Think you can make Canada a little more American? The Breakout Kings design team can! From Brooklyn bodegas, pizza joints, and of course prisons Tamara Devron (production designer) and Clive Thomas (set decorator) were the creative minds behind the impressive atmospheric transformation in season 1 of A&E's Breakout Kings. ‘Dress and Redress’ was the motto for these talented designers as they turned bunkers into motels and prisons throughout the series to add some New York swag to their Canadian set.
What’s your thought process when designing for a show like Breakout Kings?
TAMARA DEVRON: Well, they shot a pilot that I didn’t do and they had established a small area in a prison that I was supposed to build. But then sort of looking ahead I thought, well, it better be a prison that we can redress as different prisons and sure enough every episode pretty much except for maybe two, we’ve totally redressed that prison. We’ve made it into prison cafeterias, infirmaries, different cellblocks--So it’s kind of one set that’s just been multipurpose.
Are you sketching your sets before building them?
TAMARA DEVRON: We initially draw something the old school way by hand and then we have two people drafting full time.
It sounds like you need to see things months in advance so you can start building; how soon are you getting the script before you shoot?
TAMARA DEVRON: Days…As a department head, I’m the first person to get an outline-- these guys [Clive and Carolyn] won’t even think about it because they’re still dealing with the current episodes. I will be the first person to meet with the new director and we’ll go out and look for locations. We have two locations departments, one is sort of in prep and one is with the shooting crew. We’re meeting with locations trying to figure out what’s going to be a build because when you have seven days of prep and you have to build a set, you’ve got to know that pretty much in the first or second day of prep because we have to draw it up, give it to the carpenters, have it built, have it painted [and] have it dressed.
CLIVE THOMAS: So she [Tamara] has a really tough job because she’s dealing with the one [location] that we’re building and the shooting as well as figuring out what’s going to happen with the next one coming up.
TAMARA DEVRON: In the early stages of this, for example, I had to contact the writers and say, “Just give me a sense of how many different prisons are we seeing,” you know, because it [be]came clear early on that we were going to see the prison set that we built for the prison.
Because you’re shooting American television in Canada, do you ever run into the problem of things looking a little too Canadian?
CLIVE THOMAS: We go to great lengths to make it look American. A prime example,--we were shooting yesterday on a street and my onset director asked if I had the American one-way and no entry signs. That was something that we had missed.
What is the most challenging set you had to rebuild?
I think one of the most interesting prisons we did was [when] they brought back a character from Prison Break, T-Bag (Robert Knepper). We had to take our prison set and make it into the established prison set from Prison Break. It was challenging and very expensive because it had these certain kind of sliding doors. T-Bag’s prison set for Prison Break had bars everywhere. We had to watch Prison Break, [get] screen grabs from Prison Break, examine it [and] try and figure out the scene -- what the paint colors were and what the dressing was.
What set on the show are you most proud of?
TAMARA DEVRON: I mean some of the prison sets, although ultimately I think the prison should have been much bigger. My personal favorite is Turros.
CLIVE THOMAS: We [also] did this thing called the Underground Bunker (“Like Father Like Son”) where this guy was going around with all these explosives that was exterior to the interior -- we did the exterior in a park. We built this big mound of doors to go down and then shot the [rest] in the studio. That was well done.
TAMARA DEVRON: That was well done, yeah.
CLIVE THOMAS: We dug this hole in this park pass, so you can get enough underground to cut to the other -- it was pretty cool.
TAMARA DEVRON: That was cool--We’ve taken that set, the bunkers, and redressed it into one of these horrifying basements so we do reuse things.
At this point, we shut the tape recorder off, and Tamara and Clive gave us a guided tour of the set, including the terrifying basement seen briefly in the episode “Collected”. As weird as it was stepping in and out of prison cells, they were positively spacious and luxurious compared to the basement set.
The detail in the basement was so thorough that it felt as if we had discovered some horrible secret kept by the Breakout Kings production team. From the tattered, filthy mattress to the dozens of squeezed-out water bottles and empty food packets, it looked completely authentic and made us feel that someone had been held captive there for months. The cable wires, loosely stapled in and covered with dust, seemed as if they had been there for years, and the toilet, which Tamara insisted was purchased new, was covered in rust and (artificial) filth. This talented team managed to spook themselves with this one, and it freaked us out too!