Day 2: An Ode to Production Design

2 Apr

Day 2 of production is a day that my beautiful, talented, crazy-in-the-best-way production designer, Jennifer Hwang, has probably been dreading since she first signed on for this project. It involves two interior set ups – one, the girl detective’s bedroom that plays in the opening shot to set the visual language for the rest of the film, and two, the detective treehouse interior/exterior that plays in the last scene/shot of the film, which is essentially a fantasy location that couldn’t possibly exist in real life/be filmable even if it did. Like, it was so unfathomable in the script stage that I referred to it as “a pretty rad treehouse” because I knew starting to describe it in further detail would just depress me with its implausibility. Then when I took on directing the short, these were the two scenes I knew would also make or break the film, and the right production designer could make them sing.

The last sequence of the film.

Spoiler alert: this is the last sequence of the film.

One of my absolute favorite shots from the day, and possibly of anything I've ever made.

One of my absolute favorite shots from the day, and possibly of anything I’ve ever made.

Hammer time?

Hammer time?

Welcome to the Nickel & Dime Detective Agency.

Welcome to the Nickel & Dime Detective Agency.

In order to appreciate the magnitude of the transformations Jennifer took on, I’ve included the “before” pictures to match each shot.


The playhouse exterior before.


Treehouse upstairs interior before.


Treehouse downstairs interior.

We started the day at the treehouse, which had been our most prepped location. One of the cruel jokes of filmmaking is that after spending two weekends cleaning, clearing, painting, renovating, and dressing the location, its total airtime in the final film will probably amount to less than 30 seconds. Which is why I was so tickled when William Miles, the lead opposite Grace, asked if we could record some footage for a blooper reel once we wrapped in the location. As the rest of the crew packed, we grabbed a series of improvs between the two actors in the space… my inner 7 year old also loved it, just because she felt it was a shame to break down such a cool set before she had a chance to really play in it.

Opening shot?

Opening shot. Wallpaper made from 12 yards of stretched fabric.

Detecting some suspicious details.

Detecting some suspicious details.

The evidence board.

The evidence board.

We moved my desk, my chair, and my lamps from my room into this set.

We moved my desk, chair, bedding, curtains, and lamps from my room into this set. Total prep time: 48 hours.

With the bedroom interior of Irene Lee, girl detective, I also had a very specific aesthetic in mind. I had written into the script that “boldly patterned textiles and geometric wallpaper remind us vaguely of puzzles.” We location scouted for a one mile radius from the greater Los Angeles area and I knew no location would have the exact look we needed. Architecturally, all we needed was a room with a walk-in closet, but with the amount of prep work the room required, we’d have to find owners willing to let us completely transform the space. Thankfully, Kim Hwang (fellow NBC Page and generally awesome producer that I need to convince to work on all my projects in the future) had a room with four walls and a walk in closet and was the most gracious host. We ended up stripping the room of everything, including bed, book case, and curtains, and moved in a smaller bed, and from my own room, my desk, chair, bedding, curtains, and lamps. Jennifer also created the framed chalkboards from scratch, and stamp-designed the corkboard. We created the accent wall with 12 yards of stretched fabric.

Bedroom in Rowland Heights.

Before, bedroom.

Alternate angle view of the room.

Alternate angle view of the room.

So yeah. Day 2, through the magic of Jennifer’s production design and our Director of Photography, Garrett Shannon’s brilliant camera work, is going to have some of my very very very favorite shots of ever.

Jen, dressing the set.

Jen, dressing the set.

Just another second for the production designer!

Gotta wait for the production designer!

Thanks also to Kim Hwang and her family for all their help in prepping the set, as well as Eric Silva and his family for allowing us to paint and revamp his treehouse. And much love to Zack Wallnau for helping us paint, prep, and move furniture from one location to another in the weeks and days leading up to production. Seriously, I am surrounded by the most amazing people ever, and I could never do any of this without them.

And with that, we’ve wrapped the first weekend of production! Next week we switch over to exteriors… and a whole nother adventure of the perils of production. Stay tuned!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “Irene Lee, Girl Detective”


One Response to “Day 2: An Ode to Production Design”

  1. Benjamin Saalbach-Walsh April 3, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    These look really beautiful! I think I want a treehouse now…

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