HBO’s ‘Perry Mason’ Production Design: Creating 1930s Hooverville

“Perry Mason” production designer tells IndieWire how the economic diversity of 1930s LA found its fullest expression in the Hooverville set.

When production designer Keith Cunningham joined the second season of HBO’s “Perry Mason,” he was excited to add to the series’ first season’s portrayal of economic inequality in 1930s Los Angeles. “A lot of this season is about really exploring the world of the haves and have-nots,” Cunningham told IndieWire. “It was an incredibly diverse city in terms of different cultures and economic levels, and it grew and changed so quickly that it almost reinvented itself as it went along.”


In the headers of his lookbook, Cunningham found himself using antonyms to describe the contrasting worlds the show is set in—power and vulnerability, abundance and desperation, romance and danger, grit and glamor—and Season 2 conveyed these dichotomies beautifully within the production. planning. Even a place as prosaic as a grocery store symbolizes the transformation of the city and its impact on the less fortunate: “Convenience stores and bodegas were replaced by supermarkets, big stores that had everything, so you didn’t have to go to five o’clock. in different places, Cunningham said. “Such settings illustrate abundance and how the city moves and develops at a rapid pace, yet leaves behind an entire culture and population that can’t keep up.”

Perhaps the most memorable setting for “Perry Mason’s” contrast between the haves and have-nots is the slum home of Mason’s new clients, accused murderers Rafael and Mattheo Gallardo. The maze of makeshift shacks, the era’s hastily erected so-called “Hoovervilles” (named after the president presiding at the start of the Great Depression) contrasted sharply with the grandeur of the upper-class sets – such as the series’ murder victim Brooks McCutcheon or the imposing courtroom, which serves as the focal point for most of the season. “Hooverville was conceived as a juxtaposition of the majestic, classic courtroom,” Cunningham said. “When Perry ends up there, he sees how far down his clients are compared to the wealth circle he’s running into.”

Perry Mason Hooverville set

“Perry Mason”


The stripped-down nature of the Hooverville show, in which everything serves a substantial and utilitarian purpose, adds to the class divide when viewed alongside scenes set in LA’s upper crust. “Scenes like the season opener on the gambling ship are all about excess,” Cunningham said, “and the upper class lives in more spatially structured spaces, whereas Hooverville is loose and rough, textural and labyrinthine.” This labyrinthine quality had both a practical and thematic function, as it allowed the directors to photograph areas of Hooverville from different angles to make it seem larger than it really was.

Cunningham’s trick was to emphasize the differences between the various communities in “Perry Mason” while maintaining the show’s consistent visual style. “The interesting thing was that I tried to tie these things together so it didn’t just feel like a bunch of random kits,” he said. One of the great joys of the show is noticing the subtle touches that connect the worlds and serve as metaphors for the oppressive forces on the poor, like the oil rigs dotting the hillside surrounding Hooverville. “They represent a kind of stranglehold or wall,” Cunningham said. “It’s almost as if the people of Hooverville are under siege.”

Perry Mason HBO Season 2 Oil Support Structures Production Design

“Perry Mason”

Merrick Morton/HBO

For Cunningham, it was important that the site not be merely gloomy, but express the optimism and sense of family shared by many of the people who lived there. “It feels like people are trying to live as best they can,” he said. “We tried to find some beauty in that and embrace a sense of hope for a lot of people in the community.”

This visual grace is a continuation of “Perry Mason” Season 1. “One of the things we all respected and enjoyed in that first season was his discipline and elegance, even in the roughest moments,” Cunningham said. “It’s very subjective, but we always try to walk that line and find the beauty in what the show is about.”

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