By Lolis Eric Elie
At ‘Treme,’ we take great pride in the fact that we shoot on location in New Orleans. In that way we are constantly in touch with the real people and places we seek to portray. It’s still necessary to construct sets from time to time. After all, for our first season we were shooting in the fall of 2009 in an effort to recreate events from the fall of 2005; and now we are turning 2011 into 2006. A lot has changed.
It is our production designer Chester Kaczenski who creates these illusions. His job can be as simple as choosing and placing a few accent pieces (a painting on this wall, a desk on that one) in a home or office that we have appropriated for a set. It can be as complicated as recreating an entire block of storm-ruined houses.
From time to time, we’ll be featuring some before and after photos of Chester’s work to give you some sense of how the material world of ‘Treme’ comes to be.
WILD MAN JESSE
Looking back to first season, in Episode 103, Albert Lambreaux goes to the Lower 9th Ward to the home of Jesse Hurd, the “wild man” of his Indian tribe. Albert finds Wild Man Jesse’s body underneath a canoe, in the garage behind the house.
The house we used for the scene had no garage. The street we used had been cleaned up and, though not pristine, it didn’t look like it did in 2005. The question for Chester was how to convey this destruction even though the camera would not necessarily pause to show all of the finer details of his design work.
“From my research of that time, I knew a lot of the telephone poles were down. We made a few fake telephone poles. If you didn’t see much, you could at least see that.
“There was lots of sand and mud around, so we sprayed mud and wet river sand everywhere. The house we used for Wild Man Hurd’s was not being lived in. They were going to tear it down. So we were able to add another layer of mud.
“The script called for seeing the body. We built a single-car garage and aged it down. We got a special body from an effects house in Los Angeles, a decomposed corpse. Then we had to make the clothes look decomposed.
“When we were doing this, we went into the neighborhoods and talked to people in the immediate block to be respectful and to hear their stories. We wanted them to be on board with what we were trying to do. I thought that was really important. Even though you are telling a story that is sympathetic to the community, it’s still entertainment, and these people had just lived through all this. We also had cleanup crews come in as soon as we were through.”