- LOS ANGELES
For A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bo Welch has the good fortune to continue his collaborative relationship with showrunner/director/EP Barry Sonnenfeld. Welch has served in two capacities on the show--production designer on all the work and director of select episodes.
Based on the internationally best-selling series of books, Netflix’s darkly comedic mystery recounts the tragic tale of the Baudelaire orphans--Violet, Klaus, and Sunny--and their extraordinary encounters with the devious Count Olaf (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris) who will stop at nothing to get his hands on their inheritance.
In addition to their ongoing combined efforts on A Series of Unfortunate Events, production designer Welch and director Sonnenfeld have teamed on a mix of TV and feature fare over the years, including the series pilot for The Tick and movies such as Wild Wild West as well as Men in Black and its two sequels. Welch earned one of his four career Art Direction-Set Decoration Oscar nominations for Men in Black; the other three coming for director Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage, Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess, and Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple. Welch served as production designer on Men in Black, The Birdcage and A Little Princess. He was art director on The Color Purple.
In some respects, A Series of Unfortunate Events parallels Welch’s feature film exploits but in a condensed framework. “For season two, we did 10 episodes covering five of the books,” related Welch. “I had to sit down and, as quickly as I could, design 10 hours of filmed entertainment. It’s like designing five movies but like in a month. You sit down, absorb the material, start designing and drawing to get that work out to the art department to turn it into construction documents and figure out where things fit. The beauty of this show is that it’s all on stage. But that also creates a logistical puzzle of incredible magnitude. We shoot an hour episode every 13 days. We build, shoot, tear down sometimes the next day to then build the next wave of sets for the next book. It’s made possible because I’ve worked with Barry for 20 years. We have an understanding, a shared aesthetic. I know his camera language--his choice of lenses, his moves. I know what things should look like as I read the material. The logistics of cranking out all these sets for what I would consider five movies which we shoot over a few months is refreshing, challenging, exhausting and ultimately very gratifying.”
And then there’s the directorial mantle of responsibility which in season two had Welch directing two episodes based on “The Ersatz Elevator,” the sixth novel in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books. “Doing production design and directing for a series is tricky,” shared Welch. “I first have to get my day job done before I’m allowed to do the other job of directing. Part of the appeal of production designing this material is being able to lose yourself in a parallel reality, an alternate reality you create. When you design it, you can get lost in it. Then when you direct, you get more deeply lost in this parallel reality. I love being lost in what has sprung from your imagination.”
At the same time, realizing one’s imagination requires practical considerations. “With set construction, we only build what you need to tell the story,” said Welch. “Every molecule that we build on stage is there to tell the story and support the characters. That’s nothing new to me. What I’ve learned that’s new due to A Series of Unfortunate Events is how to be fast in building these worlds, and how much a really good production can crank out in a relatively short amount of time.”
As for how he initially connected with Sonnenfeld, Welch recollected, “He first called me about the first Addams Family movie, which was years before Men in Black. I wasn’t available then but thankfully he called me again for Men in Black. He probably phoned me to begin with because I did Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, the Tim Burton movies, which showed that I bring a different perspective to how things should look. When I read Men in Black, what I was seeing blew my mind and from there our relationship just took off.”
Welch said of Sonnenfeld, “I love his sense of humor, his aesthetic sense, how direct and graphic his movies are. He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. His work habits are insane and that trickles down to the guy who holds the doors open for craft services to come in. He’s a leader who elevates everyone around him.”
Welch’s work is clearly at an elevated level. Earlier this year he earned his third career Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award nomination--for the A Series of Unfortunate Events episodes “The Bad Beginning: Part One,” “The Reptile Room: Part One” and “The Wide Window: Part One.” Welch’s prior two nominations came for Men in Black in 1998 and The Birdcage in 1997.
Additionally, Welch won the Best Production Design BAFTA Film Award in 1992 for Edward Scissorhands.
This is the eighth installment in a 15-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, production design and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies on September 8 and 9, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 17.