Curt Beech talks about production design in the Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building”


This post was updated on September 6 at 8:12 p.m.

When there are only murders in the building, no piece is left out.

Alumnus and production designer Curt Beech won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour) for his work on Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.” The series follows three eclectic neighbors who bond over their love of true crime podcasts and launch their own to solve a murder at their New York apartment building, the Arconia. Beech said his role as production designer involved creating all the environments the actors inhabited and all the decorative choices to set the tone for the space.

“My business will be where you want to try to get the middle of the diagram between authenticity, story and visual content,” Beech said. “It’s always my dream to try and make it happen.”

Alumnus and production designer Curt Beech recently won the Emmy for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative (Half-Hour) Program. (Courtesy of Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

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Because each character’s apartment had the same architectural bones, Beech said the script gave him visual cues of context to build from when designing the sets, especially in dialogue. For example, he said a scene where Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) draws attention to the quality of his coat after a car nearly hits him speaks to who Oliver is as a person, suggesting what could look like the houses of the characters.

Based on this information, Beech said the production design team then builds the characters’ stories by adding rich depth and story to their environments. An example includes Mabel Mora’s (Selena Gomez) apartment in her visible lack of decoration, prompting Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) to wonder how Mabel can live in such a demolished space, says Beech. To prompt Charles-Haden’s question, Beech said the space couldn’t be a standard apartment. with four white walls because it wouldn’t make sense given the subtext.

Artistic director Jordan Jacobs said the psychology of the characters was heavily considered in the design of their apartments. With Mabel he said her stripped-down surroundings reflect her vulnerability to the murder victim who is her childhood friend. Despite her history in the building, Jacobs said Mabel doesn’t know who she is or where her roots are – which contributes to her space lacking a raw emotional attachment in her nudity, showing only the bones of the soul. ‘Arconia.

“It seems strange to call a show like ‘Only Murders’ world building, but that’s what we did,” Jacobs said. “We created the world of the Upper West Side in this historic building. The building itself was one of the characters, and it wasn’t just our three actors in creating their environments.

Charles-Haden’s and Oliver’s apartments were more ornate in design, Beech said. With Charles-Haden, Beech said he abandoned his initial inspiration from ’90s “Architectural Digest” magazines because creating a time capsule would inhibit his character growth. Instead, he slightly modernized Charles-Haden’s apartment in the more avant-garde style of the decade to depict the last time the character had the financial means to renovate and also reflected on how he has retained his appearance as a now-out-of-work 90s TV star. he said.

To aid in the production design process, Beech said he uses the script and dialogue to help build the aesthetics of each character’s environment. (Courtesy of Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

When conceptualizing the artistic vision for a room, Beech said he designs around furniture, thinking about where the character would most likely sit during a scene. He then looks at wallpaper, rugs and furniture covers to find a color palette that matches the character and helps drive the story visually, he said. He added that he found a colorful swatch of striped fabric with a particularly deep shade of blue that conveyed an expensive elegance and a playful sophistication reminiscent of Charles-Haden..

For Oliver, Beech said he achieved a traditional and somewhat dated look of blacks, browns and purples. Coincidentally, the purple fabric Beech said he used for his glowing effect was the same one the costume designer used in Oliver’s coat. He added that finding pieces to decorate Oliver’s apartment was all about evoking a magical sense of theatricality as a financially unstable but feisty Broadway director.

Set designer Rich Murray said he wanted to showcase Oliver’s character throughout his career by covering the walls of his apartment with his posters and general mess. He said that every surface of Oliver’s apartment is littered with teacups, as Oliver naturally forgets to pick them up after putting one down every time he answers the door, as he lives as if he has another housekeeper.

“It brings the words to life, brings the characters to life, and it gives the actors, hopefully at least, something to hold on to and understand,” Murray said. “When Martin Short first walked into his apartment, he was like, ‘Oh, I know exactly this apartment. I feel like I live here.

Beech hopes to convey a sense of reality to the characters and world of “Only Murders in the Building.” (Courtesy of Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

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As a production designer, Beech said he always tries to give viewers a visual element to hold on to, especially for “Only Murders in the Building” because it’s a mystery. Without revealing too much to the audience, he said he has a responsibility to communicate who a character is through his space and support him in his reality.

“The most important thing is to create believable spaces for the world the writers wrote about,” Beech said. “That’s all I care about… The space is, if a bit fantastical, but authentic to these characters.”


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