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How the ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Production Team Constructed a Mansion From Scratch

What We Do in the Shadows
Courtesy of FX

Last year, production designer Kate Bunch outfitted a Staten Island mansion for the Eastern European vampires who inhabit the TV mockumentary adaptation of 2014 comedy-horror film “What We Do in the Shadows.” For the FX on Hulu series’ second collection of shows, though, the job got a lot tougher.

The new season required 20 to 30 new sets and a crew of around 100 people — partly due to an unexpected twist. “We lost our exterior mansion location from Season 1,” Bunch explains, when the owners sold it for use as a women’s shelter. 

After all the time spent finding the original mansion, discovering a match around Toronto, where the series shoots, proved virtually impossible. Instead, Bunch proposed a different solution. “We rebuilt the whole front of the house to match the house that we used,” she said. Her crew was allowed to go back and take measurements of the Season 1 mansion while renovations were underway. Of course, the strategy required a new area that was large enough and somewhat matched the old location. “We had to find a parking lot or a space where we could build it that had some of the big trees [of the first mansion],” she says. Not only was the set enormous, but constructing it in late autumn — in a parking lot adjacent to the studio — was a challenge. “And the later it got, the more we had to deal with the rain and the snow and people being able to work outside while they’re building this.”

While the carpenters were hard at work re-creating the exterior of the vampires’ mansion, Bunch and her team set out to design new parts of the house. There are rooms for gathering groups away from the living room, and Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the familiar of the vampire Nandor (Kayvan Novak), spends a lot of time in a previously unseen upstairs bathroom. Bunch says that the room for the vampire couple Nadja (Natashia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry) is supposed to be on the second floor in the story, but the new structure had no second floor. “We just kind of hid [the room] off of the main hallway. When I saw that we needed to build a bathroom, I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity to add a whole other part of the house that we haven’t seen.’”

The second season gives the audience a chance to meet the neighbors, Shaun (Anthony Atamanuik) and Charmaine (Marissa Jaret Winokur). “They live next door to this huge mansion,” Bunch says, “but they’re just kind of average Staten Island people. We needed to find a house that could kind of hide the fact that our mansion’s not next door.” 

Inside, the basement hosts an amusing collection of tchotchkes, including a collection of “Ocean’s Twelve” bric-a-brac that features a Scott Caan bobblehead. “The memorabilia stuff was fun,” she notes. “We had to find a bunch of people and ask, ‘Can you needlepoint this?’ We had the bobbleheads made … and we thought it was funny to light up [Shaun’s] bookshelf — a museum of really stupid memorabilia.”

Season 2 also introduces witches, ghosts and one of Bunch’s favorite sets, a necromancer’s hut. “The necromancer we built fully onstage, which was so awesome,” Bunch says. “We built a thatched roof. We had a pit in that stage, so we were able to build an actual staircase down into that pit, which was fun to be able to use.” The hut allowed her team to play with textures and natural materials.

Overall, the production designer is proud of the team’s work on a big job.

“I think it turned out beautifully,” Bunch says.