“Only Murders in the Building”: A production design to die for

Production designer Curt Beech tells IndieWire he received the ultimate compliment when Martin Short walked into his character’s apartment: “He said ‘Oh wait, I’ve been here before’.”

The Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building” is a contemporary murder mystery that makes the most of its modern New York setting, but what really brings it to life is the sense of story that informs each setting. . When we meet new characters – whether it’s protagonists Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) or daytime gamers who only appear in a scene or two – their environment instantly gives an idea of ​​who they are and where they’ve been as the stories of their lives are told through carefully chosen visual details. Oliver, for example, is a down-on-his-luck director whose career arc can be traced in the posters on his walls, and whose timeline of success is indicated by the setting – it can be seen that at some point he had the money to upgrade his apartment, but the dated furniture indicates that this renovation took place many years ago.

This take on Oliver’s house as an expression of character is the work of production designer Curt Beech, who took an equally thoughtful approach to each of the apartments in the Arconia, a fictional building in Upper West Side which is home to most of the action in “Only Murders in the Building” and is based on Beech’s research of his real-life counterparts. “Everything I do comes from research,” Beech told IndieWire. “I’m only as good as my library.” He began his work on “Only Murders” by examining the original ground plans of structures like the Arconia, then examining how the buildings had changed. “I thought about how people expand their existing apartments over time, or someone dies or a family moves out and the person next door adds to their apartment.”

“Only Murders in the Building”

Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu

In Beech’s mind, Mabel’s apartment was closest to the Arconia’s original plan while Charles’s had been completely reworked. “A lot of it relies on people’s resources,” Beech explained. “Mabel has no resources so she can’t do anything, but Charles has been smart with his money and has invested wisely and his flat tells that story. It’s completely modernized, and the art on the walls shows that he also has taste and money.Martin contributed ideas for paintings and furniture he thought Charles would own, while Short gave the production designer the ultimate compliment when he walked in for the premiere. once in his apartment. “He said, ‘Oh wait, I’ve been here before.’ He knew about this apartment from his theatrical friends, and then Steve was angry because he thought Oliver’s apartment was nicer than his, which was good because we created a little rivalry between the two of them.

Beech’s attention to detail also extended to secondary characters. Some of the show’s biggest laughs come from the character of Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton), a cat lover whom Charles, Oliver and Mabel suspect of being a murderer. the comedy emanates not only from Creighton’s hilarious performance, but also from the visual shorthand of Beech’s set design. “The story we’re telling is that it was probably his mother’s apartment, and after she died all he did was have cats,” Beech said. “He hasn’t done anything to the apartment in the meantime. So we just added cat layer upon cat layer with real cat hair and bad cat drawings on the walls. All of these things added up and gave a feel for the character very quickly, which is key because you don’t have as much time to establish some of these secondary characters. You must know them as soon as you enter their home.

PHOTO EMBARGOED FOR USE UNTIL TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19 AT 9 a.m. PT.  Only murders in the building -- "Open and close" - Episode 110 - In the season finale, the trio race to a resolution as their own lives are put in danger.  (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

Only murders in the building
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Although “Only Murders in the Building” features great localization work in New York City in addition to its sets, COVID demanded that most of the show be built on a stage, which allowed Beech to provide the cohesive design. a spectacle. “The pandemic has actually helped us tremendously because we’ve been able to define all of these spaces and keep them under our control,” Beech said. “It gave us a much larger canvas to paint on because it was our whole canvas.” The result was that Beech was able to differentiate the apartments while giving them all a warm and comforting look. “Even the villain’s apartment is inviting. When you walk into the hall, you don’t know it’s a killer’s house.

The control that Beech possessed also allowed him to give a greater sense of the integration of all the different sets. “I don’t think this story can take place in Tucson,” Beech said. “The idea of ​​New York is that everyone is stacked in these boxes on top of each other having to interact and live together. You take the same elevator and walk into the same lobby – it’s unavoidable, horrible and wonderful at the In the end, Beech was able to achieve what he always strives for in his production design: a happy medium between story, authenticity and visual beauty.” The design ideal lies in the middle of this Venn diagram. If a place looks good but doesn’t serve the story or isn’t authentic, it won’t work. And if it’s too real, it can also be a problem if it doesn’t meet the dramatic needs. We always try to match those three things.

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About Gertrude H. Kerr

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