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Countdown to 'Dollhouse': Spending $100,000 in 15 days

Six days to go.  Set decorator David A. Koneff, a veteran of "CSI: Miami," "Firefly," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," took on a different challenge when he signed on to beautify the set of "Dollhouse."  Already having worked with Joss Whedon and production designer Stuart Blatt, Koneff stepped in to help shape one of the show's signature characters and create a mood that has extended beyond the show and affects anyone who visits the set.

When you were called in for "Dollhouse," what was the first thing that came to mind?
I was really pleased to get back to working with Joss again because I really enjoy his take on things.  It's unique, I think.  Especially after spending so many years working on "Buffy" and "Firefly" with him where we had such a specific look.  You know "Buffy" was a very realistic look at a very fictitious place in America called Sunnydale.  "Firefly" was a place we had never been before.  An undisclosed time in space.  For the first time, Joss and Stuart were asking me to make something completely beautiful and sexy.  Those were the two key words that I jumped off the cliff with for "Dollhouse."  It's gotta be sexy ... and we went from there.

What on the set are some of your favorite pieces?
My all-time favorite pieces on the set is some of the lighting.  We found this company that made these silk-wrapped lighting pieces in all sorts of different colors.  They're a company from Israel that manufactures in New York.  The name of the company is Aqua Creations.

Dollhouse5250_2

Any others?
I bought some lighting fixtures from a company in Los Angeles that was owned by a brother and sister that are, I believe, from Indonesia. They're in their 20s, a brother and sister team ... [they] design everything from scratch and it's absolutely unique.  She also made me a number of handmade Asian-inspired floral arrangements.

How much are some of these  pieces?
The mobile was about $10,000.  The light fixtures ... range from $300 to $600 apiece, which I thought was pretty reasonable these days.

Wow.  So, the bar is set pretty high with "Dollhouse."  Can you give me a few of your favorite sets in movies or on TV?
Ones I thought were were very good? Somebody else's work?

Yes.
Oh sure.  I always liked "The X-Files."  Not to keep it in the Fox family, but "The X-Files" ...  didn't feel it was necessary to explain these bizarre things you see in the room, and they let the viewer fill in all the gaps with their own imagination.  And we did a lot of that on "Buffy."

Another TV show -- "Ugly Betty."  Beautiful show. Absolutely to the moment cutting-edge design and decoration.  Fearless, absolutely fearless -- and probably in some ways trendsetting.  Archie D'Amico was the decorator on that.  He worked for years over at Fox on "NYPD Blue." Unbelievable decorator.

Recent movies?
I'm a lover of all things science fiction and horror.  They are few and far between ... I mean, I really loved "Slumdog Millionaire." The places that these characters inhabited felt soooo real and natural.  It felt like they just walked in and did nothing to every single location and set -- and I'm sure that wasn't the case. Not know what it's like to live and exist in that place, it felt completely natural ... and it's not even nominated for [an Academy Award in] art direction!

Is it the set reacting to the actors, or the actors reacting to the set?
It's all of the above. Sometimes you have to put everybody's requirements on a tiny little scale and give one or the other more weight depending on the conversations you've had with the director, the production designer.  There's usually very little time that you have to create things ... There's a lot of people to satisfy, and there's a lot of people to keep in mind...

To be honest, a lot of that stuff becomes secondhand.  We've gone through it so many times that we all know each other's minds when dealing with certain things.  And sometimes a set will just spontaneously happen.  It'll evolve from a rug or a lamp or an ashtray and it just grows from there.  That's when it's most fun, when it just evolves so spontaneously.

Is that how the "Dollhouse" set evolved?
The permanent sets ... once I figured out the visual language that Stuart was using, it became sort of a no-brainer.  It was just a race against time to get it done.  That's the way it usually is in television. Five weeks of prep is not a lot of time.  It's 25 days.  I remember my lead man coming up to me after I think I had been shopping for three weeks, for 15 days.  He walked into the room and said "Congratulations.  You've just spent over $100,000 in 15 days!"  I was absolutely shocked that I had spent that much money that quickly, but I was also shocked that I felt like we had made almost no mistakes.

-- Jevon Phillips

Photo: David Strick / David Strick's Hollywood Backlot

Related:
- Countdown to 'Dollhouse': Joss Whedon on women (and sex!)
- Countdown to 'Dollhouse': The show's 'funny and twisted' producing duo
- Countdown to 'Dollhouse': Olivia Williams, the Madam speaks
- Countdown to 'Dollhouse': Fran Kranz spills Attic secrets
- The complete Countdown to 'Dollhouse'

 
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