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Old Settler
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The Design Process
Building the Sets
The Look
Working With the Director
Design Roles

Designer Role & Bio

Director In-Depth

DP In-Depth

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John Iacovelli: The Production Designer In-Depth


The Look

Capturing the Look

"So much of the time in television you have to fill the frame. It's the thing about television that's different from pictures. It's very important that your eye can 'rest' in a feature, kind of languidly seduced into the flow of the movie. We tried to make this show feel like a feature, keep it away from looking like just another TV episode."

"What was Harlem in 1943? America was deeply into WWII at that time. There was uncertainty in the country; there was a spirit of change.

To help set the period, Debbie, Johnny [Simmons, the director of photography] and I decided to keep a controlled palette."

"James VanDerZee was a well-known photographer of Harlem life during that era. His pictures were compelling to us because he was really trying to say, 'Here's a record of the life of these people.' There's a photo of a perfect Harlem kitchen that just broke our hearts. The whole set got based on that picture."


Livingroom set
The limited palette used in the show is evident in this picture of the living room on the set


Finding the Props

Newspaper prop

EnlargeA close-up of a prop newspaper used on the set


"You can't really tell what's right about a period room, but you can sure tell what's wrong. Part of the research was trying to find the real stuff. The set decorator, Jason, and I started going to flea markets and taking pictures of props and set pieces at Paramount and other places. Then we would give Debbie her choice."


Avoiding Anachronisms

"I think as far as anachronisms, we didn't have too many.

I found out later that a pop-up toaster would have been post-war, not pre-war.

The decorator's friends said, 'We didn't really have colored towels before the War.' So we have one scene where we sneaked in a colored towel for some interest. We did find them in a 1935 Montgomery Ward catalogue. For the most part we've tried to stay accurate about things."


Kitchen props
A close-up of the kitchen on The Old Settler set. Note the post-war toaster that John Iacovelli discusses


Making the Sets Look Old

Wallpaper from the set
Iacovelli and his team gave the bedroom set an aged, 'lived-in' look


"When I first put up the wallpaper it seemed all brand new and screaming.

Literally, we took five or six steps of washing the wallpaper down with a milk glaze.

Even in the bathroom we had to create this sense of aging. A little bit of rust around the radiators, that kind of gritty reality. I think you really believe that that is a place that has been lived in for 30 years."


Making the Apartment Set Feel Real

"I have fond memories of New York, because I was actually a super of a building on 84th Street. This was in the 80's. As a New Yorker you have a completely different impression of Harlem than people from the rest of the country have. The wonderful thing about New York is the quintessential colors. The feeling of the hallways. The feeling of the apartments."

"I tried to create some depth in the apartment.

No matter where you were, you always looked into another room, saw into the window, or saw down the hallway into another room.

Johnny and I worked on that very hard -- a sense of life beyond that one room that the screenplay basically takes place in."


Debbie Allen on the set
Debbie Allen on the living room set. Note that you can see from the living room into the bathroom and Elizabeth's bedroom


Working With the DP

Hanging the mural
Members of the art department hang a recreation of the Aaron Douglas mural on the restaurant set


"I was really blown away my first day on the set because there was just this very beautiful, glorious light. The main sources of light are the windows. There is so much in the script about looking out the windows -- looking at the people in the hospital, looking down, throwing the key down. I think the time of day in this show is just gorgeous. You really believe it."

"Johnny saw that I liked Aaron Douglas, a Harlem muralist.

He had started out as a painter, restoring Douglas' murals. We found some common ground. Edward Hopper was one of the people we talked about. You can't do a show in a New York brownstone without thinking of those wonderful paintings by Hopper - that wonderful light coming through the windows."


Working With High-Definition Video

"High-Definition is going to be my best friend and my worst enemy. My best friend in that it shows detail beautifully. The color is accurate. My worst nightmare is that every little imperfection is showing. It's almost like going to film quality when you are dealing with the art direction."


Building the Sets   |   The Look   |   Working With the Director



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