EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look at the Production Design of The Kennedys

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By now you’ve probably heard a little something about the Emmy nominated 8-Part Television Miniseries, The Kennedys, but today I want you to pay attention to the one aspect of the production that wasn’t blabbed about much in the media- the astoundingly skilled production design. Forget what you’ve heard about the show and judge for yourself. No matter what the media says with their half truths I hope you had the opportunity to watch The Kennedys during its original air dates and if not you’re in luck because it will be released on DVD September 20th in North America.

The Kennedys Production Designer Rocco Matteo, Art Director Mun Ying Kwun, and Set Decorator Enrico Campana did a superb job creating a period piece that was authentic and historically accurate but remained fresh in its design aesthetic. Challenged with over 125 sets, shooting in Toronto, with 3 months prep, a 70 day shoot, and an increasingly limited budget, Rocco, Mun Ying and Enrico had to work quickly and efficiently with all of their various teams to pull off miracles. Armed with 3 hard drives full of research, a team of 5 core art department professionals, several weekly players, and a top notch Construction, Set Dec, and Props Department they were able to make it work.

I have had the great fortune to see a lot of the photos, drawings, pre-production materials and research used on The Kennedys by the art department as well as speaking with many on its creative team and what I have seen has made my jaw drop so much I HAD to share it with you all. Below are never before-seen photos and stills given to me by Production Designer, Rocco Matteo, used here with permission, of course.

The Kennedys Production Design has been recognized with a Best Production Design nomination at the 2011 Gemini Awards, also receiving a 2011 Emmy Award nomination for Best Art Direction in a Mini-Series.

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The Trailer:

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A Look at the Sets:

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EXT. HYANNIS PORT- JOE SR’s HOME

For Rose and Joe Sr’s house the construction team built the bottom porch in this public park just outside downtown Toronto. The top of the home is actually CGI. Lots of landscaping was added to create a driveway, path and to more accurately portray Hyannis Port.

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INT. HYANNIS PORT- JOE SR’S HOME- SUN ROOM

Built porch, added greens to exterior area, painted and dressed the location in Cobourg, Ontario in an empty front storage area/sun room.

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INT. ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE

Full build in studio.

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EXT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST WING COLONNADE

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- OVAL OFFICE- LATE 1962

An existing standing set in Kleinburg, Ontario was used for the Oval Office with extensive renovations to add the terrace, the backdrop and a fully built addition of the Presidential Secretary’s office as well as the outer office which came directly off of the Oval Office. This space also required a full dress by the Set Dec team. Many set decorations and dressings had to be made from scratch when they could not be found in order to maintain the authenticity of the period. For example the lamp on the desk, the globe lamp in front of the foremost left window, and the couches among other pieces were fabricated for the show. No stone was left unturned, even the book spines were created by the art department’s graphic designer.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- SECRETARY’S OFFICE (Unlit, House Lights on)

Pictured above is the Presidential Secretary’s office which hangs off the Oval Office which was previously non-existent in the standing set. The Kennedys team went to great lengths to shoe horn this set into the relatively small studio to ensure its relation to the Oval Office was authentic. This included making the Oval Office side doors practical which were previously not built to open.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST SITTING HALL

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- CABINET ROOM

Full build in studio. The board room table was designed and built specifically for the project to be historically accurate. It was so large it had to be constructed in 3 pieces and put together on site.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- GRAND HALL

An empty standing set that required a full dress including the artwork, draperies, chandeliers, furniture and even custom made torchieres.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST SITTING HALL, KIDS PLAY ROOM

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM

Full build in studio. The picture above is from a scene in the Kennedys with the set fully lit and colour corrected in post. Below are Rocco’s personal set photos of the set fully dressed and ready for camera with only the houselights on.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM (Unlit- House Lights on)

Like most of the sets, Rocco and his team analyzed all of the artwork in historical photos from the vast amount of research they collected and recreated similar themed and coloured artwork. Therefore every piece of artwork you see in The Kennedys was a recreation done by the graphic designer, changed just enough to make it through the clearance process since most of the artwork from that time period is not yet in the public domain.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM (Unlit, House Lights on)

The opposite side of Jackie’s Bedroom. All draperies and linens were custom made for the project. If the correct furniture could not be sourced from around the globe it was also built from scratch. Authenticity was very important to the filmmakers, Rocco and his team.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACK’S ROOM (Unlit- House Lights on)

Full build in studio. This is Jack’s Bedroom which adjoins Jackie’s Bedroom. JFK and Jackie did not sleep in the same bedroom. John had turned what was supposed to be the living room in the West Sitting Area of the White House into his very own bedroom. Rocco made sure to keep the geography the same so every room would correctly relate to each other. You can see into Jackie’s Room through the door. Wild walls were also used to make sure the shoot crew always had enough space to shoot despite keeping the geography of the actual space accurate.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACK’S ROOM (Unlit, House Lights on)

A view of Jack’s bedroom facing the opposite side. That door heads to the hallway in the West Sitting Room.

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Have you seen The Kennedys Miniseries? What do you think of the production design?

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Rose XO.

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Sources: Rocco Matteo, Muse Entertainment, and Reelz Channel. Used with permission.
Full Disclosure: I am currently employed with Rocco Matteo and Mun Ying Kwun on a different television series. I did not work on The Kennedys.
All photos, video, and content is copyrighted. 2011
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4 Comments

Filed under ART DEPARTMENT, Art Direction, Awards, EXCLUSIVE, Production DESIGN

4 responses to “EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look at the Production Design of The Kennedys

  1. Great post – seeing the photos with the house lights on compared to the lit + coloured screencaps, it’s interesting to see how design as well as lighting can come together to create an absolutely gorgeous image.

  2. thank you for posting this. great attention to detail! :-) cheers!

  3. Unbelievable attention to detail. I thought the sets and set production were the stars of the show. Just couldn’t get enough and kept rewinding dvd to focus on individual items. Best work I have ever seen, and even outshines the excellence of so many British productions.

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