Today, we start a new feature called Quick Look, a fast-paced, quick-read interview. Our first guest is What We Do in the Shadows, Production Designer Shayne Fox.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Shayne a few quick questions about her work on What We Do in the Shadows in between our busy schedules. I adore this mad-cap mockumentary about the world of vampires. Check it out on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in Canada and the UK.
Shayne Fox and her team are nominated for Season 4 of What We Do in the Shadows, episode ‘The Night Market’ at the Emmy Awards for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Program (Half-Hour). The second round of Emmy voting is taking place now.What We Do in the Shadows Production Designer Shayne Fox Gives a Quick Look at Season 4 Click To Tweet
Interview with What We Do in the Shadows Production Designer Shayne Fox
How did you get started in the art department? Were you always interested in working in film and television?
I started in the film industry when I was about 17 years old. I began working in the puppet building shop of a kids TV show. I was lucky to get to work alongside Jim Henson compatriots making foam and fleece style puppets and it was a pretty fun way to break into the creative (maker) side of the industry. That kids show shot in the summer, so I went to university and art college during the year and came home in the summers to work.
That went on for a while and from there I ventured onto building props, worked in a special effects shop, did a lot of kids shows, poured breakaway glass and meandered my way into Set Decoration. I worked as a Set Decorator for a long while until making the leap into Production Designing. I would not say I was always interested in working in film and television, but it ended up being the right industry for someone like me who just wanted to make things and since I started so young, it’s pretty much all I have ever known. It’s been over 33 years now!
How did you become involved on What We Do in the Shadows?
I was brought onto Season 1 of WWDITS as the Set Decorator, basically five years ago now, and I did that for the first 3 seasons. I stepped up to the PD role for Season 4. I also did Season 5 as PD and we just started prep on Season 6.
What has been the most challenging aspect of moving from set decorating to production designing? What has been the easiest aspect of the transition?
For me the transition from set decorating to production designing has been fairly seamless. I have designed shows in the past, just not on the scale of Shadows, and I was always a very involved and design-oriented Decorator (if that makes any sense).
I guess the trickiest part was changing my mindset to think of the show from a bigger picture. As the Designer, decisions about locations, graphics, and character as well as story logic play a big role in what we do and owning those things took me a minute to step into. To be honest, I was more than ready to take on different challenges and ways of thinking about the show. I love our wild vampire mockumentary, so all in all the transition has been very exciting and rewarding, and easy for me.
On Season 4 of WWDITS, what are you the most proud of creating?
So many things.
To start the season, we had to amend our main and iconic mansion set to make it appear as if it were in major disrepair. That meant hacking things apart, adding a huge tree that had ‘fallen’ into our fancy room, and adding debris, rot and destruction all over the place. We had ‘slime’ oozing from the walls, crashed down ceilings as well, exposing the many layers of structure of our old house.
Adding a kitchen set to the main mansion was a fun and satisfying thing to do. I loved designing the kitchen. Even though vampires don’t eat, every home needs a kitchen, it’s the heart of the home. It just felt right to finally have one in there.
I am also really proud of the cabin interior set and exterior facade we did, Nadja’s bar makeover, the dream closet set we did, as well as fun locations like Ritchie Sucks apartment.
We also did an episode, Go Flip Yourself, that has us enter a whole new universe. Shot in the style of an HGTV makeover show, we saw our cast embark on a re-do of the mansion set. With different lighting, graphics, set dressing and various elements, it was a huge departure from how we normally shoot our show which was a lot of fun.
The technical work we got to do with the water stages and the stunts was also incredible… and of course, our Night Market set was a fun one. It was the most cinematic episode we have done and it was a massive install for our little show and ended up being quite an impressive and fun one to pull off.
What was the most challenging aspect of The Night Market episode? How did you work to solve it?
Well, The Night Market episode was definitely the most ambitious episode we did and have EVER done. For our show, a 22 minute comedy, this install was a huge feat so that was the trickiest part for sure. It was November, so it was cold and the space we were in had no heat and was not the most welcoming environment to work in. We are all so used to power and washrooms and good lighting in our studio spaces. These things were a challenge at the location we chose for the Night Market.
Once we had a solid plan of attack and built all our various elements, it took over a month and a small army to install. Instead of designing all the various booths and stalls that were to be featured in our night market, I designed a modular system of uprights, bases, cross pieces, back lit panels, flame bowls and custom oversized cocoon light fixtures that would serve as a skeletal system for all the set dressing. It worked! It became the episode I am most asked about and earned us the Emmy nomination.
You mentioned you are proud of the technical achievement of the flooded water sets. Can you tell me more about that? Had you ever worked with sets that needed to be flooded before? How did you work with your departments to achieve this?
The various water sets and stages we built were a challenge from an engineering, logistical and technical standpoint. We had Colin’s room that was flooded and we also had our cast ‘fall’ through floors into flooded basement areas. Also we had pre-flooded sets and sets that were to look like they had been flooded. I think we built Colin’s room four different times to achieve all of this!
I have worked on shows with water tanks before for swimming scenes and underwater shots and on Shadows we have worked with steam and rain rigs as well as built sets with puddles before, but nothing like what we had to do for the Season 4 flooded rooms.
We had to consult an engineer and work with our special effects team to provide a large tank. From there, we built sets with marine grade materials (where we could) to emulate the look of a room that had been flooded. I was always worried about the electrical aspect of things and the safety of cast and crew working in the water.
Aside from the technical standpoint of things we had to also work with the scheduling and logistics. I think we built four versions of the room we flooded to accommodate all of the various needs– the pre-flood look, the flooded look, the post-flood look, etc.
At one point, due to a bit too much foam used to protect the tank liner, we had the sets start to float away! So they needed to be tied off to the grid and large concrete blocks. Fun times were had.
You must be so excited to be starting Season 6 and getting back at it.
I am. The various teams we have on WWDITS are incredible. Some of the people here are my best friends and people I have worked with for decades. We have so much fun and love each other. And I swear to you, part of the reason our sets look so good is because of that love and admiration and respect. I think its a rare thing to have in this industry and is the very reason we all build our yearly schedules around this show and turn other things down to make space for Shadows.
Thank you so much to What We Do in the Shadows Production Designer Shayne Fox for answering a few quick questions about Season 4. Watch Season 5 now and we will check back in with Shayne very soon. Stay tuned for that in the future and good luck to Shayne and her incredible team at the Emmy Awards. For more information on Shayne’s incredible work, click here.
If you have any questions you would love us to ask Shayne in the future, let us know in the comments below.