A good number of current fictions have an unexpected central character: their location. This is the case in two series released this summer and filmed in idyllic settings, The White Lotus (HBO) y Nine Perfect Strangers (Prime Video). The recent second season of Locke & Key (Netflix), a fantastic drama with doses of terror, shares with the previous ones the fact that its set, a great American mansion, also stands out above all else.
“A project like Locke & Key it is an exciting challenge for a production designer because a great weight of the narration falls on the location ”, confesses to ICON Design Mark Steel, production designer of the series. “I have really enjoyed this series because I have had the opportunity to improve the story by taking it to another dimension and to another state of mind. The supernatural component of the plot allowed me to break the rules, and that’s always fun. “
The plot and location of Locke & Key reminds other series with a dwelling in the center of its history, such as The curse of Hill House (also on Netflix), a recent haunted house review. The plot: a family lives in a large mansion during the time that the parents rehabilitate it and there paranormal episodes occur that mark them as children and haunt them into adulthood. For this one set, production designers were inspired by the great American buildings known as Robber Baron mansions. These houses, typical of the late nineteenth century, collect a mixture of styles – from Gothic to Victorian, through Baroque and even Arabic. The curse of Hill House comes to join other terrifyingly imposing houses that nourish the collective imagination, such as The curse (1999), a Jan de Bont film with a similar premise that starred Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And rewinding even further, the hotels of Psychosis (1960), by Alfred Hitchcock, with his Second Empire style or The glow (1980), de Stanley Kubrick.
The one who knows the codes of the genre well, and is also a master in the conception of a good set, is Ryan Murphy: the 10-season series was born from his imagination American Horror Story, which places each one in a different setting (a haunted house, an institution for the mentally ill, a circus …). The most recent, Ratched, takes place in a psychiatric hospital whose luxurious interiors replicated the Arrowheads Spring hotel in California created by Paul Revere Williams.
But not everything is the result of the talent of Ryan Murphy, the brilliant team that surrounds him has a lot of merit as well, as Steel confirms. “Each job begins with the script, the writers and the executive producers who own the series. And then comes the time to fully understand the intention and tone of the project, as well as the type of scenes and location.. That’s when I come in, ”Steel explains. “Then there are many meetings to get to the heart of what we want to communicate and what we want the audience to feel.”
Beyond haunted houses, there is another type of fiction focused on the conflict between characters that also focuses on locations. As we mentioned, The White Lotus and Nine perfect strangers coincide in placing the action in extraordinary resorts that invite the viewer to escape. Something you already did in the late seventies Vacation at sea, whose story was set on a cruise ship. The White Lotus transports the audience to a beachside resort surrounded by pools that is actually the Four Seasons of Maui redecorated for the occasion with vintage tropical and animal print fabrics and wallpapers. On Nine perfect strangers, those nine strangers gather for a strange retreat in the exclusive center wellness Tranquillum, located in the middle of nature, between waterfalls, forest and cliffs. The actual locations are in Byron Bay (Australia).
The scenarios require specific ingredients depending on the story. “First of all, I have to go through different times to find the best way to set up a place that provides the right lighting and the right mood,” Steel notes. Unlike The White Lotus and Nine perfect strangers, the ancestral home of the family of Locke & Key It was built from the ground up in Toronto to be as true to the comic as possible from which it is inspired. “Only the first two floors of the house are real – Steel explains – the other two are a digital addition. And the interiors are actually in some Toronto studios. ” Whether in real settings or created on purpose, a series with a good set has more ingredients to win over the audience.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.