Production design of “High Fidelity” – interview with Almitra Corey

May 29th, 2020

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Almitra Corey. In this interview she talks about her path through the various positions in the art department in her career so far, working on projects rooted in realism, collaborating with different directors across the arc of a season of an episodic production, clearing artwork, and what stays with her after a production is over. Around these topics and more, Almitra dives deep into creating the worlds of the gorgeously crafted first season of “High Fidelity”.

Almitra Corey during scouting on “High Fidelity”. Photo by Jesse Peretz.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Almitra: I started working in production in 2004 about a year after moving to New York from Virginia and it was in kind of an accidental way. I started in the Accounting Department and about 1.5 years later made the move to the Art Department. When I made that move, it clicked for me that I had been doing production design in college, but didn’t know what it was yet.

My college degree is in Sculpture & Extended Media, and I also had a minor in Film & Photography, and an interest in Art History as well. I had planned on becoming a curator or a gallerist all through undergrad. When I moved to New York after college, I worked for the French video artist, Pierre Huyghe, on a couple of projects. We were making films, but it was in the constructs of the art world. I wasn’t thinking about it as a movie or a TV show, as I hadn’t put everything together yet. After that he helped me get a job at the DIA Museum as a docent. Working in the art world was exciting and also made me realize that it wasn’t actually what I wanted to do after all. A few months later I got a job through a friend of a friend helping out in the Accounting department on a TV show and never looked back.

After working in Accounting for a short period, I realized the Art Department was what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a Scenic Artist for a while, and then I wanted to be a Decorator for a long time, and eventually I made my way to Art Directing. I did a few movies with a great Production Designer who’s a dear friend, and after working with him for a couple of years as well as designing a handful of short films and music videos, I was hired to design my first feature. That was “The Invitation” with Karyn Kusama in 2014, and I’ve been a Production Designer ever since.

There’s not a lot of people I know who had the path that I’ve had, starting in Accounting, then being an Art Coordinator for about 5 years, and then Art Directing. Most people start as Art PA or Art Director, or go straight to Production Design. But I didn’t originally want to be a designer. I came up in New York under traditional, old-school designers who had been working for 30+ years or had a background and a degree in architecture, theater design or production design. It didn’t seem like something that was in the cards for me.

I loved the idea of Set Decoration, but after doing a couple of smaller projects as a decorator, I realized that I was more drawn to designing.

Set design for “High Fidelity”, record store. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: As you look at these first 15 years of your career, are you still surprised by some things when you join a new production?

Almitra: Every time. It’s funny because it’s such a cliche that everybody has always said since I started working in film and television. Every show is different, and it is true.

The last couple of shows I’ve done have been wonderful, and also unique. There was nothing bad about either show. They were incredible and I’m proud of both of them, but they were both very new structures for me. I’m doing the fourth season of “GLOW”, and I’ve never been on a show that existed before. I’ve only done pilots and first seasons, and it was a new thing for me – coming into a show that was this incredibly well-oiled machine. They had three seasons under their belt, and “GLOW” is an iconic show.

You join all the people that had been working on it together, and you come in as the new person. But so did Jeff Waldron, the Director of Photography, as he is new this season too. My whole department is new as well, except for Construction. It’s the same construction team who’s been there since the beginning, and that made it possible to come in pretty smoothly. Every day there was something new. It can be the the communication style, or the type of budgeting, or just little logistical things – but they were brand new to me.

Kirill: Do you find that in the last few years the art department is expected to do more to match the depth of storytelling and meet viewers’ expectations on the sophistication of the worlds you’re building?

Almitra: I’ve never done multiple seasons of a show. I’ve only done one season so far each of the three different shows. But the answer to your question is yes.

I just recently rewatched the whole season of “High Fidelity”, and I definitely was already making mental notes of places that I can grow the sets in the potential second season. It wasn’t that I was watching it and picking out mistakes or things I didn’t like. I’m actually quite happy with the way that show turned out, and I love the way it looks. But there were places where I was thinking about the story and Rob as a character, and how her set can change, how the store can change and grow with time in a realistic way.

“High Fidelity” specifically, but in general also the shows I work on tend to be rooted in reality and realism. I want there to be a reason behind everything we put on the sets – as much as possible.

Set design for “High Fidelity”, dive bar. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: Do you worry how your work will be seen in 20-30 years, or will you be happy that some of that work is still relevant and finding its audience after all the time that will have passed?

Almitra: I don’t necessarily worry about how “my” work will be seen in 20-30 years. I don’t think I’ve done any projects that I feel wouldn’t hold up visually. There are a couple of movies I’ve done that I can see finding another audience throughout the years.

I did a movie called “Lucky” with Harry Dean Stanton. That movie was quiet, beautiful, small, and well-loved by people who saw it. I think that’s a movie that I expect will have a little bit of a resurgence at some point. It was a beautiful performance, and it was Harry’s last performance before he passed. Another example for me is “The Invitation” that is such a perfect story. I think it will hold up for a long time because it’s an iconic, suspenseful horror-thriller film, and I think that it’ll be relevant for a long time.

I think about those two movies holding up as a whole, being around and being relevant for a long time. But I don’t necessarily think about my work independent of the whole.

Kirill: Do you find it hard to talk with people about what you do for a living? How do you explain what a production designer does?

Almitra: I have a couple of quick and easy ways to describe it to people. I just say that everything you see on the screen that’s not an actor is pretty much my work and the Art Department’s work. That’s the quick and dirty response that includes all of the departments under the umbrella of the “Art Department”.

If I’m describing it a little bit more in detail, I’ll talk about building a set, or what Construction and Set Decoration do more specifically under my whole department. I’ll say that Construction builds the house, and Set Dec makes it a home. I think this is a common way PD’s can easily describe the job to give a general idea of how it works and what we actually do in a practical way.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, dive bar, by Almitra Corey.

Kirill: You mentioned that you prefer to work on projects rooted in realism, and “High Fidelity” is certainly one of such projects. When you say that everything that we see on the screen except the actors is your department, how do you talk about creating such an everyday place, at least for the city dwellers, as a record shop?

Almitra: Talking specifically about our record store on “High Fidelity”, we did build that sat on a stage. The exterior locations on the show exist in a real neighborhood in Brooklyn, and it was really important to the creators of the show that there was some real-life geography. We wanted to see the bar from the record store, and see the bodega from across the street. That was unique. I’ve never worked on a show that’s done that. It’s usually done with a little “movie magic” and camera trickery or editing. You usually move around and find the best looking locations no matter where they are.

We got incredibly lucky. I had an amazing Location Manager on the show and we found two locations that I fell in love with for the exteriors of the bar and the record store. From the very beginning, I personally imagined that the record store was subterranean. It was easy to get Jesse Peretz on board with that, and then we gently convinced everybody else that it was the right move [laughs]. It was personal for me, because one of the record stores in New York that I used to go to when I was younger, was this iconic record store called “Rocks In Your Head”. It was subterranean and I just loved the vibe and the feel of that store.

Dive bar location on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey. Top left – the original location. Top right – exterior mockup with removed storefront, added painted brick along the bottom half of the glass, tinted glass replacement. Bottom left – final still from the show, note elements that stayed, like the design signage and the doors. Bottom right – final still from the show with zoom in on the neon sign.

I thought that that would set us apart from the movie a little bit as well. It also helped us with some logistics on the stage with not looking straight out of the window into our backdrops all the time. And having that extra level added some more movement on the stage as well. But just purely conceptually, I had a deep feeling that it needed to be subterranean. And down the street from its exterior location was this shuttered travel agency, and it just so happened that it was the same person who owned both buildings. So we worked out a deal with this guy and his family.

There was this other thing that I pushed for the bar that we did in that travel agency building. If you live in New York, Los Angeles, and probably any other cities, you go to a bar and it would be in this old building with interesting vintage signage. Whatever the place was before, they’ll use that theme for the bar. So that was the idea for our bar that was in the space of this old travel agency that’s been shuttered for 30 years. The bar has the same name as the travel agency, and it’s lightly themed with Caribbean travel decor and ephemera inside the bar as well. I thought it was a nice thing, because it was an homage to the actual family who owned that building in real life.

That family had a Caribbean travel agency, and after it was shuttered about 30 years ago, they’d been working out of it and doing other businesses. It wasn’t a travel agency anymore, but the existing Allied travel signage was so gorgeous. We restored some of that exterior neon signage, added some set pieces to the front of the building, and then I built the interiors of both of those sets on stage to match those exterior locations.

Record store location on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey. Top left – the original location. Bottom left and bottom center – design mockups for exterior. Right – final exterior built on location.

Those were the ideas in my mind as I was designing the record store, starting with wanting it to be subterranean, and then finding that actual location. There was the added pressure of the fact that this is an iconic book and a well-loved movie. I didn’t want to let anybody down, but I also wanted to stay true to our vision. At the same time I wanted to pay homage to the originals. It was a tricky balance in my own head.

On top of that, the original Production Designer of the movie was the first woman designer that I ever worked for when I was first starting out – Thérèse DePrez. She was this powerhouse and an incredible genius. So I didn’t want to do anything that would have potentially let her down either. It felt like there were big shoes to fill, and I didn’t take it lightly. That being said, we had so much fun! I had these little back stories for all the characters who worked in the store. Those weren’t necessarily written anywhere [laughs], but they would justify the records that I curated around the set from episode to episode.

Our color palette was very much a collaboration with Zoë Kravitz in particular. Not only is she the lead actor in the show, but she’s also a producer and a writer on it as well, so she was super involved with the creative. Very early on she sent me a fashion photo from the ’80s or the ’90s of a woman walking down the street. There was something subtle about the vibe of it. She just gave me that one photo and she was “This is the mood” and I said “I get it”. That was the catalyst for moving forward with all the colors and everything inside the record store.

Record store stage build on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey. Left – final exterior built on stage. Top right and bottom right – final stills from the show.

Kirill: Stepping back a bit, what brought you to “High Fidelity”?

Almitra: This project came to me right as I was finishing reshoots for the pilot for “Dave”, which is another series I did. It was January 2019, and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I had been sent a couple of scripts that I wasn’t that excited about, and I literally had just said to my agents that I would love to go back to New York for a while, and if anything comes across that’s in New York send it to me. At that moment I was a little bit tired of doing pilots, and wanted to do a full season of a show.

I put that out there into the world, and then “High Fidelity” came across and it was a no-brainer. I didn’t have to think about that at all. Straight away I said that I wanted to go to that meeting. And it was a coincidence that two of the executive producers created a show that I had worked on about 13 years ago back in New York. That was when I was still Coordinating, but they loved the Art Department on that show, “Life On Mars”, in general. That show was quite ambitious for the art department, so that was a fun connection which may have helped me a little bit because they have such fond memories of that show – even though my part on it was tiny.

I had two interviews, and somehow they picked me [laughs]. I’m still grateful and a little bit surprised, and it was a fantastic experience collaborating with that group of people.

Kirill: You were the only Production Designer on the whole season of “High Fidelity”, and Carmen Cabana was the only Cinematographer. Does that help to create this visual consistency for the story, as it unfolds over the season’s arc?

Almitra: Working with Carmen was a dream, and we were set up to succeed on the show. A few weeks into prep there was a schedule change, and they added an extra 4 weeks of prep while they worked out something that had nothing to do with the physical production. It was a great gift to us, because we had an extra month to figure everything out and nail everything down. There were no excuses for it not to look good, basically, and it was nice to have that extra time with Carmen and my team.

I used to live in New York, and I live in LA now. We were both there on what they call a travel job. So we had even more time to focus on the show, because we didn’t have our real life to tend to as much, and that can be fun. You have a little bit of a summer camp vibe, making this show our whole life for a few months.

Record store stage build on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: How about working with different directors for different episodes? How do you create space for each one to bring something of their own while still guarding this continuity?

Almitra: There were two things on “High Fidelity” that made it pretty easy for me. It was my first series working with multiple directors, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was learning as I went.

We started out with Jesse Peretz as our original Producing Director who directed the pilot. He’s so wonderful and somebody I’ve always wanted to work with. I learned a lot from him, and that was a real asset for me to be able to learn from him. Then our schedule changed when they added that month, and we sadly lost him to a pre-existing commitment. Jeffrey Reiner came in to take over beginning with episode 2 and he is a very experienced Producing Director.

He handled much of talking to the directors and keeping them in tune with the look of the show. I’ve never worked on a show that had a Producing Director, so that was an interesting thing to learn. I didn’t even know that was a position.

On top of that, there were a couple of directors that I had worked with or knew previously. Andrew DeYoung directed one episode on this season, and he and I go back about seven years and he’s so great. I’ve worked with him a couple times, including on a couple episodes of “Dave” which was special because we got to work with each other a couple times in a row this year. I had never worked with Chioke Nassor, but I knew him a little bit and knew a lot of people who had worked with him, so that was helpful for sure.

I’m still figuring out how to gracefully and correctly work with different directors on a show without stepping on anybody’s toes and giving them the room to do what they do as well. Everybody’s different, and particularly on a series like this, some episodic directors don’t care as much about the production design because it’s already been established. The couple episodes that we did get to start on “GLOW” I was working with experienced and wonderful directors – Jesse Peretz again, and Claire Scanlon. All the directors on season 4 had worked on previous seasons of it, so I was kind of following them to show me around [laughs]. It was going pretty well until Covid-19 hit.

Rob’s apartment stage build on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: You have the big recurring sets, like the record store, the bar and Rob’s apartment. And then you have the one-offs, like the meet-up space where she meets with her ex Kat, or different spaces in the flashback sequences. How do you find the balance of where you invest the time and the resources that you have?

Almitra: I had an excellent Art Director and Set Decorator. We would divide and conquer between us to figure out what made the most sense. So on a day where we were shooting in the record store, but also scouting or prepping another location, I would have my art director or my decorator open that set while I was at the other.

It’s a never-ending moving puzzle when we’re in the throes of episodic production. There’s never time off on the shows I’ve done. There’s different types of scheduling, but on the shows that I’ve done so far, we’re always prepping, shooting and wrapping different sets simultaneously. It shows me how important it is to choose the right team at the beginning, to choose people that are strong. Particularly you want a good lead man, a great set dressing team with the Set Decorator, and an Art Director that really cares and understands how to keep everything in order for the specific show. Not that I’ve ever worked with one that didn’t, but I’ve been lucky in my collaborative teams within the art department.

Kirill: You have Cherise and Simon that work with Rob in the record shop, and the storyline keeps going back to them defining themselves through the music they choose to highlight in that store. How many voices participated in creating the “vibe” of that space? How difficult was it to find the “right” posters and albums for it?

Almitra: Probably the first thing I started doing was working with our clearance coordinator, bands, record labels and musicians that I know. I used to live in New York, which has a pretty solid music scene, but I’m also from Richmond, Virginia which has an incredible punk scene, especially in the ’90s when I was living there. I reached out to a lot of old friends in Richmond as well because I wanted some semi-obscure punk flyers and stuff like that.

When the show came out, it was cool to see a lot of people that I don’t know freaking out about finding the smallest sticker on the register for a seemingly random punk band from the ’90s. That was something that I was really thinking about and it wasn’t random. I know I’m supposed to be thinking about all the big picture stuff as much as possible, but I got really stuck on the details at the record store, and I’m glad I did. It was important to Jesse, Jeffrey, Zoë, and the showrunners that it all feel real. There shouldn’t be anything fake on that set.

Looking back at the movie, I remember half of the posters and the flyers that were in that set on the movie. I knew that the same scrutiny would probably apply to the show, so I spent months [laughs] curating that stuff. There’s some little spaces in the shop that I think may change in season 2, but it was a lot of space to cover. That was a pretty big record store [laughs].

Record store posters on “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey. Left and right – posters of Biggie and Prince on the stage set. Top center and bottom center – final stills from the show.

Kirill: Was there that one poster that got away, that you were not able to get clearance for?

Almitra: No, but we had two that required some legwork on behalf of our legal team. It was the photograph of Biggie [The Notorious B.I.G.] and the photograph of Prince. Those were two that I really pushed and fought for, because I knew that they were important for the character. I also fell in love with that photo of Biggie shot by Barron Claiborne. I came across the image in book called Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.

There’s an iconic photo of him from that shoot, but there’s this one image from the contact sheet in which he’s smiling. I’ve never seen that photo, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo where he looked so joyful. Even though it was a little bit blurry and that might be why it was an outtake, I thought it was so special and cool. He grew up in Bed-Stuy, and our show takes place in Crown Heights, and I felt like it was an important thing to include. Zoë fell in love with that photo as well when I showed it to her, so it was the centerpiece for the record store in a way.

I’m glad we were able to work out all those deals with all of those people. We had to get the estates and the photographers to sign off, and they only signed off on it because they knew what the show was and who was involved with it. They don’t sign off on just anything. Those were special ones to get.

Then one day, one of our ACs came up to me and told me he had his ticket stub from when he saw Prince 20 years ago. I thought it was so cool, and he let me borrow it. I made a copy of it, and I framed it and hung it in Rob’s office next to the sexy Prince photo.

Kirill: Do you want people to pay attention to these little details as they watch the show, or do you want your work to be almost self-evident and not draw attention to itself?

Almitra: I think it’s a healthy combination of the two. I personally love noticing the details when I watch other people’s work, but I know that not everybody is wired that way.

I get excited by details when I see them, and I lean a little towards people noticing. But I don’t ever want it to be distracting, obviously. That’s the balance – to make it look special and cool without taking away from the big picture.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, Liam’s apartment, by Almitra Corey.

Kirill: What went into creating the greenery in Liam’s apartment? Why is there so much greenery in there, and how did it all come together?

Almitra: That was a special location that we found, and it happened to have that little courtyard. The greenery all existed, and we didn’t bring in any greens there. Originally, the scene took place in the living room and on a fire escape, but we couldn’t find a fire escape that would work for safety and for camera. When we found out, everybody agreed that we could use this cool courtyard to replace the fire escape. We made a little outdoor living room there within the wild greens. That was in lieu of a fire escape, and that’s how that came to be.

The idea was that it wasn’t really Liam’s space and the record label rents this fancy apartment for him, but they didn’t put any furniture in it. He’s supposed to be a kid. What is he? Eighteen? Twenty? He’s young, and so we partially filled it with some thrifted sidewalk kind of stuff – because that’s what you do when you’re a teenager and you have your first apartment. It was purposefully spartan because he was only going to be there for a few months.

Kirill: How much work went into the sets for flashbacks? In the first few episodes there’s a lot of that as Rob reminisces on her exes in general, but then the show spends much more time on both Rob and Simon’s past. Did you end up reusing some sets?

Almitra: There was a lot of redressing [laughs]. Thankfully, the set dressers were on top of it. They had basically a Bible of the different time periods of Rob’s apartment specifically, because that was the one that we switched back and forth the most.

There was a clear idea of what Rob’s life with Mac was vs what Rob’s life after Mac was. With Mac, there were plants. The apartment was in good order. There was better artwork on the walls. It’s an apartment you have when you’re in a relationship and you live together. It was supposed to feel more like a couple lived there and took care of the place and filled it with love.

And then post-breakup, things go a little bit off the rails. Rob’s messy. She was a little bit depressed, and she doesn’t have anybody to hold her accountable for her living space. There’s one succulent, but there’s no other plants around. There’s junk food and cereal and clothes on the floor, and a real state of chaos.

Set design for “High Fidelity”, Rob’s apartment. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: Having lived in New York yourself, how realistic do you think is the size of Rob’s apartment for the rather boutique business that she’s in?

Almitra: I don’t think we ever talked about it in the show, but we did have a lot of conversations about how it is. There might be one quick reference to it in the show, but here’s what we decided.

First of all, it’s in Crown Heights, which is not quite as expensive to rent as, say, Williamsburg. And second, she inherited the apartment from her brother when he moved out a few years before. He had lived there for a long time before that, and he inherited it from an old lady. I’m not really sure who that old lady was, a relative, a friend or a coworker. That’s how we justified it. And I do know people in Crown Heights that lived in apartments about the same size and had them for 7-10 years. So it wasn’t out of the realm of reality. It wasn’t like “Friends” where that apartment is insane and they could never have afforded it even with the back story that Monica inherited it from her grandmother or whatever.

I didn’t think that there was anything in that set that looked unrealistic. That was another big thing for us with the realism. We wanted that in the record store, and of course we wanted that in the apartment as well.

Color references and mood boards for “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey.

Kirill: You mentioned the Caribbean theme for the bar and the reference photo that Zoë gave you in the beginning for the record store vibe. Did it feel that you were exploring the whole color gamut on the show, and not being limited to very narrow parts of the color spectrum? It felt to me that the whole season was a celebration of color, vibrant and vivid.

Almitra: We didn’t limit our color palette. On flashback sequences Carmen would light things differently for the mood of that. The colors choices that I made, especially in painting Rob’s apartment, were done so that we could do pretty dramatic change in lighting. Her apartment is this deep midnight blue, but in some of the scenes it comes off as an emerald green the way that it was lit. And the other color in there was a sort of dirty dusty mauve. It’s this pinkish color, as though a grandmother had lived there at some point [laughs], and that was another color that never really looked super-pink. I think both of these colors lent themselves to changing with the mood.

With the record store I wanted to use a few different colors just to show that that store has lived some lives. The hardwood floor in the back of the record store used to be purple, but it’s all scuffed up, so there’s just hints of that purple on the floor back there. And then there’s newer vinyl flooring in the front that’s this deep turquoise color that looks nice with that wall shade of green. It wasn’t olive and it wasn’t chartreuse. It was somewhere in between, and I wasn’t totally sure about that color at first. But then it was just such a perfect color for so many different skin tones – since we have Rob, Cherise and Simon that cover the a broad spectrum of skin tones between the three of them. I thought a lot about that color to make sure that it was going to work, and I think it was successful.

Then there’s the brick. Oh, that brick. We had the best Scenic department in all of New York who could make anything we wanted or needed. The brick was so important to me, and I was a little bit annoying about it to our Charge Scenic. Thankfully, he was so nice about it, because he is incredibly experienced and he’s truly the best. I just wanted to make sure that that brick wall looked very realistic, because it was going to be so featured. Thankfully, it does!

Speaking of the details when I’m watching shows, I can notice fake brick straight away. I think a lot of production designers can, and it always takes me out of it personally and bums me out. It was important to me that the brick looked really good.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, record store, by Almitra Corey. Note the brick texture in the top-right still.

Kirill: You mentioned the skin tones of the three main characters that work in the record shop. Do you find yourself tweaking things from your initial explorations as it goes into shooting and you see how the set feels when the specific actors are in it?

Almitra: Even though “High Fidelity” didn’t have a pilot, as it went straight into a series, we did have a 2-week break in between shooting the first episode and shooting the rest of the series for the studio to review it and see if everything was good before moving forward with the whole show.

Watching the episode, I noticed that the record store needed a little more age to it. All the work that we had done to it looked great in person, but on camera it looked a little too subtle. So we went back through and tweaked that set a little bit. We aged everything up, like curling poster corners and adding some dustiness, for example. We didn’t do anything major. We did the same to the bar, adding a little more dressing to the walls. The texture on that wall looks amazing in person, but the way we were shooting dark night scenes needed more stuff on the wall. It needed to have more of a history there as well.

But it was pretty minor stuff. I’ve heard of shows fully recasting or rebuilding the whole set. That didn’t happen on “High Fidelity”.

In addition to that, another thing that was important to me throughout this season at the record store was to go through and slightly change the featured records on the walls. I didn’t want to do too much, because only a short period of time passes, not including flashbacks. They don’t change a whole wall out at the record stores that I go to, so for our set we’d switch some featured ones around the counter by the register, and a couple around the store as though people had bought them or new releases came in. I didn’t want anybody to ever binge watch the show and notice that the same 150 records were on the wall the whole series.

Kirill: Were there any records in the sleeves?

Almitra: Yeah, there were real records everywhere. Thousands of them.

Creating the artwork for Noreen’s townhouse for “High Fidelity”. Courtesy of Almitra Corey. Top left – building the dog sculpture in the artshop. Bottom left – the final still with the dog sculpture. Bottom right – the car piece on the stage set. Top right – the final still with the car piece.

Kirill: Looking back at it, is there such a thing as your favorite set, or perhaps the most challenging one?

Almitra: It’s hard for me to choose! I love the record store, I love Rob’s apartment, and I love the bar. And I love all of the exteriors that go with those sets as well. These three hero sets and their matching exteriors are so special, and I don’t know that I could choose between those.

As far as a swing set goes, Noreen’s townhouse was definitely special. It was a strange location to begin with, and then we did all that work inside and created all that crazy artwork. We created all of that art with, again, the best Scenic Department I know. We made all of those sculptures, and our special effects guy made the car sculpture based on our ideas. Parker Posey also lent us 2 portraits of herself with her dog and we made a print of a gorgeous collage portrait of her by Jason Mecier.

That was a crazy script, which was the one that Zoë wrote. When I got to the part where there’s a car inside the house, at first I was thinking that they would have to rewrite it. And they were saying “No, no, it could be half a car” [laughs]. Somehow, we were able to pull that off with a lot of help from everybody on the show. That was a funny thing to to ask permission for – and get the budget for. We wanted to buy a car, cut it in half, reassemble it inside a really high end Upper West Side location.

That whole episode was full of great sets. It was so special to shoot at Bemelmans with that beautiful mural all around. I don’t think I could have a favorite, because a lot of work went into all of them.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, Bemelmans, by Almitra Corey.

Kirill: As you were rewatching it, did it feel surreal or crazy to see these normal everyday interactions, and how distant most of that is from us nowadays?

Almitra: Oh my gosh, it’s in everything I watch now. You’re too close! It’s going to be interesting to see how this is relayed in contemporary television shows that come out next year. You can’t ignore this storyline of our world right now.

I was watching something last night, and I don’t even remember what it was now, and my knee-jerk reaction as I was watching it was “Oh, you’re just touching that? You’re just going to touch that?” It feels a little surreal, and it feels sad.

And there’s another thing that is completely selfish, to see that the two movies and both series that I have done recently all finished airing now. That was all the work that I’ve done in the last 3 years, and we were only two episodes into shooting “GLOW” when we paused. And now, who knows when we will go back and finish it. I know it will happen, but I just don’t know when. So I got a little bit sad when I realized that all the work I have done is now out in the world and there’s nothing new coming for a while.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, Rob’s apartment, by Almitra Corey. Note the midnight blue and dusty mauve colors.

Kirill: How obsessed do you get with these little details as you spend those months working on a production? Do you bring it back home with you to your family your friends? Can you detach from it, even a little bit?

Almitra: I definitely take on a little bit of whatever I’m working on at the time. Sometimes my whole style of dress will change slightly. When I was working on “Spring Breakers” years ago, all of my clothes were suddenly neon and bright. And then I was working on a movie in Oregon, and all of my clothes became double denim, plaid [laughs] and just warm. So I’ll take that on a little bit.

During “High Fidelity” I was definitely delving into music in a way I hadn’t in a few years. It made me nostalgic, and that was special and fun to remember all these cool bands that I used to listen to regularly, because now I listen to the same 4 records over and over like there’s nothing new and nothing to revisit…it’s a bad habit [laughs].

The other thing is that I’ll bring some of my own to it. For example, on Rob’s apartment, I brought some of my own personal tastes into that set. The early mood boards that I showed Zoë and Jesse included some of that stuff, and they were receptive to it. Zoë liked the same two colors that I was going for – deep navy blue and dusty rose pink. Those are my two personal colors to a point of almost being psychotic. For the most part, everything in my house is in that color range, as well as all of my clothes. So I did bring some of myself into that set. It goes both ways.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, Rob’s apartment, by Almitra Corey. Note the midnight blue and dusty mauve colors.

Kirill: What stays with you from your earlier productions? Do you remember the good days, the bad days, or some mix of the two?

Almitra: I hold on to everything while we’re shooting. I remember all the good and the bad. And then there’s a period of maybe a month or two after the show comes out, and it all goes away. All the bad stuff goes away and I’ve forgotten anything that ever happened that was less than ideal. I only remember the good energy and the cool things that we made.

I learned from all of it. I learn from the people that I think are being terrible, and sometimes they’re not. I learned that eventually. Sometimes they are, and I learned from that – how to navigate working with people like that. We’re not in a position where we can choose every single person that we work with all the time.

Kirill: Ignoring the current state of affairs in the industry, what keeps you going?

Almitra: I don’t know that it’s the healthiest answer, but here goes. By not ignoring the current state of affairs, I have come to realize that what I do is really connected to my identity- in a way that’s maybe not so healthy, and that I should try to find a better balance of it. I don’t know what to do with myself now that I’m not working [laughs].

The work keeps me going. I was raised that way. My parents are both what you would call workaholics. Not to say that I don’t find ways to balance my mental health. I have good friends and I have some sort of a balance to my life, but when I’m not working I don’t know what to do with my time. I’m really struggling with what to do right now.

My position is such a collaborative one, and that’s something that I really love. I love working with people to figure out how to come together and make this thing that’s maybe bigger than all of us individually. And I live by myself, and I don’t know what to do all by myself.

I grew up loving TV and movies, and having no idea that it was ever anything that I could have anything to do with. I knew what all the positions were from a young age, because when I would go to the movies with my mom, she would make us stay to watch all the credits and say that it was rude to leave before seeing them all. I still do that to this day. I was an 8-year old back then, and I remember all those funny terms. I grew up with such a love of TV and movies, and it’s still so exciting that I get to have a hand in making them now.

Production design of “High Fidelity”, Rob’s apartment, by Almitra Corey. Note the midnight blue and dusty mauve colors.

And here I’d like to thank Almitra Corey for taking the time to talk with me about the art and craft of production design, and for sharing the wealth of supporting images. The first season of “High Fidelity” is available for streaming on Hulu and a variety of digital platforms. And if you want to know more about how films and TV shows are made, click here for additional in-depth interviews in this series.