This year, Mike Flanagan debuted his newest Netflix series, The Midnight Club. The series is unlike Flanagan’s previous work, gearing itself toward a YA audience. The Midnight Club follows a group of terminally ill teens who routinely meet to swap ghost stories in secret. Like Flanagan’s previous literary adaptations The Haunting of Hill House & Bly Manor, his latest series incorporates its hospice backdrop in a manner that creates a character out of its setting.
Game Rant was gifted the opportunity to speak with Laurin Kelsey, the production designer for The Midnight Club. Kelsey discussed the thrilling challenges in peeling back the several layers of The Midnight Club, the innovative techniques she developed to create the elaborate & cohesive sets, her frequent collaboration with Mike Flanagan, & what fans of Flanagan’s work may be able to expect from the pair’s most recent collaboration on the upcoming series, The Fall of the House of Usher.
GR: There are so many layers to the sets of The Midnight Club. There is always an element that its characters can see & what they can’t. How do you develop those concepts & ideas into tangible sets?
Laurin: What I always loved about The Midnight Club from the minute I got the script was how it was exactly that: how many layers are built into the show. It’s a fun challenge as a designer, whenever you’re stretching & crossing different time periods. There are the stories of Brightcliffe; we call it the A storyline, & the ghost stories are the B stories.
Brightcliffe has a multitude of layers because you see the house in the 1900s, the 1940s, the 1960s, & then in the 90s. I spent a lot of time figuring out what the house felt like in the 90s but also every iteration of the house in the past & what it looked like. How it started. Who built it? What kind of wallpaper & fixtures did they have?
To what’s real & not real, the interesting thing about Brightcliffe, & I don’t know if it’s a spoiler, is a lot of what you see is real. It really happened at some point in time. So, I didn’t have to create this unreal world. Everything I did was based on reality.
GR: With those layers, was it difficult to keep each period of Brightcliffe separate?
Laurin: I think the thing that was really challenging, & I think it always is, is when you’re in a period home, a Victorian home, a lot of people maintain or restore it to the way that it was. There are a lot of elements of the house, like the fact that there is still wallpaper & wainscotting. There’s an element of, “How do we show it’s the 90s when the house still looks like it’s a period home?” Actually, that was the biggest challenge: how do you separate the different time periods in a home that only has one feel? It’s a Victorian home that feels like a Victorian home.
There are a lot of smaller details that came in with set decor to kind of allude to what time period we’re in. In terms of the actual set itself, sometimes we were able to add & take away aging, but we mostly did wallpaper, light fixtures, & things that would’ve been updated in the home no matter what time we were in.
Then there’s another layer of that which is that Dr. Stanton owns the home in the 90s, & she’s had it since the 60s. So a lot of times when you have someone of that age or middle-aged, how much are they going to modernize something? From the 60s to the 90s, what did she change?
GR: Identity & reclaiming it is a huge part of the characters in The Midnight Club. Their bedroom spaces aren’t entirely theirs but still feel personalized. Did you take specific steps to individualize those spaces?
Laurin: That was another kind of fun challenge. There are two layers to it. One is Brightcliffe. In the book & in the script, they’re described as these Unbelievable, stunning rooms with four poster beds & an ocean view out the window. What I decided to do because there are so many characters in The Midnight Club’s ensemble, was to address a color to each character to align with what I thought their interests were, their values, where they came from. Once they got paired off into their dorm rooms, I tried to take the two colors of the characters & marry them together.
Even though Anya’s a total badass & rebel, she comes from her ballerina life, so I gave her a dusty rose pink tone. Ilonka, I gave her a purple, lilac tone that could get a lot richer & faded. When you get into their room together, the wallpaper is this dusty rose & on the bedding, there are purples & maroons intertwining. By giving each of them a color, like Anya for example, when you get into her B story, I focused on keeping that palate. In her B story, “The Two Danas,” mom & dad’s house has maroon couches & beige walls. It still fits into the world of roses & dusty pink.
The second half of that is when you’re coming to a hospice, & you’re basically coming there to live out your last days, what would you bring? At that age & in that scenario? We wanted to give the space its personality, but we wanted to be realistic about what they would even consider essential.
GR: Having collaborated with Mike Flanagan before, was there anything you took away from your work on Midnight Mass that you brought to The Midnight Club?
Laurin: Mike is such an amazingly talented person. He’s very diverse. I think the biggest thing I learned on something like Midnight Mass is that Mike has Unbelievable attention to detail. I’ve worked with a lot of directors in the past where they’re very concerned with actor performance, which is rightfully so. Mike is very involved in all areas, which is fantastic as a designer because you get so much more insight into what he really wants. Insight into the script; you hear more depth than you get off the page. He always wants everything to look as realistic as possible.
GR: Finally, is there anything you can tell us about The Fall of the House of Usher? Was your work on Midnight Mass & The Midnight Club helpful in tackling the Poe-inspired story?
Laurin: You always want, or hope to underst& the wants & needs of the director. What kind of features makes his life easier? What kind of opportunities can you provide in a set now that you know how they like to shoot: what kind of angles they’re interested in? What colors do they gravitate towards? What kind of filters & LUTs do they use later?
In working on something like Midnight Mass & The Midnight Club preparing for Usher, ultimately, when you work with someone multiple times, you develop a shorth&. You get to know what they like; what they don’t like. You work in a different way. I think that allows us, at least in the art department, it allows us to be more creative because we’re not having to start from scratch with someone. Midnight Mass was the one that was helpful to prepare for Usher.
The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.
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