A Black Lady Sketch Show Production designers detail four sketches – The Hollywood Reporter

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Caldwell Tidicue (top) – better known as RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen – host of the funeral ball (above).

Courtesy of HBO (2)

This skit – a callback to the first season of “Basic Ball” – was shot on location at RSI Locations in Pomona in an abandoned medical campus. “We had a bunch of garlands and our title card lit with marquee lights, and we wanted to bring those elements to this sketch,” Chao explains. The high angle of the ceiling made this room, which is actually a small banquet hall, look like a church space. Chao and Yu lit up the room with “a rainbow of colors,” Chao noting that the funeral scene “was not a loss of life, but rather a celebration of life. We’ve populated it with big, bold statements and flowers to make it a more fun atmosphere.

This mixed tone also applies to the atmosphere on set. “It’s a comedy sketch show, so it feels like we’re working fast but being silly about it,” Yu says. “I don’t know if we’ve ever worked on something where everyone takes it so seriously.”

Yu adds that the speed at which production runs requires a certain level of professionalism. “All of these sketches are really mini-movies,” she says, and putting all the pieces together for so many sketches takes incredible planning. “It’s intense and immense, and it’s very useful to work in the artistic department with people who have this approach. All of our work is in preparation, and the more preparation we do, the better.

Chao also notes that this sketch was shot out of order, which added more challenges to the art department. “We dressed up the space for the funeral ball, then we had to put it back to its original state for the start of the sketch,” she explains. Yu adds, “There are no pick-up days on this show – we shoot it and go out.”

Ashley Nicole Black (left) and Robin Thede play two women who drink white wine and quote motivational catchphrases who “live, laugh and love their way in life.”

Courtesy of HBO (2)

One of the things Cindy and I like to joke about with Robin [Thede, A Black Lady Sketch Show‘s star and creator] those are bad Zillow posts,” says Michele Yu, who cites intricately staged real estate listings as the inspiration for this sketch’s intimate setting. “Sometimes we come across a real winner – like, it’s what you do to attract [buyers] at your property? »

Cindy Chao and Yu filled that space — the sketch was shot on location in an empty house — with items that featured cheeky slogans. “It’s about women who live, laugh, love throughout life,” says Chao, “but [the reveal is that they are running] a sweatshop in their house,” in which other women make tea towels and mugs with inspirational quotes.

A framed poster that reads “In this house we cuddle”, pillows that command to “pray boldly”, a clock that strikes when it’s “wine time” – all of this brought realistic silliness to the sketches and sparked hilarious improvisational reactions from Thede and her co-star Ashley Nicole Black.

But Chao and Yu didn’t just decorate this set with fun decor. “You always need artwork, and there are definitely plenty of places you can get artwork to display. You just go to Hollywood Studio Gallery, get a bunch of things, and put them on the walls,” Yu explains. “But it’s A dark lady sketch show, something that was created to celebrate black women. We realized that it was an opportunity to highlight other black women artists. It’s not much harder to reach black women [artists] who might like the exhibition, who might like to be included in the process, and who might like to see their work on screen.

This effort is not only a show of goodwill and solidarity, but also reinforces the authenticity of a place – especially in this sketch, which takes place in the house of a black woman. “It helps some of these interiors feel more real and specific, rather than just renting another easy-to-clean landscape painting,” says Yu.

Gabrielle Dennis as Mrs. Miller in this elementary school class set sketch, which includes many dressings designed to look like they were made by school children.

Courtesy of HBO (2)

This sketch — another callback to a character seen in the first season — was also shot in an empty classroom at the RSI Pomona location. “There was a beehive,” Chao recalls of the space, which had to be cleared before their team could start dressing the room, which isn’t unusual. “A lot of these places [need to be fixed up] before even starting to design the space.

The primary school classroom required a lot of background detail, from drawings on the blackboard to posters on the walls, some of which were made with construction paper and glue to look like works of art made by children. These latest items included science fair signs, like the one about volcanoes, and posters celebrating black literary achievements — including recreations of book covers for Maya Angelou. I know why the caged bird singsby Toni Morrison Belovedby Octavia Butler Dawn and that of Alice Walker The purple color.

“Our core mission is to celebrate black women,” Yu says. While the humor in each sketch doesn’t lead to that goal, Chao and Yu infuse that celebration into each of their sets.

This set highlights the ability of production designers to add narratives to the background of a scene. “Cindy and I have been working together as a team for over a dozen years at this point, and we come from an independent film background,” says Yu. [talent] to make the most of what you have and use all possible resources to tell the story. Every inch of space on a set is something that could possibly support a story.

This consideration applies to thinking about how the figures in the sketches would decorate the spaces they inhabit. “The pacing of this show is so quick and fast,” says Yu, whose first task is to figure out the basic elements required in each frame. Once these are identified, they begin to think about who the characters are and how they can help tell their stories: “We try to understand the person as a character, where they come from and what she would choose herself.”

Yu also adds that although production preparation took place during the Trump presidency, the sketch was set during the Obama era. “It was such a relief,” she laughs, “because we could include pictures of the [former] president and his wife, as opposed to who the president actually was when we were preparing.

Thede as an explosives specialist whose retirement party is cut short when he has to quickly help a security guard (Black) detonate a bomb over the phone.

Courtesy of HBO (2)

This bomb shelter location was, in real life, a dingy room used for storage at the Petroleum Club of Long Beach, which Yu describes as “a very old-school club for oil executives.” The show spent a week on location during production, using various spaces as filming locations. (A singles skit was filmed at the club’s restaurant.)

This particular sketch alternates between two locations. The club’s rock-walled lobby served as a corporate reception, where a security guard (another returning character from the first season, played by Black) speaks on the phone with a bomb control expert (played by Thede), who is interrupted from celebrating his impending retirement in his office when Black’s character asks for help dismantling an explosive device.

Special features immediately appealed to Chao and Yu when they found this space: the large pendant lights in the center of the room, as well as the mirrored smoked glass wall panels on either side. “We really relied on the mirrors,” says Yu, who adds that the DP was able to work with “cold lighting” thanks to the reflective walls. “We decorated the whole room with several desks, to suggest that other people were working there,” Yu adds of the additional scene details, which include the party balloons and a half-eaten cake.

The end result, however, was a dark office and a close-up of Thede’s character, with cool blue-green lighting emanating from the ceiling. “The drop ceiling lights were perfect,” Chao says of the room’s eye-catching element, which brought an almost otherworldly vibe to the sketch.

While much of Chao and Yu’s extensive work is only visible in this sketch for fleeting moments, they say that doesn’t deter them in their detailed efforts to create the world in which a sketch like this takes place. unfolds. “We have to be very creative with the spaces, because we never know what’s actually going to end up in the cut while we’re dressing them,” Yu says. “We really have to dress the whole world just in case.”

This story first appeared in the August 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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