HAVEN: Shining the Spotlight on Production Designer Jennifer Stewart (2013)

Art production designer Jennifer Stewart (photo credit: Tiffany Vogt)
Art production designer Jennifer Stewart (photo credit: Tiffany Vogt)

Everything from posters to signs to pamphlets and just about everything you may see as props and in the background is specially created and designed by the Art Production team of HAVEN in their arena facility in Chester, Nova Scotia.  While location scouts and set dressers and prop masters all contribute to the visual look of a television show, it is still astounding how much the art production department has to do to make sure that each set or filming location has all the accoutrements needed to make it feel real — to make it seem like there is an actual place known as the “trouble”-filled town of Haven, Maine — and the television series HAVEN has figured out all the secrets to make their show come alive on screen.

In a recent exclusive interview, production designer Jennifer Stewart shared a bit about how they create all the visual elements to bring HAVEN to life.

How do you describe your job on HAVEN and what do you love most about it?
JENNIFER:   A production designer is responsible for the visual style of a production.  So I like to say, “everything that does not speak” is a part of what I’m in touch with.  And what I love about this show is, first of all, creatively it was the first time that I had done anything in the sci-fi or supernatural realm; so we blow a lot of things up and burn things. That was new and fun.  But the thing I love most about HAVEN is I have the most spectacular crew. Everyone brings so much talent and hard work and we have fun.  It’s like coming to work with your friends everyday and that’s really fantastic.

So if you won the lottery, you’d still want to do this?
JENNIFER:  (Laughs) Yeah, I think I would!

What have been some of the big highlights of things that you have been able to create on HAVEN?
JENNIFER:  The big thing is just creating a series.  Prior to HAVEN, I had never created an episodic television series.  It’s interesting to make a world and HAVEN, as you know, is a very particular world.  So to start from the ground and make the style and color palette, and just sort of think about how to create this world from beginning to end — that has been wonderful and challenging.  Then every episode brings its own set of challenges.  The episode we’re doing right now (Episode 409) certainly had some little challenges. But in the past, everything from storms of gnats, which we actually made, to the debris from tornadoes to walls of water, burnt-out houses, all these we have made and we have seven days to get ready.  In the haunted house episode last year, we had to make a twirling cabinet that could also hold a body and all kinds of tricky things and we literally only had six days to do all that.  That’s where all the wonderful creative people in the crew come in, ’cause I sort of say things and draw things and those are handed to them. Then I hope nobody quits or cries.

Is your department responsible for creating the infamous HAVEN barn?
JENNIFER:  The barn is a really interesting thing.  We were actually shooting with a director T.W. Peacocke the first time the barn came into play in the first season. The first season was busy because we were still on a learning curve as to where the show was going and what we were doing, and the location team was flat-out busy.  They had tried to find the right barn, but they just couldn’t find it. So then I was out driving somewhere else one day and I looked over my shoulder and I saw this incredible barn.  I have to confess, I didn’t pull over. I just pulled out my iPhone and somehow took a picture of this barn. I then ran back and showed it to Shawn Piller, the executive producer, and said, “That’s it!”  But, of course, it was only a vis-effect in the first season. We didn’t know at that point that we would be going back to it.  So when we went back to shoot it, I thought, “Heavens, if this barn is full of cows or something, what are we going to do?!”  But it wasn’t, it was actually fine.

"Haven" prop
“Haven” prop

When we look at HAVEN onscreen, what parts that we see does your department create?
JENNIFER:  We shoot at a lot of locations, so we don’t necessarily create that.  I scout the location with the director and the locations team, of course, and we never shoot a location without coming in and making it appropriate for our characters and story, which is where the set team comes into play heavily.  We build a lot of sets.  We create signs, pamphlets, banners, art, t-shirt design. A lot of the special props we design:  the silver box, Duke’s father’s journal — almost everything we would design and build.  For episode 301 last year we had to design a lot of rocks, and you have to make those out of styrofoam ’cause if you didn’t, you can’t then just say, “hey, can you move that rock?”  So it is so cool to see the scenic artists take big pieces of foam and they pull out chainsaws and start cutting away at it and then the tools get smaller and smaller as the detail gets more refined.  So it’s a tricky process.  We’ve been accumulating a lot of equipment in-house too.  We have these great vinyl cutters now. But the style of HAVEN, I always hope that it will err on the side of almost being a period-piece.  So we’re kind of analog, although we still have cellphones on the show, but for the set pieces you see typewriters and old phones, like right out of the 1950s.  So for the signs, we try to paint a lot of them by hand. So the scenic team and the graphic design team do that, as much as we have the time for it.  That always makes it a bit special.  We have a great sign collection now — like Big Benjie’s Ice Cream. That was one of our favorites.

What has been one of the biggest challenges to create for HAVEN? Something where you went, “oh my gosh, how are we supposed to create that?”
JENNIFER:  Last year when we got the script in March in northeastern Canada for a crop circle.  That sort of blew our minds a little bit.

So that wasn’t CGI, you actually created a real crop circle?
JENNIFER:  It was a bit of both.  My art director Terry Quennell really took it on. We found kind of a weed circle.  We cut it. It was real. We made one really huge one and then to create the effect of multiple crop circles, they copied that one.  But it was an authentic crop circle in Nova Scotia in March.  And better yet, it was a corn crop circle.  So that was particularly challenging.  And now when they say they want a “haunted house” or “meteor shower,” you say, “oh sure, piece of cake!”

How does HAVEN differ from other sets you’ve worked on?
JENNIFER:  Most of my work prior to this was on dramatic scripted shows.  I’ve done a lot of political drama, which is very realistic.  Some was period work, but still very much grounded in the real world.  And even if it’s a comedy, it’s not like people are going to show up and start bleeding out of their eyes or anything.  No zombie films yet, but maybe next time! (Laughs)  So there’s this lovely supernatural element in HAVEN that asserts itself in an otherwise fairly normal town.  I remember when we first started talking about the show prior to Season One and that was the first question asked:  Is the town going to look normal or is it going to have some kind of odd quality to it?  So gradually we began to add it in, as I really wanted to have it some kind of flavor that set it apart, heading towards the slightly older analog approach, and that’s where we went.

"Haven" prop
“Haven” prop

How does your department and the props department decide when certain props are going to be created and which are going to simply be acquired for the show?
JENNIFER:  When we get a script, the props department will go off and do some research, that’s how we always start, and they determine whether or not they can acquire something.  But we’re in a pretty isolated area.  Even our main city Halifax is pretty isolated, and we’re an hour outside of that.  So we have figured out that really with any of the props that we have to build them. It’s a better approach.

So if the writers dream it, you create it.
JENNIFER:  (Laughs) Yeah, Fed-Ex isn’t fast enough.

Going back to the first season of HAVEN, we saw a lot of earthquake damage around town.  Did your department create those?
JENNIFER: We actually didn’t. That was all Kris Wood and his wonderful vis-effects team doing that.  But we did build the Chief — the pieces of him in the cooler.  That was an interesting process.  Like how do you decide what color a human is after they explode and turn into a piece of pottery?  If you look at the pieces of the Chief, you will see that it’s actually the colors of his skin, the colors of his wardrobe. It’s very meticulous.  Even the stuff you don’t see.  It’s meticulously thought out.

How long did you have to work on a project like that?
JENNIFER:  That was a tough one for our props master, Jason Shurko. It was our last episode of that season and we have a lot of other things going on towards the end of the season and I think he had to hire somebody to actually make the Chief.  Similarly, in Episode 213, the beautiful snow globes. It was like Santa’s Workshop here.  We had all these tables laid out and everybody who could hold a paint brush in the art department was painting those little towns.

What happened to all the snow globes once the episode was over?
JENNIFER:  They went away as gifts. But I think we still have one in lock up, which we have to keep.  But I think most of the executives still have snow globes on their desks, which is nice.  It’s nice if they like to have things from the show.

How do you memorialize all these amazing things that you create for each episode?
JENNIFER:  Terry [Quennell] had this wonderful idea of making quite large, beautiful color photograph prints of mostly sets — as the sets contain the set dressing and props — and we fill our art department walls with them as the season goes on. It’s quite wonderful as you have to go through the art department to get to our boardroom, and as new actors come in and when visitors come in, everyone gets to go through this photo gallery of HAVEN and all the fun visual things that we do.  It was a nice idea and we’ll just keep doing it.

Maybe you’ll have the online HAVEN gallery one day, where everyone can scrutinize every wonderful object and thing you created.
JENNIFER:  We should! I think it started ’cause the producers had us create as a gift for the crew  at the end of each season these posters, which are like a yearbook on a page.  So it sort of sprung out of that idea.  That’s part of what makes us so busy at the end of the year, ’cause we build the swag gifts.  But we love it.

In the following video interview, Jennifer briefly shares if she’s Team Duke or Team Nathan and to her what has been the biggest storyline surprise so far in HAVEN:

Jennifer and her team’s creative work can be seen throughout HAVEN.  So be sure to check out the interview with prop master Jason Shurko, which will be posted shortly, to see some of the glorious props designed and created specially for HAVEN.

A few candid photos of the sets and special art created for HAVEN can also seen HERE.

Who knew how much thought, detail and love goes into each and everything we see on HAVEN? It is all such incredible works of art. #DiscoverHaven

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"Haven" sets
“Haven” sets
"Haven" sets
“Haven” sets
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