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A PDC Interview: Angelique Clark

Angelique Clark is a New York City-based production designer, best known for her work in television comedy, including the first season of "Inside Amy Schumer", a sketch comedy series, Bravo’s "Odd Mom Out" about the momzillas of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and all five seasons of the ground-breaking feminist/stoner series "Broad City" on Comedy Central. Her background in fine arts, having studied painting and film theory, has informed her approach to the genre.

You just finished Season 5 of "Broad City". Congratulations.

Thank you so much.

How do you feel?

Oh my goodness, ecstatic! It’s been a thrilling ride to see this series through from the beginning season to the last. I feel happy, proud and grateful for the opportunity to work on such a fun feminist show with such a talented cast and crew. Abbi [Glazer] and Ilana [Jacobson], [the show’s co-creators and stars] are truly the best.

How did you get involved in Broad City in the first place? I had been working a lot with Tony Hernandez, the founder of Jax Media, who I met when I did "Onion News Network" and "Inside Amy Schumer". He sent me the script for "Broad City" and I absolutely fell in love with it because it read like my own wacky hijinks when I was in my twenties trying to make it in NYC with no money but good friends. I thought immediately: I have lived this, I can see this.

Because the project felt personal, do you think you approached it differently?

I approached it more intuitively than other projects, which usually involve significantly more research. As soon as I met Abbi and Ilana, they felt like dear friends and after talking to them about their vision for the look and feel of the show, there was a mutual trust which allowed me the creative runway to really take off with it.

Certainly, there are always challenges in terms of getting something in your head built and into the physical world. Since I related so much to the "Broad City" world though, it felt like a lot of the sets were just variations on my own and my friends’ various crappy apartments over the years, all over New York City.

The other part of my approach was locking down awesome peeps to be a part of the team which ended up being John Cox as art director and Jessica Petrucelli as set decorator, among many other talented people that eventually came and went. I met John on a commercial and met Jess working together on "Onion News Network". They stayed until the final season, so I feel grateful to have had such a top notch and loyal team.

The sets on "Broad City" really capture the feminist, transgressive, weird, kinda gross, nature of the show, but also the show’s endearing and funny qualities. There’s so much warmth in it. I grew up watching comedy in the 1980s and 1990s where the shows’ sets didn’t necessarily tell a story or reflect an extension of the characters in any meaningful way.

What was your intention in building their worlds? Did the sets grow out of the collaboration with Abbi and Ilana?

It was a definitely a goal to treat the sets as extensions of their characters and reflect their growth over the series. That was something born out of many talks with Abbi and Ilana about what their spaces were going to look and feel like. I remember Ilana very early on saying (and she would say this throughout the series), that she wanted her apartment to be as gross and as gritty as possible, to really show that she couldn’t afford more than a busted shared apartment with a mishmash of dollar store crap and up-cycled furniture from the street or thrift store.

For Jess and I, it was really fun to swap out different dollar store items over the years and bring in frivolous purchases that Ilana would make. For instance one year I brought in a ceramic planter in the shape of a baseball cap and that just felt like maybe something Ilana splurged on. For Abbi’s apartment, John and I taped out the size of Abbi’s entire apartment that first season in our office and made it as small as we could while still being able to shoot in it, and they both were like “Make it smaller!”.

And then my own intention for the sets was to make the apartments and the sets as cinematic and nuanced and layered as possible. Part of the comedy for Abbi and Ilana was to accurately depict the struggle of making it in New York City when you’re broke. So for instance, in Ilana’s apartment we deliberately made her room an ugly color blue to imply that she had inherited the room that way, because the type of apartment you can afford in your 20s isn’t going to be freshly painted when you move in. You just inherit this dirty apartment where you have to live with somebody’s previous bad choices, especially if you’re Ilana and you don’t want to spend the time or money to repaint it.

Then similarly for Abbi’s apartment, we intentionally made her walls aesthetically pleasing as if she picked the apartment because the living room already had vintage wallpaper when she moved in. For her bedroom we reasoned that she probably painted her room on her own, something her character would do. We didn’t think it made sense for her character to paint her bedroom more than once although we had many talks about it. P.S. shout out to Alan Lampert who designed the pilot and picked that iconic guava color!

Sticking with these characters over a five season arc — how did you think about their spaces evolving?

For their apartment sets, Jess and I really had a blast over the seasons changing out small things that we thought were consistent with Abbi and Ilana’s character evolution. We couldn’t get too carried away because they didn’t make a ton of money, but Abbi would periodically acquire a new art piece, or change up some of her home accessories since she has an eye for design… and then Ilana would always have fun new dollar store lighters for her weed and continue to add to her collage of rappers and icons on her closet door.

A huge change came Season 4 after Trump was elected and both Abbi and Ilana got new jobs in the same season. The wacky stickers on Ilana’s front door turned 100 percent political and also a fun thing we did in her bedroom was fashion a headboard out of the political stickers and protest signs to really drive home Ilana’s political awakening.

For Abbi we showed her growth by changing the layout of her furniture, upgrading some of her furniture, and swapping out her old Oprah Xerox art with a piece of her own artwork that got progressively more filled in throughout the season. I’m super psyched about the last season, which hasn’t come out yet so can’t talk too much about it but we further tweaked both their sets to reflect their growth over the entire series.

Are there particular sets or episodes from the show that you think fondly of now, after having done so many sets?

I really loved the Florida episode from Season 4. I think that’s my favorite. We shot exteriors in Florida, but the interiors we did in New York, so pulling off a sunny retirement home during one of the most freezing winters brought a certain sense of invisible irony to it all. Also I watched a ton of Golden Girls to pull references… who doesn’t love an opportunity to do that?

Other sets I love were the Strand house where we did a marble bathroom and also Oliver’s room which ultimately we didn’t get to see too much of, but still one of my favorites! Oh, the boat liquor closet from season 2 was so much fun to build too! I love anything nautical!

You’ve done film as well as commercial work and TV. Can you talk about how the process is different for you in television?

TV production schedules tend to be quite rigorous and fast-paced so I can’t take my time with research in the way I would with a film. I just dive in head first with mood boards so that I can communicate firstly with the showrunner and director and then secondly to my team. Beyond that, the process for a commercial, film or TV is all quite similar in that I am taking something that is abstract and translating that into the concrete and physical. I really like to approach each set as if it were a painting. Which is actually how I got into production design initially.

[When I was painting,] it would take me weeks to finish one work and I thought, “This is just one frame and I want to tell a bigger story.” That led me to do my own video art, then editing, then motion graphics, until finally I landed in production design, which married a bunch of my skills. [In painting,] there are so many elements at play in a composition like texture, scale, color and shape, and those are the same modalities in TV and film that allow me to help facilitate the storytelling. And it’s definitely not a linear process, but the input I receive from the showrunner, director and the DP I take and use to help tell the larger story.

"Difficult people" moodboards

What's your relationship with a showrunner in TV when different episodes have different directors?

I usually look to the showrunner to help with overall tone and vision, then on shows with different directors on different episodes, I check in about more specific details. But honestly it really varies from project to project because some showrunners can be more hands-on and some directors can be more hands-off, it really just depends on the personality and how everyone is interacting together.

You’re from California?

Yes, for the most part! My formative years were in Orange County before I hightailed it up to UC Berkeley in the Bay Area for college.

I think of you as a New York City designer. So many of your projects really speak to very New York milieus. How did you end up in New York?

Ha! I’ve lost all my California chill. It’s time to move back ASAP! My boyfriend in college surprised me with a trip to New York for a week and I completely fell in love with it and really wanted to live there. And basically that’s what I did after college eventually. I moved without having any connections, money or a plan [laughing].

But it’s worked out! Turning to comedy: this may be an oversimplification, but it seems like comedy affords more freedom to take risks, or do more over the top sets. In "Odd Mom Out," for example, you were able to do really fun and funny sets, still existing within the world of the show and a plausible reality. Do you feel like that’s true? That comedy gives you more latitude?

Absolutely. I’ve had a tremendous amount of freedom on most all of the jobs I’ve done. I don’t know if that’s normal [laughing]. Also I’ve just happened to work with so many talented show creators that trust me to carry out their vision like Amy Schumer, Julie Klausner [on the series "Difficult People"], Jill Kargman [on "Odd Mom Out"] and of course Abbi and Ilana. But yeah, I feel lucky I’ve gotten to try out some wacky ideas without a ton of red tape.

But then doing a sketch show like Inside Amy Schumer, has to be incredibly challenging because you’re making so many different universes on a tight frame?

Oh my god yes. I only did the first season of "Inside Amy Schumer", but on any given day I could be doing five wildly different sets. It was challenging in terms of coordination, logistics, resources and timing. In narrative projects, you have the luxury to develop a unified and complete universe over many seasons or arc of the show. Of course on narratives you have one-off sets, but then there are always the central characters where you get to help tell the story through the evolution of those [main] sets. But yeah, on a show like "Inside Amy Schumer", each sketch is basically a different set. There were no repeats of the sets and because of the sheer volume of sets it’s just a different kind of beast where I’m making lots of on the spot decisions that I haven’t thought about until it comes up in moment. It was super fun but hard and really helped hone my design chops.

After having done these types of shows that required so much with limited resources, I’m sure there’s little that fazes you. Are there aspects of your work that surprise you or challenges you?

The most challenging thing for me to deal with at this point are the long and sometimes punishing hours! And early birdie call times. I used to be able to pull all nighters and 4am call times no problem, but now I’m like, bring on the European model of 10 hour days! I’m ready to sign the petition. Let’s do this!

Are there particular skills that you’ve found useful along the way? Are there things you wished you’d known?

It’s been so useful to have started off first and foremost as a visual artist. That trained me early on to find inspiration everywhere. And then also I did time as a videographer of focus groups for various products and science talks in college. Then for a couple years I did editing which segued into motion graphics, which is how I really learned Illustrator and Photoshop. All of these various skills have helped me since I didn’t have any formal production design training. It’s all been on the job learning.

Any projects coming up?

I’m taking a much needed break for the moment but have some potential projects in the works so let’s see!

Thank you so much for doing this, Angelique.

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