Lori Mazuer is a pure talent. She has worked in the Art Department on over 50 productions in the last 20 years, including her recent stint as the lead Set Decorator for the hit TV show “The Mindy Project”. She was also the Set Decorator for the 2016 hit movie “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”, starring Andy Samberg. Lori also has worked on many horror films, including Lords of Salem, Halloween I and II, and Insidious: Chapter 2 and 3. It was an honor interviewer her. Enjoy!
Matthew Toffolo: How is “The Mindy Project” experience? What is your typical work week setting up an episode?
Lori Mazuer: The Mindy Project has been an incredible experience. We are headed into Season 5 soon which will be my 3rd season with the Mindy team. Our main goal is to make Mindy’s world come to life, every week with a very ambitious schedule. We shoot our half hour episode every 5 days. This means we are prepping, shooting and wrapping all at once. We often crossboard which means we shoot multiple episodes at once.
My typical work week involves Concept meetings with the creatives, midweek art dept. meetings, which involve detailed discussions with the producers and directors about how the sets should look. Weekly production and tech scouts. While all of this is happening I am shopping and dressing multiple sets at the same time. I have 2 amazing shoppers who help me find the best pieces for our sets and a team of set dressers who are constantly picking up furniture from vendors, dressing sets and returning furniture that has been shot.
We typically have anywhere from 4 to 10 swing sets.Depending on the length of the scene the built sets on stage are 2,3 or 4 wall sets. Once a week we usually dress the Universal back lot to look like a typical NY street. This could be one block, with multiple store fronts, or several blocks. Its a really challenging show but we all manage to rise to the occasion thanks to a great team. The entire crew is smart, kind and helpful. When you have these key qualities in any situation you can succeed in anything.
MT: What is the fundamental difference between working on a television production in comparison to a feature film? I’m assuming the hours are less hectic when working on a TV show?
LM: I think it comes down to the prep time and the amount of details you put into a set. I learned very fast that in TV.
Its head and shoulders. Layering the set with smaller personal items for the characters is my favorite thing to do but we often do not have the time to do this in TV . I have found in film that you are given more days to dress a set so there is time for everyone to see it, discuss it and make changes if needed. We are moving too fast in TV to do this.
I think the hours you work really depends on the TV show. I’ve worked on a few TV shows where we only have one or 2 small swing sets. So there is plenty of time to layer and even adjust if you want too. By comparison the Mindy Project has several more per week.
MT: You’ve worked on many horror feature films. What do you like about the genre?
LM: I fell into working on horror movies by chance. Its kind of funny because I am actually a huge scaredy cat! I am always the one with their hands over their eyes and screaming. I don’t see very many horror movies..they stress me out.
From a creative perspective I do enjoy working on them because of the often unrealistic charm they have. Some of my favorite sets were on the Lords of Salem. The Production Designer, Jen Spence and I have done a few horror movies together and we work very well together. We created a surreal apartment for Sheri Moon Zombies apt which was meant to give the audience the idea that she could actually be losing her mind. We found some images we liked and printed them 10′ x 10′ . Then stretched them on huge canvases.The end result was pretty fantastic. It added to the make believe, surreal world that Rob strived for. We also painted eerie trees on her living room walls. The entire apartment was done in grey, black and white with touches of red. This was something that evolved once Jen, Rob and I delved further into her character. You often don’t have the time for this creative process in great detail in TV. Its something I really love doing in features.
PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from the film “Lords of Salem”:
MT: Describe the working and collaboration relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?
LM: The set decorator helps to fulfill the designers vision both creatively and logistically. We will meet and discuss how we see the character and the environment that the scene takes place in. He or she will give me a few visual references which can be anything from furniture pictures or wallpaper samples that might set the tone or mood for the set. I like to show the designer a few pictures before we begin locking everything in to make sure that we are on the same page and then I just run with it. Its a great feeling to create something with someone else. If a piece of art or furniture inspires me I love telling the story or reasoning to the designer or director on why I think it is right for them. Its an incredible creative process. Sometimes one piece of furniture that we both love can turn into a big back story just between the 2 of us,
MT: How soon before production begins does the Set Decorator begin working? What is your initial task?
LM: I usually start about the same time the production designer does whether doing a film, TV or commercial.
My first task is to break down the script and note any hard to find items. If I am doing a period piece I will immediately start researching that era and start sourcing the right pieces.
I start with broad strokes, the main pieces in the room and build around that. However, I have been known to be inspired by the smallest thing .I once decorated a set because I was inspired by a blanket I found in a thrift store. It was the perfect color and had beautiful stitching. Sometimes something will catch my eye and that item to me can tell a whole story for the character.
MT: What are the key qualities to being a Set Decorator?
LM: Observe how everyone lives. You never know what kind of apartment or house you will need to create. In a sense you have to be able to empathasize with every kind of character there is in the world..from a serial killer to a nun, to a single mom living off of welfare checks.
Organization and communication are very important. You need to be able to be clear in your instructions and what you want to achieve to your crew .I think the tiny details you put in are what make the actors feel that the set you created for them is right for their character. It can inspire them and if that happens you have done your job.
MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?
LM: I’m a girl from Pittsburgh who grew up one mile from a multi plex and 2 miles from the art house cinema. My taste in film is very eclectic. My inspirations run the gamut.
Female Troubles / John Waters
Barton Fink /Cohen Brothers
I am, a huge fan of Dante Ferretti. I have watched the Adventures of Baron Munchausen too many times to count because I love the production design in that movie
MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the Art Department in the film industry?
LM: Work hard. Draw as much as you can, it often helps in communicating your vision. Its important to understand design in film and to know your designers as they are often brought up as reference.
Pay attention to how people live. Not just in what type of furniture they would have but other contents, personal items, photographs, artwork that can tell a story. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You will be working with very creative people and new ideas are often found to be refreshing.
Watch movies and observe how they are designed. There’s a lot to be learned from other Production designers, Art Directors and Set Decorators.
PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping:
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.