Steve Geaghan -- production designer
What exactly does a production designer do?
I’ve heard several definitions. In basic terms (visually) the Production Designer is responsible for everything that goes in front of the camera that isn’t an actor. In essence our primary job is to provide appropriate environments where at a glance without a word ever being said the audience knows who or what inhabits that space. The Designer is responsible for interpreting the script and creating appropriate environments that exemplify the intent of the characters and the scene. The sets are in fact working machines that allow the crew to safely and expediently shoot the scene. At a more subtle level it is our job to bring to the fore those elements in the script which are implied but not stated. These are those elements that elucidate a character, his or her traits and those elements that reveal some aspect to aid the audience in understanding their motivation.
What did you enjoy most about working on Lucifer, and what was your favourite episode to work on?
I enjoyed the freshness and originality of the premise embodied in the scripts. Lucifer incarnates on earth to become an advisor to the LAPD and one officer in particular, Chloe Decker. What’s the connection between them? Why is he so enthralled with her? Now that was original thinking; the scripts explored that relationship and never missed a step.
My favorite season 1 episode would have to be #13, “Take me back to hell.” I got to create hell. What a rush. In season 2 It would have to be episode 201, “Everything ’s coming up Lucifer.” That’s where we premiered the new updated LAPD precinct offices.
Tell us about the process of working from the script to the screen.
I could write a book on the subject of working from the script to the screen and many have been written already. I can’t say that every Designer’s process is similar but I have honed my own development process to make it as clear and efficient as I can. Time is money and Television is lean on both counts. Assuming that the script has been read several times and I am conversant with most of its physical requirements there is the process of talking in depth with the producers, writers and director about their views. In many cases the producers are the writers and the director hasn’t been hired yet so it simplifies the process at the beginning. Usually I try to apply an overriding visual metaphor to the design. The Hell set for Lucifer began as my question to Director, Nathan Hope: “How do you see Hell?” His reply was, “Its a hallway with doors.” Fingals Cave in Ireland came to mind as a metaphor with its giant basalt columns reaching deep beneath the earth into the bowels of hell. Those hexagonal columns became hell’s walls and the doors were tailored each to a specific soul trapped behind the doors in their own individuated piece of hell. Fleshed out with dramatic light and ash falling from an unseen source I believe it was a successful set.
The season 2 Police Precinct set evolved from a brief conversation with Producer/Writer Ildy Modrovich who felt that the police station should be a repurposed building. Hence the angular brick & concrete deconstructivist look of our police station with a severely angled ceiling and exposed trusses that opened to the LA skyline on one end and compressed down to the barely 9’ high interview room on the other increasing the pressure on the interviewee. Its open plan and multiple levels allowed easy camera movement providing great angles for dynamic shooting.
The following may not be relevant to Lucifer but this is how the main set for Take Two evolved:
In the case of the Valetic Investigations Offices the environment rode on a metaphor of solid, honest, inquiry. This is exemplified in the floor to ceiling concrete divider wall in the firm’s lobby area. It directly states Valetic Investigations inlayed into the concrete. The divider is penetrated by the reception desk one corner of which neatly pierces the wall. The environment is old brick & concrete with 14’ ceilings and 30’ skylight which opens up to the sky in what would otherwise be an oppressive enclosed space giving the central core an expansive feeling both day and night. The walls between the offices are glass allowing a high degree of transparency through out the set.
Not much changed from the first conceptual sketches to the final technical drawings due in large part to the easy working relationship Andrew Marlowe, Terri Edda Miller, John Terlesky (director) and I established early on in the development. Their clarity made the process uncommonly rapid taking only 6 weeks from January 2, 2018 to our Shoot day 1 in mid February.
The main sets in Lucifer are Lux and Lucifer’s penthouse; were you involved in the design for this, and if so, how did you decide the overall look and feel?
Those two sets were started by the previous designer Chris August. I took over the show in episode 4. The club, Lux was taken in part from a Los Angeles location established in the pilot. Lucifer’s penthouse was original to Chris. I added touches in the form of ceiling lighting changes but the sets by that time were already established and were left in that state. Toward the end of season 1 Chloe’s living environment was reconceptualized and it became a shared space for her and Maze.
One of my favourite things about Lucifer is the various scenes where the murder victim is found, and the places that Lucifer and Chloe have to go to interview suspects, etc. Are you involved with the exterior shots, those that are outside of set? If so, how are those chosen?
The designer is responsible for pretty much everything in front of the camera that isn’t an actor. That includes the vetting of locations and all alterations to them. We scout many locations to find the perfect one and it involves days of searching walking and discussing the merits of each. It goes much further than that though. Beyond the script indicated notation: “They find a body suspended above them…” I am responsible for aiding the director in visualizing said body and its mode of crucifixion. Lucifer episode 112, “#Team Lucifer.” That was in fact one of the more interesting incidents to solve visually. We had to suspend a dead body in a cruciform manner but not in any way reminiscent of a crucifixion. I designed a lightweight triangular metal apparatus about 16’ across with a series of angled cross bracing on to which we attached a full body cast of the actor. Later the triangular form on to which he was tied is found to be the symbol of the cult responsible for his death. In this case one design element seen In a brief scene is found to be the clue opening a much larger and insidious conspiracy.
In seasons one and two, much of the filming was done in Vancouver. Considering that the show is set in LA, did you find weather in Vancouver a problem? Was it difficult to find locations that matched the LA feel?
With that question you have cut to the very dilemma of attempting to double Vancouver for LA. I have lived in Los Angeles and worked there and am very conversant with its architecture and style. Vancouver does not look like LA. The light is different. The vegetation has virtually no similarities. Vancouver is year round intensely green in exactly the same way that LA is not. That being said there are many locations in Vancouver that can be dressed and greened (colored) sufficiently to pass for LA in a limited shot. We do not have 60’ king palms here but we do have the capability to CG in background palms. In Lucifer we spent a great deal of money on Palms and Bougainvillea both practical and CG. We were very careful choose locations that inspired an LA feeling and an appropriate color palette that exemplified LA style. Every 6 episodes or so Lucifer shot in Los Angeles for a week to grab LA “sites” that were inserted in post. All beach scenes were filmed in California simply because we don’t have expansive sand beaches here that look out toward open water so those shots were left to the LA insert unit.
Do you have any funny stories to share from set?
In season one there was an extensively planned 5 day shoot in Los Angeles that encompassed key exterior scenes for 5 episodes. These were those scenes that required Lucifer to cruise down Sunset in his Corvette convertible, have a drink in Marina del Rey, fight with his brother Amenadiel on a skyscraper roof and so on; scenes that could not be filmed in Vancouver simply because it had to be Los Angeles… It rained for 5 days there during the shoot. Needless to say the weather was beautiful here in Vancouver.
Tell us about Take Two, the show that you are currently working on. How does it differ from Lucifer?
Actually the similarities between the two shows are more striking. Take Two is, like Lucifer, essentially a police procedural. It’s a buddy show with romantic possibilities. It is a comedic vehicle where one partner is the balloon tied to the serious one’s wrist. In both shows each partner providing their strengths to the crime solving necessities. Lucifer is the wild card in Chloe Decker’s private and professional life; the same is true in a turnabout with Take Two’s leads. Sam Swift is the talented actress thinking out of the box to Eddie Valetic’s stolid gumshoe detective. Eddie Valetic is an honorable sincere man. Formerly a good cop pushed out of the force by ethical choice. Lucifer cannot tell a lie but he sure can elicit the truth from anyone with his charm. Take Two’s Sam Swift can charm the truth from anyone by simply being some projected aspect of herself. Each pair of partners are drawn to each other and the audience can’t wait to see how it will turn out.
What do you enjoy the most about working on Take Two?
Creature comfort wise I enjoy that the show is shot in Vancouver. I can sleep in my own bed. Professionally I have in large part the same crew that I had on Lucifer. They are all seasoned pro’s and our professional shorthand communication allows for maximum creative output on an adequate but lean budget. It fosters a high degree of creativity from all departments.
We have a good rapport with the executives / writers and they are readily available for consultation. That ease of communication and rapid response makes the work environment fluid positive. The scripts are fun and varied in scope. Each 7 days we all get to solve a new crime and participate in making the script a visual reality.
Why do you think Take Two will be popular?
Chemistry. The complex relationship between the two leads is palpable. I recall the reaction of our seasoned crew to the airing of the first episode. Their response was genuine in that when we watch as audience we can separate from being filmmakers and simply react and feel. In retrospect the episode rang true and we as an audience wanted to continue watching these two people work out a relationship. That’s key to success, to care about the characters you watch.
The creators of Take Two also created Castle and are perfectly positioned to generate a show that is very different from Castle but have mixed the elements in a completely new way. From my point of view it works. Now we’ll see what the public has to say.
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Steve Geaghan interview comments
"This was an excellent article with a very, "c'mon in and have a seat" feeling. Guy is more than comfortable with those whom he directs and with the audience at large, a fact that has such a direct correlation to the success of the episodes he's directed. He impresses me as being very professional, while remaining extremely personable. And yes, "Jensen's hips" gave this interview a taste of "the crazy" that constitutes working with, probably, the most enjoyable and unique cast on television. I loved this Carol. I am so pleased that Guy Normanbee was your interview subject, and so enjoy that he graciously shared some of his experiences with us." ~ @Doris_Helmick