Locations specialist Benny Tatton and longtime SPP production designer Clayton Ercolano looked back to the 70s with the Wests. Making the old new again was one of the challenges.
The house that Ootrageous Fortune made one of the most recognisable properties in New Zealand was an obvious feature, but had to look better for Westside than it looked 10 years previously for Outrageous.
“For the West house location exterior we basically gave the house a good scrub then filled any cracks and freshened up the white paint,” said Ercolano. “There was missing blue glass that had been gone since the Outrageous days. The glass was nowhere to be found so we used lighting gel to create the effect.”
“As with any location there was the standard removal of sensor security lights. There was the constant issue of modern exotic plants that just don’t look 70’s so wherever we could we would remove them … man they are everywhere and they are very, very heavy!”
The original sets for the West house interiors on Outrageous were dumped after the conclusion of the series and exhibition at Auckland Museum, “so things like the carpet had to be found again.”
Courtesy of TradeMe, Ercolano found a house lot of the carpet in Napier so a runner got a pleasant day out picking it up “because it turns out carriers don’t move second hand carpet.”
Ercolano noted that the devil is often in the detail, right down to the door handles and light switches, even if not every period detail was so easily researched. “Although the internet was very helpful, the 70’s was a time when things were analogue not digital so a lot of records just do no exist.”
The box for Philips K9 TVs, featured in the opening episode, was recreated with the help of someone who’d worked in the Philips factory in the 1970s and described the graphics from memory, because there were no records available.
“We tried to get as much real food packaging as possible,” said Ercolano, “but was almost impossible as companies like Watties are owned by big multi-nationals. To get clearances was too slow for us so we created our own food and drink labels. Having said that Tip Top were amazing and had heaps of great advertising from the time.”
The bigger picture, especially on location, sometimes presented bigger challenges.
“Heat pumps! They are everywhere,” said Ercolano. “Satellite dishes were also difficult – and people didn’t want to lose their TV connection while we were filming.”
Much of the hiding of unwanted visuals came down to the director and camera department, staging shots and accentuating with lenses to avoid or at least draw focus away from things that simply weren’t around in the 70s.
Sometimes it came down to physically blocking things out of shot. “Where shall we park the bus?” became a bit of a joke, according to Tatton.
For Westside Ercolano went for a two-sided folding phone box prop, which dressed away all manner of anachronistic street furniture – at least until it blended in so well it was forgotten after wrap and fulfilled its destiny as a West Auckland phone box, getting vandalised.
Tatton and Ercolano both remarked that one thing that had made Westside a lot less challenging than it might have been was people’s love for Outrageous Fortune and their willingness to help out getting another generation of Wests onscreen. Calls on Facebook for help tracking down items were answered, people were willing to let their properties be used for shoots and the owners of vintage gas guzzlers got on board.
A number of the residential properties used belonged to older people who’d not changed the décor in decades. Production designer Clayton Ercolano “zouched them up” a bit to make them look newer, although sometimes “We had to clad walls with thin ply and re-wallpaper if the existing paper was too contemporary.”
The Wests’ choice of lower-income neighbourhoods made finding residential interiors a bit easier than it could have been. If the show had required upmarket 1970s accommodations, those would have been much harder to find intact, simply because rich people redecorate more often.
With Westdside now airing Tatton’s dealing with a different period challenge, helping Toa Fraser’s 6 Days pretend to be in 1980s London for its four weeks of shooting here, while Ercolano is seeing the second season of SPP’s The Brokenwood Mysteries through production.
Westside is currently screening Sunday evenings on TV3 and is available on demand on 3NOW.