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A conversation with LINDSAY HERMER-BELL (Production Designer)

A&E: How did you go about preparing for this series?

LINDSAY HERMER-BELL: Well, the thing about Nero Wolfe is that it's so specific. There are so many specific indications of how he lives, how he proceeds through the day, what his house is like, what his office is like, down to the paintings on the wall. I'd never read Nero Wolfe before, but I love murder mysteries, so I was delighted to do it. So I started reading some of the books and getting an indication of all the specifics of the set.

There are people who know all the books, and they know all these specifics, and if you screw up, you know, they get really upset. So, I finally found this amazing book that sort of reinforced my thoughts of how the brownstone was. Before building all the sets, I worked up the whole floor plan.

A&E: The set is so elaborate, you can shoot from any direction. How did you start? Where did you start? And why is it so much like a working, living brownstone in every possible direction? Not flat like so many sets, but real rooms?

LHB: Well, for Nero, you know, that's his life. I think to portray him accurately, it was important to create this huge brownstone. He's kind of a larger than life character, and I think it has to be believable. There's a lot being shot in each room. You know, Fritz (Nero's personal chef) has a desk in here, and he has his table there, so everything is as per written.

A&E: What kind of a building was this before you created Nero's brownstone out of it?

LHB: We are in a warehouse. It was somewhat converted by another film company before, but essentially it's a warehouse. So, there are sound baffles everywhere, and everybody has to be quiet. We can't build sets while they're shooting, so we have to sometimes start at four in the morning to get them done.

The sound stage we were in before had no columns. And now, because we're adding all these sets, we needed a much bigger space. I had to kind of squeeze the set into the only space that would allow for it with the grid of the columns. I was very lucky the way the columns worked. The module fit the set, which was very lucky, so we didn't have to rebuild too much of it.

A&E: Everyone's really excited about the project. What's it like working with Tim Hutton as a director?
LHB: Oh, Tim is incredibly smart. I enjoy it because he's very visual. Not all directors I've worked with are visual. He has an idea of how the thing should look, so he can pick up the added dimension that Rex Stout was trying to get at when he wrote these books. Things are a little odd, a little quirky, and we're both on the same page as far as that's concerned.

A&E: Now, you have the responsibility of bringing to life these descriptions. You get to realize every reader's favorite fantasy—to get into a book and bring it to life. You're reading the book, and actually get to make it into 3-D. What's that like?

LHB: I love it. It's fantastic, especially with characters like Nero Wolfe and Archie. They're such strong, vibrant characters, and they're so specific in the way they live. It's great to be able to bring it all to life.

A&E: How closely do you work with construction?

LHB: Oh, all the time. I have to focus on the construction, and I have to understand how the set is to be built, bearing in mind the constraints of time and money. I do drawings and sketches, and then we have it all drawn out, and the carpenters build from there. I'm constantly supervising and making sure everything is built to specs. We have a great construction department, so it's really cool.

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