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How ‘The Good Place’ Production Team Handled Location Challenges

Searching for a path to “The Good Place” has been full of twists and turns for the cast of the hit NBC comedy, which includes Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. The same also could be said for Kimberly Wannop and Ian Phillips, the show’s set decorator and production designer, respectively, who for the upcoming fourth and final season, premiering Sept. 26, have spent almost all their time on location.

“Going into locations is always a challenge,” says Phillips, who joined the series in its third season. “You travel somewhere and are limited by when you can shoot, when you can prep and how much time you have there.” 

Location shoots involve everything from painting to replacing entire rooms of furniture with the proper set dressing. Phillips also may need to design false walls if the script needs a different layout than a room presents.

Everything done on location needs to be meticulously planned, since changes are expensive. “We beg to make tiny picture holes,” says Wannop, who joined the show in its second season and won an Emmy in 2017 for her work on “Veep.” “But then that requires patch and paint and money and time. We use command hooks and take glass out of frames to make them lighter. We have to get creative.”

Even filming in an office on the Universal lot involves added considerations, because the crew can’t change anything until everyone who regularly works in the office has gone home for the night. “We have to reschedule everybody,” says Phillips. “If we can’t paint until six o’clock at night, that means Kim can’t get in until the next morning [before shooting]. So at 4 a.m., there’s Kim dressing [the location].”

For Wannop, who is board president of the Set Decorators Society of America, day-of-shoot dressing is the most nerve-racking.
“If you forget something, you’re screwed,” she says. “So everything has to be there.” 

Perhaps the biggest compliment — and frustration — comes when even the crew doesn’t realize the extent of the department’s efforts. Wannop remembers someone in production once asking if he could bring his family to the “cool museum” where they were shooting, apparently unaware it was an empty house before she and the team worked their magic. 

Phillips and Wannop combine research with an in-depth reading of the script to create believable sets. “You have to take information [from the dialogue] and apply it to the [characters],” says Phillips. Adds Wannop: “We can pick and choose from all the research and
then incorporate it into the sets to make them look more authentic.”

Even with their heavy workload, the art department makes time for inside jokes. During an upcoming scene in the Bad Place, audiences can look for a series of photographs on the wall. “It’s myself and the rest of the department,” Phillips says.

Throughout the season, audiences can also search for stickers of the on-set dresser’s silhouette on everything from coffee carts to signs. These have been in use since the pair worked together on “Parks and Recreation,” also created by Michael Schur. Phillips says fans talk about a crossover between the two shows, joking that there’s one going on behind the scenes even if fans don’t realize it.

“Yes, it’s a job,” Phillips says. “But you have to make it fun too.” 

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