move the furniture. You know, because it will save them a couple hours work.
MI.net: Are those walls movable?
MI.net: And those sets have ceilings too?
MI.net: Is that normal?
Alfred: I like ceilings because it makes it look more realistic. And I try to put ceilings on all my sets. Because when you're in the room, and you want to shoot up, I think it's really believable. That's just something I as a designer want on the sets. I think that's really important.
MI.net: Is it more difficult to light the set if it has a ceiling?
MI.net: How do you light it?
Alfred: The ceilings are really made of fabric and they're in sections. You lift them up, then you hang lights. And then when you're lighting the ceilings, you put the fabric back on. It's stretch fabric, painted. And there are some hard ceilings. The police station, I used real acoustic ceiling. And they just light from the actual fixtures. You sit down with the electricians and the camera department, you plan the sets and how they're going to light it. So we give them actual fixtures and stuff that they know that's going to help light the sets.
MI.net: Why did the police department change?
Alfred: That was a location that we weren't allowed to go back to.
MI.net: What was that location? Was it a real police department?
Alfred: No, that was actually a parks department I changed. I brought in some walls, I put [on] molding, and I painted the whole place. They kind of freaked out; they didn't want us back.
MI.net: Oh, that's why it changed. So you had to build your own police department.
Alfred: Well, because every time we had to go there, we had to go back again, we had to add some moldings again, and paint again. And they didn't want to be disturbed. They also thought if we put it on stage, that's another day on stage. And then the question is, do we really have to match that same police station? We couldn't afford it because the police station was big. It had high ceilings. So we went for a whole new design.
MI.net: I see. People were like, "What happened to the police station? Why did it change?"
Alfred: We got kicked out! That was the number one cause of it.
MI.net: But it wasn't anything you did?
Alfred: They didn't want us back. They said, "No, you can't come back anymore."
MI.net: So when they told you that, and you had to build a new stage, does that mean you can't build something else? You have to take the budget from something else.
Alfred: Yeah, we have a limited amount of stage space, so I had to figure out how to make a police station that you could shoot from every angle. Once you're on the stage, it becomes a whole different thing about pulling the walls out. Shooting where the camera is so they can dolly and move around. It becomes a more practical element in terms of the crew, because there's a lot of people. We only have a limited amount of stage space we can use up and rent, because we are renting stage space from Stu Segall Productions. We decided that it was okay to go for a new design.
MI.net: So what are the permanent sets?
Alfred: The permanent sets are: her father's office, Mars Investigations; their apartment, which is her bedroom, his bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living area, the porch that's outside the apartment; all the school; the police station; and now the hotel. That's the big, permanent sets. And then we have swing sets. A lot of the bedrooms were swing sets last year. They were shot on the stage. The poolhouse, remember where she found out that he was videotaping her? We built that set. Mostly we built all the bedrooms. And there was a doctor's office, we built that. I'm trying to think what else we did. We had quite a few last year. And then this year, we have a beach house, and we have another house we are building now too.
MI.net: That seems like a lot of sets.
Alfred: It is a lot of sets. But you know what, compared to other shows....It depends on the show and the money.
MI.net: Like some sitcoms maybe just have two sets.
Alfred: Yes, those are like three-cameras shows. They're shot totally different. The thing is, it is shot like a feature in terms of sets.
MI.net: Was the stuff in the pilot, were those sets or location?
Alfred: All that was location because when you shoot a pilot, you don't know whether you'll be picked up or not, so they tend to use more locations. Her apartment was location. Mars Investigations was location.
MI.net: But you tried in the final sets to make Mars Investigations look like that location? And you tried to make her apartment look like the location?
Alfred: Yes. Although we switched apartments. The exterior of the apartment looks like....We also couldn't go back to that apartment that we shot in so...
MI.net: Did they kick you out too?
Alfred: They didn't kick us out, it was an hour away from our home base, so we found an apartment that was closer. So the exterior matches...we made that change. [totally-caught-off-guard voice] God, you know what?
Alfred: [sheepish-oh-no voice] We get caught though, don't we?
MI.net: For what? You switching sets?
Alfred: Yeah, yeah.
MI.net: Yeah, we noticed that the high school set changed. We notice that stuff. Rick freaked out when I told him all the stuff that we notice.
Alfred: Who freaked out?
MI.net: Rick. During our interview, I was talking about specific props he did, and he was like, "You noticed that?!" "Yes, Rick."
Alfred: I'm surprised too. That's great though.
MI.net: On Television Without Pity, whenever new people start tuning in, they go, "Wait, wasn't that a different high school? Wasn't that a different police department?" "Yes."
Alfred: Well, tell them to have pity on us. [both laugh] Tell them to please have pity on us. There's lots of reasons why things happen like that. It's not mistakes. That's the one thing, it's not really a mistake. Things change, we have to change. And directors come and go. It's more complicated than that. It's not so blatant that we don't want to keep...because the look of the show is really important.