“Poker Face”: Creating the locations of Rian Johnson’s mystery series
Production designer Judy Rhee explains how she created “Poker Face’s” Natasha Lyonne’s Caper Traveling Whirlwind.
On the run from a ruthless Las Vegas casino owner and his fixer, Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) ventures from the New Mexico desert to the dive bars of “Poker Face” Kenosha, using his unerring ability to spot a lie. to solve the murders he regularly stumbles upon. The Peacock’s mystery series of the week took advantage of the New Mexico sunshine to film Episode 2 and some exterior scenes, but ironically, as Charlie hits the road and lands in another two each week, “Poker Face” itself has taken root. in upstate New York. Because of this, the Hudson Valley has to be transformed into different states by production designer Judy Rhee.
Rhee disguises the series’ home base as convincing facsimiles of the Southwest, the Rockies, the Midwest and beyond, but he had little time to do so. “It was actually less than two weeks; We shot (a new episode) every 10 days,” Rhee told IndieWire. “(And a lot of) the locations we had to modify and adapt to fit the needs of the scripts.”
Each scenario takes place in a specific setting that is seen once and never again, so Rhee is constantly scouting and preparing new locations in the Hudson Valley.
“There was some stage build-up at the beginning and then continuously throughout the series. Depending on what we needed, we kept bouncing the construction between two different stages,” Rhee said. “Our stage space was limited, so we also took over an empty event space nearby and turned it into a sort of third stage, which we regularly used to create sets that fit in the space.”
Rhee was tasked with building sets and locations that fit a particular bill. Not only does Charlie travel everywhere it feels like a corner of America off the interstate, but the show’s production design supports a somewhat vintage feel, evoking old detective and murder mystery sequences. The places Charlie travels to are a bit stuck in time, neither blatantly modern nor deliberately contemporary, but both blur together.
According to Rhee, this blend of temporality lends authenticity to the production plan. “While traveling, I’m sure everyone has experienced certain places (that seem) frozen in time,” Rhee said. “A lot of the places and environments that Charlie Cale finds himself in have a timelessness, because in reality, a lot of small towns and all other places that aren’t metropolitan cities have remained in different time periods depending on their economic history. .”
Creating Little Pockets of America for Charlie began with on-set conversations between Rhee, creator Rian Johnson, showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman, and each episode’s directors and writers. Whether it’s building tension in Episode 2 through sightlines of the comfort tape or creating a stuffy locker room in Episode 6 for Charlie to put away the tape recorder that catches Kathleen (Ellen Barkin) and Michael (Tim Meadows) Rhee and his team made sure to emphasize just the right details to get the audience thinking the same way as Charlie, but withhold key clues until each episode is ready to reveal his identity. In addition, Rhee kept changing visual cues that would tell the audience where Charlie was in the given episode.
“You can start with a general color palette direction for each location as a visual cue for the trip, but then you need to exemplify the specific place you’ve traveled to, like New Mexico, Texas, or upstate New York, which are all different. landscapes, architecture, vehicles, foliage. Then you have to layer the details of that location into the story,” Rhee said. “The final layer is determined by the decoration. We had great set designers who rotated the episodes and put a lot on the table based on the research we did and what we wanted to convey (for the new cast).
Rhee’s distinctive color palettes, regional brands and building forms wage war against New York State’s unique mix of hills, farms and lakes. But he and the show’s creator, Rian Johnson, were influenced by other appearances. “I look at a lot of artistic photos for research, as well as historical photos of a place to understand its history. Rian and I discovered during our first interview that we were both fans of Italian neorealists like Antonioni, so I drew inspiration from the films “Red Desert” and “Zabriskie Point” for a few episodes. ‘The Last Picture Show’ was a general reference for Episode 3,” Rhee said. “And of course, once you start scouting, you’ll have unexpected ideas about what can be accomplished in the time frame you have.”
However, sometimes “Poker Face” achieved what an episode needed by using stages instead of existing locations. The theater for episode 6, “Exit Stage Death,” looks like a dinner theater venue that should exist in many parts of the country, but it’s actually built entirely on the soundstages that Rhee has created for so many different venues. “We scouted a lot of locations in the Hudson Valley and didn’t find what we were looking for that would visually support the story (for Episode 6),” Rhee said. “That’s how we ended up building the different sections of the theater. The theater stage, dressing rooms and corridors were built and remodeled in the same space as the casino and crow’s nest in Part 1. We also built the catwalk on our stage so that it can be filmed flexibly.”
The fact that the theater feels like a cohesive space is due to Rhee’s quick design work, which never went to waste as he and his team transformed the spaces over and over again. “It’s constantly adjusting throughout the process based on the resources you have available, such as what materials you can get in time and what the crew can achieve for all the episodes we’re working on at the same time, the limitations of the locations. There are so many factors that contribute to the final product,” Rhee said. “It’s kind of a miracle.”
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