Before Return to Sender, I had never really put much attention into set design. I just used whatever was in the location I was lucky enough to get. If it wasn’t actively at the location, I didn’t really think about it.
For this particular film, that changed because one of my locations didn’t have any furniture. We had to make it seem like someone lived there. We had to start from scratch.
We hatched an idea that our main character was an artist, a painter to be specific. We had a lot of props at our disposal to work with this idea. We set up enough furniture to make our shots look lived in. We had canvases and paintings on the walls. I think we successfully made it look like a painter lived in the space we had to film in.
This character was curious and outgoing, so we used a lot of bright colors and creative ideas. We had the actress dress in red to work with this theme as well.
Our second location had more furniture already. We just had to cater it to our character. We didn’t want to overuse paintings on the walls again. We wanted to do something different that worked with the furniture and such. We ended up going with more neutral colors, photographs, and flowers.
This character was the more reserved of the two. If our lead character was the type to be the first one on the dance floor, this character was the type who needed to be coaxed out with her. I decided to make her a cat person with a photograph of my childhood cat. We had flowers around the set and a photograph of a beach. They were very subtle things, might not be very noticeable in the final cut, but the thought is there.
I think my favorite aspect of the set design that we chose to do was to add matching paintings. My production assistant Sarah Sofia Serrato and I had been to a painting class together in the past, so we both had different versions of the same painting of an owl with pumpkins. Sarah’s painting is in the background of one of the shots at the lead character’s house, and my version of the painting is in the supporting character’s house. We aren’t sure if anyone will really see it and make the connection, but we liked the thought behind it.
I’ll definitely be taking this experience with set design into future projects. Even if it doesn’t really show up completely within the shots of the film, it really helps solidify the character and their motivations. It created a mood on set. I liked that fact.
Of course, other elements that came into play with this project had to do with prop design. I’ll discuss those in another post.