DGC Ontario Production Designer Lisa Soper is responsible for creating The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina’s unique magical world, steeped in her own pagan beliefs. We caught up with Lisa to discuss the design behind the latest season of the show, now streaming on Netflix, and her experience directing an episode.
How did you get your start in Production Design?
I feel as though I have been designing in some way or another since I was able to translate images with sound. It grew from a mother’s encouraging imagination, access to sketchbooks and literature where I was not fed a look, I had to imagine it. Schooling took me through the principals of creating the illusion of life with animation, graduation took me to practicing the illusion of life in an animation studio, then finally one day, I received a visit from a friend who worked in both the animation and live action world. He asked me if I would like to throw away my secure 9–5 job and dive into the chaotic world of live action. With very little hesitation, I took the plunge and have never looked back. (Well, during the growing pains of starting out in the industry and having to take factory jobs in between gigs, maybe there was a little looking back, but in the end, I always stuck with it.) I worked my way up through various departments and roles in the industry until one day I was offered a small indie to design. Since that day, I have had the privilege and the pleasure of being an integral part of visual storytelling in an endless sea of imagination and collaboration.
Can you tell us more about the design behind The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 3?
Designing part 3 of Sabrina was like releasing my 80’s genre self hopped up on candy with an endless canvas to play with. This whole season took me back to reading horror literature under the covers at night with a flashlight and imagining what these realms and worlds looked like through the eyes of a child. Exaggeration, energy, and excitement were the three main driving forces behind the designs this year. I find with a great script, and an incredible team like I have, nothing can stop us. If magic is real, I can say if one would wish to see it, they merely have to visit our set for a day. Through the design in part 3, I wanted to build a crescendo as one would in a musical, but with colour and texture.
What was it like directing an episode of the series?
First off, the mantra I would tell myself every morning when faced with this challenge was “What would Rob do?” Rob Seidenglanz is our Producing Director who saw a passion and ability in me that I was too timid at the time to take hold of and own. With his championing opening this huge daunting door in a hall of life, I must say I would not have even grabbed the handle without his support. Rob sacrificed one of his episodes for me and I will be forever grateful for his completely selfless act of nurturing more Directors into our ever growing industry.
One day, Gavin (Nick Scratch) asked me what it was like directing. This is what I told him. When I design, I play songs I have chosen to fit with the progression of the story in that scene. I come to set in the morning all by myself with my sides, singing and dancing through the space to a rhythm that is fitting for what I see. I fluff curtains, toss dressing about, draw the odd graffiti on a wall, and try to really get my head into what the characters are thinking and feeling in the scene. I imagine being Hilda conversing with Zelda over a matter of great importance or act out Ambrose waving his wand. The audience however for my playful antics are me, myself, and I. So there is no pressure. I can just be free. Shifting into directing, I have to now share all that emotion and story with all the cast and crew while holding the same confidence I have through design. I had to share my inner feelings of Miranda Otto’s character with her face to face and discuss the motivations with her. It was both exhilarating and scary. I will say that every day that went by, the excitement dwarfed the fear more and more.
I loved directing, and could not imagine a world where I turn my back on it. I find myself biting my tongue on set now, and having to remember I am back to the seats in my auditorium filled with myself. At least until my next chilling adventure. Until then, I continue to have some of the best of times putting on the shows in my own private theatre.
Most challenging aspect of designing the show?
Honestly, if the whole experience was not challenging for me, I would likely be either the wrong person for the job, or not really getting what the show needs. We are creating stories from conception to reality in a matter of days. This aspect alone is an incredible challenge. On top of this there is a desire to continuously surpass an already high standard and appetite the show has set with the challenge of the ever dwindling budget. This may on one hand be the most challenging aspect, of designing the show, but it is also the most rewarding in the sense that I find struggle and chaos stimulate creativity in a way that sometimes generates the best works.
Where do you turn for inspiration when you need to get the creative juices flowing?
First, the script, then the cast, then the team, and lastly, the details that surround us every day. I am not a believer in any god, but raised originally catholic, there was a quote that stuck to me. Not for finding god, but for finding inspiration. The Kingdom of God is inside you and all around you, Not in a mansion of wood and stone, Split a piece of wood and I am there, Lift a stone and you will find me.