Asylum - Behind the Curtain - Episode 2

In this episode of Behind the Curtain, we take a look back at some of the filming locations and investigate the decisions behind perfecting the sets for each scene. With the dawn of Asylum season two being just on the horizon, we will also take a sneak peak at some of the locations set to feature in the upcoming season.

Jason: Oh hi! You join me just outside the Asylum household, minutes before we revisit the dwellings of our eight beloved characters, for the first time in over three years. I'm Jason and I write the scripts for the show, as well as contributing to set design and directing. Season two of the show is just around the corner and the final touches are being made on the first five episodes. The second season will be the first to feature high-resolution images in Asylum, continuing to tell the epic tale in an impressive 600x400 dimension. You'll get to see the house in this awesome HD for the first time ever (with ceilings!) in this episode of Behind the Curtain, in addition to a brief overview of what goes on in terms of location managing and set design.


Jason: Right, so have you ever found yourself squinting at those tiny 400x300 images in season one and got a bit lost as to what the layout of the main house was? Well, for the very first time, I present to you a plan view of the house. The rooms displayed are those that were accessible on a day-to-day basis in season one, with some of the special rooms omitted. The layout below never changes. It's pretty much standard.

Ruby has worked alongside Jason throughout the whole course of Asylum and still remains second-in-command behind the show.

Ruby: Organising the locations for filming and creating the sets - from the initial design process, through to the construction and decoration of the scenes - takes the Asylum production team a very long time. The scripts and the filming do take up the majority, but new writers and producers embarking upon SimTV show production underestimate how long it takes to obtain aesthetically-pleasing, yet original sets.

Ruby: My role, as Jason's aide, is to facilitate the whole process and bring the imagination of one man to the screens of many. Sometimes, I must say, Jason gets it wrong. I am here to crack the whip so that he corrects his mistakes. (Laughs)

Jason: You join me as I stand merely metres away from the house; just beyond the fence behind me lays the garden of the Asylum household. But before we revisit the humble abode, let me just show you something interesting first...

Jason: This is - or rather was - the beginnings of a basement. Yup, the foundations were originally dug out in preparation for a lower level, but Ruby strongly advised me against utilising any sort of basement in the series. Her reasoning was that it was too simply "too obvious". The original plan in episode three was for Steve to stumble upon an opening in the hedges that led to this mysterious alcove; it was in the scripts for him to hide the grocery shopping he stole in here. But... Ruby pointed out how ridiculous it sounded, so we settled for him framing Sarah in that episode instead. We've sought to extend the house in more interesting ways, using unopened doors that are dotted around the house.

The main man behind the structural design of the buildings is Christof Hoye.

Interviewer: What is the secret to designing good sets?
Christof: The secret to good sets? Ah, it is definitely designing the set to suit its purpose. If I am designing a theatre, it has to be grand and spacious. If I am designing a nightclub, it must look contemporary.

Christof: One design that particularly stands out in my mind is the Japanese hotel room that I designed for an Adam flashback (episode seven). The openness and the continuity of the bathroom with the main room were very suited to the East-Asian theme.

Christof: The décor is one thing, but breaking the mould of box-like rooms is essential in giving a scene a character - a unique feel - that the décor can then go on to compliment. Pillars, outcrops of walls, beams, pipes and air vents: they all contribute to the structural character of a set. Be adventurous! Be unique in your designs.

But amongst the firmly favoured architecture and interior designs that the team strive to create, there are also a few ugly misdemeanours that are unintentionally churned out along the journey to filming.

Jason: There were many set locations considered and then abandoned throughout season one and season two. The disheartening part of the story is that so many sets are purpose-built from scratch, which takes a very long time.

Jason: During the earliest days of production, back in late 2006, we hired some particularly dull interior designers and set co-ordinators. Tens of thousands of simoleons were pumped into building a mock-shopping mall for a scene with Robert and his son (episode nine), but the end design was just... bleurgh! The café was bland...

Jason: The clothes store was just tacky. The walkway was unnecessarily huge... In the end, we decided to sign the mall off and send it to the lot bin, so to speak. That was when we hired Christof Hoye - our revered architect - and put him at the forefront of set design.

Interviewer: What is your favourite architectural achievement to date?
Christof: Ah, my best architecture? Most definitely the shopping mall I designed for the Robert flashback of episode nine. It was fresh and inspiring, and nothing like it had been seen in Asylum beforehand.

Christof: I designed an ambitious entrance and fore court to the shopping mall, which was where most of the filming for that scene took place. The design was structurally innovative and has actually been sold to local government for development into a real shopping centre.

Christof: It was so beautiful against the night sky... It was a shame that the scene was only filmed during the day.

Christof: We had to call in some serious help from Constrain Floors Inc. to help us engineer the wavy design. I hope you can see from the finished product that it was worth the hassle!

Christof: It was incredibly impressive at the time it was built, but I feel it was underused in the show, despite its brief appearance in episode nine. Besides, the huge advance in Simlish architecture recently has rendered my design somewhat less outstanding than it was when it was initially constructed.

Christof: Being allowed to build such a grand structure specifically for Asylum was rare. The audience just doesn't expect to see impressive architecture. When the structure is only used in one scene, the time and effort spent in designing and building such things isn't cost-effective. Most people probably didn't even notice it in the episode!

Not every set designed or location selected is such a magnificent feat, however. Emile is in charge of hiring locations for filming.

Emile: In all honesty, we do try to cut corners where we can. It saves so much time and energy that would be better invested in the photography, acting and script-writing. For many of the scenes you see in flashbacks, we actually rent studios or buy out spaces in abandoned lots. Many times the set is contained within a box, with four walls and a ceiling and possibly some windows looking out onto a faux garden or street. Of course, the actual set isn't a box; it's just the studio is constructed in an uninspiring shape. This being said, we have bought and redecorated real houses - usually town houses - for flashbacks, such as the houses that Sarah (episode four) and Robert (episode nine) lived in. Sian's house (episode six) was built in full, entirely from scratch, as with Steve's bakery (episode three). Those are times when we didn't cut corners.

Emile: But unfortunately, we can't afford to buy property for every scene we portray. Occasionally we rent apartments in real apartment complexes, but this strategy has proven very unpopular over the course of filming for season two. Landlords prohibit the restructuring of walls or installation of structural features (such as fireplaces), so we are drastically constrained in what we can and can't do to the sets. In season two, we rented a two-storey, unfurnished apartment for Steve's flashbacks (depicted below). However, we were limited in what we could do to it.

Emile: This was an example of Jason pulling the plug on a very expensive and laboured set. The layout of the apartment took hours to plan! I trawled through hundreds of pages of stock furniture catalogues to pick out individual items that fitted together nicely and produced a cohesive, contemporary feel. Hours we spent redecorating the walls after explicit permission from the landlord! But it wasn't until after the set was finished when we received the phone call from Jason telling us that the set didn't fit Steve's character. I was massively p'ed off at him!

Emile: But then I had to ask myself: could I imagine Steve living in this apartment? No, such luxurious, sophisticated decor didn't fit his character's personality. So in the end, Jason was right. The apartment had to be scrapped. The only consolation is that it might be used in a future episode for a different character. (Sighs) Later on, we built Steve another flat, but this time in a studio where we could construct or demolish as many walls as we wanted.

Joining Jason in the kitchen of the Asylum household is Michelle Mayson, who plays Sarah.

Jason: Thanks for coming in to be interviewed, Michelle. Filming has stopped on Asylum, right?
Michelle: Yup, until we get those scripts off you for the last five episodes of the series!
Jason: Ha, I wouldn't hold your breath...
Michelle: (Laughs)
Jason: So tell me, what do you admire most about the sets and locations that you film in for Asylum?

Michelle: Ah now, my favourite feature of the scenes has got to be the ambient lighting. I just don't see it used much in other shows, and it can really bring a set to life during filming! The reds, the greens, the yellows... It's far prettier than the mediocre white lighting you'd install in your landing at home.
Jason: It is used far less in the recent season though. I made that request explicitly. Don't you find it a bit tacky?
Michelle: Not at all! The colour of the lighting can easily be exploited to convey the mood of a scene, in my opinion. Red suggests anger, yellow suggests something more positive...
Jason: I thought it was becoming overused and hence a bit tacky.

Jason: What do you think the green of the Green Room symbolises?
Michelle: (Pausing) Good question... hope?
Jason: Do the characters really have much hope? (Laughs)
Michelle: It depends what they're hoping for. If it's a hope for answers, then they'll be hoping for a damn long time judging by your track record of stringing things out! (Chortles)
Jason: (Laughs) A hope for leaving this place, perhaps?
Michelle: You're the one writing the show! Surely I should be asking you these philosophical questions.
Jason: So what else do you particularly admire about the sets and locations?

Michelle: I absolutely adore the attention to detail that the set designs have: the lighting, the props and the miscellaneous stuff we see dotted around the scenes. Paperwork in boardrooms, photographs on mantelpieces, and so on.

Michelle: And of course, this house is beautifully decorated too. It has a lovely layout.
Jason: Is there anything you don't like about it?
Michelle: Mhm, possibly a little bit too much glass around. But maybe that's what makes the house unique. You can see into nearly every room just by standing in the garden and peering in. This would make a lovely Sim Brother house.
Jason: And the lighting?
Michelle: Ah yes! This house is swamped with ambient lighting! How could I forget?
Jason: Did you notice that one side of the house is fitted with red ambient lighting, whereas the other side has yellow lights? The house is divided, almost.
Michelle: Oh really?

Michelle: The colours that the lights project onto the ceiling are just so beautiful.
Jason: Uh huh, the ceiling will be a surprisingly-new feature to the show too.
Michelle: (Bemused) How so?
Jason: Well throughout series one, the ceiling was plastered with a special material that unfortunately created a glare whenever the studio cameras caught glimpse of the ceiling. It prevented us from filming the ceiling at all! Just look back at all the episodes and you'll never see the ceiling.
Michelle: That's so interesting...!
Jason: Aye, but we've had the ceiling re-plastered with a matte finish. The presence of the ceiling allows for a greater variety in camera angles too! Anyway, Michelle, thanks for joining me.

Jason: Of course we couldn't change the ambient lighting within the house without causing some huge continuity goofs in the show. But I rather like the sheeny, harsh red glow. It's somewhat evil... Anyway, moving on: these doors behind me. Where do they lead to? It's one of the mysteries of the Asylum house that isn't explained very well in the show. But unfortunately, the answer might not be so exciting...

Interviewer: What do you find most annoying about working so closely with Jason?
Ruby: Apart from this HIDEOUS Ikea furniture he buys for his office? (Laughs) Ah, the most annoying thing he did was NOT buy a plot of land big enough for the Asylum house before we set out on construction! The actual house is crammed within a finite set of dimensions and we can't build further laterally, as we don't have the rights to build on the land adjacent to our plot. The annoying result is that many doors in the actual house are simply "rabbit holes" - doors that supposedly lead to additional 'hidden' areas in the show, but in reality lead to absolutely nowhere. (Laughs) This means that I have to organise external sites for the construction of these rabbit hole sets.

Jason: So, I'm standing outside one of the so-called "rabbit hole" sets now. It's built off-site, but is meant to be connected to the main Asylum house in the story. Let's see if you can recognise where we are.

Jason: As I come through this door, I walk into a rather eerie-looking foyer!

Jason: Walk through another door and enter this madhouse-style corridor. Just being in here gives me the creeps!

Jason: Recognise it yet?

Jason: For the slower people amongst you, this is the set used in the final episode of season one (episode ten b), where Patrick was kept captive by the elusive "Black". The genius of this rabbit-hole approach is that the whereabouts of this location actually hasn't been explained explicitly in the story. Hence it doesn't matter that it doesn't physically attach onto the main house. It gives the whole plot that extra bit of mystery, even if it is just a case of: "where the hell is this place?!"

Ruby: For the more transient scenes, such as in flashbacks, where big buildings are required for the foreground of a scene, we often turn to property listing websites such as OfficialExchange and Modthesims to seek out public buildings or council-owned properties within the local area that we are legally-permitted to film on.

Ruby: Schools are particularly difficult to find, as people are a bit concerned about filming in an environment dedicated for children. However, after much searching, we found a suitable candidate location for an upcoming flashback in season two.

Ruby: Like I've said, the only time we need to arrange filming in a pre-existing building is during flashbacks. Notable examples of locations I've found are the police station in episode two, The Crypts night club in episode five and a restaurant in episode six.

There are many hypothetical areas of the Asylum house, lying beyond these so-called "rabbit holes", that have not been revealed during season one yet have the potential to be utilised in future storylines.

Jason: This is an angle from which the camera is never pointing during the actual show, and I hope you can see a second, mysterious door in the Green Room that nobody has ever enquired about in the show. (Scratching head) What's behind this door, I wonder?

Jason: The door that raises the most curious of questions is definitely going to be the "front" door. Robert and Adam have pondered over it before, but they're not going to find any answers about it just yet...

Jason: But hypothetical questions about doors and what lies beyond them is not what you're reading Behind the Curtain for, is it? It's the first high-definition pictures of the house (and its glorious ceilings!), right? Well here you go.

Jason: The living room. It makes a big change having the camera pointing somewhere other than at the floor.

Jason: The ambient lighting gives an extra dimension to the house, especially at night.

Jason: Half of the bedroom. Notice the red colours in this half of the room.

Jason: The first bathroom.

Jason: The second bathroom. I've never figured out how the characters come to prefer using one bathroom over another, but over the course of the show certain characters spend more time in one bathroom than another.

Jason: And finally, the dining room.

Christof: The secret to decorating good sets for filming is to make the end product not look like a film set, basically! It should look like any normal house, with magazines and fruit bowls cluttering up coffee tables, rugs gracing the lounge floors, etcetera. The attention to detail is critical. Granted, you might not get all such details in your shots during filming, but they still need to be there.
Interviewer: And what have you got in store for season two?
Christof: Ah, many gems!

Christof: I have designed offices...

Christof: Tried my hand at designing a room where psychotherapy might take place...

Christof: The key to adding a certain flavour to sets like these is inclusion of plants and shrubbery beyond the view of the windows.

Christof: I have also designed the makeup room for a TV presenter.

Christof: And another rather generic office. Most of these sets I have mentioned will feature in the second half of the first episode. I bet you can't guess who will appear in them though!

Jason: That concludes our whistle stop tour behind the scenes of the set and locations management! I hope you enjoyed the review of old sets and the look ahead to some used in upcoming flashbacks. You have also got to agree that the Asylum house looks far better in "HD". Anyway, in the next episode of Behind the Curtain, I will be summarising the key events of season one in what will basically be a recap episode before the curtain goes up on season two! Until then, goodbye.