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Yesterday’s set design today

Yesterday’s set design today

Some things change at lightning speed while some things stay the same. The case for keeping things classic in modern filming. Time and location are all over the place but it is working well for audiences. Who wants to be in today’s reality anyway? Beam me up Scotty!

Metamorphosis of the filmTV industry – part four in a series of four articles

Period styling is en vogue

It is good to see with all the innovation that there is still a thirst for period drama and retelling of history (true or false – ooh was I talking about The Crown there?) whether film or television, anything from Peaky Blinders to The Crown. Seems that the world over there is a place in the hearts of people for Downton Abbey. You will see that many TV series are stylized in some past decade and there will be an iconic classic car such as a Ford Granada – as seen in White Gold which was a BBC beauty of a series about double glazing salesmen set in England and very much in the 80’s with the most delicious stereotypes that made for excellent viewing.

We live in a world where everything is moving so fast – a movie or series that is supposedly modern could become dated all too quickly. The phone an actor has in their hand could be a relic of the past come next year! You can make a joke about your ‘Myspace page’ but how many will know what you are talking about?

The appeal of eras

Some eras have more appeal than others. For this reason the TV series Sex Education went for a more timeless feel choosing classic sets with 80s furniture because they wanted to create a nostalgic vibe. Some houses in the UK still have that decor and furniture so it did not seem like stepping back in time necessarily. There is a comfort in familiarity. The creators wanted to imbue Sex Education with the ‘Pretty in Pink’ feel of John Hughes films about teens. Actors were even told to come to the auditions wearing 80s clothes and unlike actual High Schools in England where pupils wear school uniform these ones did not. It’s akin to throwing in a famous American actor to make the product appeal to the American market.

All in all the result is a world none of us have ever been in – especially one with teens who are not looking at their phones constantly. It is literally timeless and placeless. While that series avoided the prolific use of social media within the story, others like Emily in Paris use it to the nth degree with text chats and tweets forming an essential part of the plot.

The Crown, Netflix, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter

The Crown by Netflix

Glamour puss sets

Mid century modern and the 1970s seem a set designer’s paradise. Think Sex Education, The End of the Fucking World, Mad Men and The Queen’s Gambit. The 1970s is also a go to for creating universal appeal as used by the Coen brothers in their film A Serious Man and their Fargo 2 TV series, Amazon’s Hunters, Hulu’s Mrs. America, Netflix’s Narcos and the Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which was set in 1969 (and filmed on celluloid).

And then there is the clothes. With The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel you could watch it just for her glamorous outfits.
While there are outstanding movies like Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You about a delivery driver in the North of England, that deal with gritty realities of today’s world, far stronger is the appetite for losing ourselves in another world from the comfort of our sofa, partner’s bed, hammock, train, local park or lecture theatre. I know I have missed my station more than once since the smartphone, armed with YouTube, came into my world.

Many a film and TV series has been lapped up at home, with home viewing of movies experiencing a massive rise even before the huge increase of late while lockdowns and curfews abound. As governments tried to keep us safe we tried to keep our sanity by getting immersed in a jolly good TV series. We escaped from the daily realities punctuated with endless Covid statistics by losing ourselves in a good film – not Contagion (released in 2012) then, unless we wish to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s character return home from Hong Kong with a mysterious illness.

The new Hollywood: Europe

When it comes to where TV and film for international audiences is being made nowadays, compared with the time when Hollywood ruled the roost, Europe is a top choice and more than up to the task – plus the film extras can be so much cheaper per day. Australia, Russia, the wild wild west of the USA can all be replicated in Europe. Even the Spanish island of Lanzarote looks like the moon in parts of it!

Caroline Boulton, an English actress now based in Budapest tells me: “We’ve seen a big increase in productions choosing Budapest to shoot. Not only do they get highly qualified and experienced local crew and cast, they get the beautiful locations on offer, combined with tax incentives, fully equipped studios – and you have a producer’s dream. As an actress I’ve worked on numerous productions here and I don’t see it slowing down, it may seem to the outsider to have gone from 1-100 overnight but it’s actually been a steady increase over the years.”

Europe certainly has a magic to it. When I went to live in Australia in my 20s I found myself realising what a true European I was and hankering for it. After two weeks of loving crossing Sydney Harbour by boat, I then settled in to being botherered by how new it all felt and how artificial. Having lived in Poland where on my daily walk to work I saw bullet holes in buildings from WW2, the lack of gritty history was all too palpable for me. There is beauty in ruin.

Sex Education, Netflix, Series

Sex Education by Netflix

Out with the old and in with the new

Hollywood and Americans may not like to think it but the US as a location has fallen out of fashion with the world outside it and with many in it too. This goes as far back as two decades, but in latter years it has been further undermined by the low regard much of the world had/has for the outgoing President, Trump. We have also seen an American modern day home so often that it is predictable and boring. How refreshing was that season when Mrs Maisel’s mother ran off to Paris and we ran off with her in our minds!

It was once the country to aspire to live. A land of hope and opportunity where one could make their fortune through hard work and dedication. But today there is no appeal in just making that money to spend what little free time you have at the mall over-consuming.

It’s a different world now. The Green Card lottery was a very exciting thing once upon a time. Now America is not seen as ‘green’ enough with its climate change deniers etc. In the last few years the tables have totally turned – any European venturing onto a dating site receives many advances from American singles trying to get to live in Europe and run away from Trumpdom. Last time I ventured on Tinder I was surprised by the flood of cross Atlantic interest. I must stop plugging them inadvertently but while on the subject of love…

Love in a European climate

When it comes to a sense of class and denoting an era or feeling – or a place where one could do a lot of ‘feeling’, Europe is hard to beat. Woody Allen amongst so many others keeps serving up Europe to us as the idyllic romantic setting and the world totally buys it because it is true. Sleepless in Seattle? I don’t believe that film would have got off the ground as a pitch in today’s world of film.

You can read the previous part here.

Marta Eleniak


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