Chilling Adventures of Sabrina premiered on Netflix on October 26th, 2018 to very strong reviews. The show is a remake of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, featuring the same core characters, but with a much darker twist. We had a chance to talk with the shows set designer Lisa Soper and photographer Angela Gwzowksi, to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating the world for a show like that.
Lisa Soper is a Canadian set designer who was hired to create the set for ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.’ We spoke to her about what goes into creating a set of that magnitude and fine-detail, and how she used her own background as a practicing pagan to bring authenticity to the set.
How long is the process from start to finish to create a set like the one used in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina?
So currently we have 43 standing sets on the show. Everything is built, other than three exteriors of some of the secondary characters houses that you can just see on the street. Conceptually I started on the show in December. Mid-December I came out for a week and just saw the amount of space that we had to work with, and started to decide what I wanted to build. Then I came back again in January, and we were up and shooting early March. So it was very fast.
Where do you start?
You establish what the main focal point is. So with this, the first set was Sabrina’s house because she is the core character. In the beginning, it’s nice to be away from the studio before anyone has really started yet, so you can sit down and think what can this place look like? Where is the place on the map? Where are the origins of it? So we pulled a lot from history, from Salem, Massachusetts and things like that. Then once we get those references and ideas, it comes down to drawing. And that’s the scariest part sometimes. When you’re sitting there with a blank sheet of paper and thousands of references surround you. But it’s about trying to find its own voice and seeing what speaks to you and then from there, we build a realistic, grounded sort of town and place.
How did this opportunity present itself to you?
I was contacted through my agency, and they said they had this special show coming up, a remake of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. At first, I was like — I don’t know — but then they sent me the content and the approach that Roberto was taking and I immediately fell in love with it and thought, “I must do this show.” So I spent about 48-hours without sleeping and just pulling references and ideas. Just trying to build a history of that period of time. And I ended up with long-winded booklet –- a lookbook — and sent that in as my pitch because they were looking at a bunch of production designers. Then within about three hours, I got a phone call from LA to hop on an airplane and head down there because they wanted to talk to me. So I went down and I got to meet with some producers, our amazing director from our pilot episode and Roberto himself, and we sat there and just spoke about the magic of filmmaking and how we wanted to make something unique, horrifying and one-of-a-kind show. I kind of left there with the thought that I need to be on this show no matter what. And here I am.
As a practicing pagan, what specific elements did you use from your own personal knowledge to bring more authenticity to the set?
There’s actually quite a bit. I guess what started it is “the sacred spiral” and that’s what the house is built on. The actual interior of the house is a spiral. So if you walk in the front door and you turn left you can walk around the spiral, which represents that never-ending journey, which really speaks to what Sabrina is dealing with. And at the centre of the spiral in our house, we have these two staircases –- one which goes left and one which goes right — where one goes back to the witches side and one to the mortal side. “The Path of Night” and “The Path of Light.” So like left handed, right handed, boy-girl. It signifies all these different parallels. Because there are so many subtext kind of elements in the show.
What was your favourite part of designing the set for Sabrina?
Having the freedom to create a new world and being supported by everyone –- by production, by our producers, by the writers, by the directors, by everyone — that really takes that leap into something that’s not normally seen. We break the standards, like even where the door handle sits. You know no door handle sits on a standard plane. No wall sits on a standard plane. Everything is crooked in the witching world. We built and designed based on shooting on anamorphic lenses as well, which is something that I don’t know how actively production designers use or if they do use this, but it was something that I really wanted to kind of tap into. Because it’s very rare to use an anamorphic lens — especially on a television series. So to get to be able to use it and give the audience more of a sense of where we are, it was such a privilege to frame the world outside of your standard television framing.
Angela Gzowski is Yellowknife born and raised photographer who was selected by the Netflix Grammasters North program to shoot the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina set. We spoke with Angela about the experience and what tips she has for capturing the perfect photo.
How has your upbringing shaped your vision as a photographer?
I guess growing up in the North — where it is remote and artic — I travel to a lot of communities, so storytelling is pretty important to me. Just sharing where I’m from and what I’m surrounded by on a daily basis with the rest of Canada and even the world is important. That kind of led me to photojournalism and photography at the same time.
What photos did you submit/hashtag to be chosen by Netflix for their Grammasters North program?
About eight months ago I went to Peru, and I did a portrait series on elders in the far, and those were the images that I chose to hashtag.
What was the experience of shooting the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” set like?
It was pretty eye-opening. I had never been on a huge set like that and I was pretty blown away. First by the number of people that are involved in making the production happen. It’s just crazy. And seeing all these jobs on set that I never knew existed, but at the same time, I don’t know why I didn’t think they existed. Also, the amount of detail that Lisa puts into the design and the set is just incredible. Things like the wallpaper being specifically designed for the set. Or the tiles being printed out — I just never thought that that would take place.
What was your favourite part of the experience?
I think just watching everything happen. I love people watching, so watching the film crew set up lighting and set up their shots, and just watching the whole production happen. Seeing pop up books being made in the back and watching the makeup being put on the actors. It’s all of the behind the scenes stuff that excited me.
Do you have one particular image from that shoot that stands out? Why?
I think its too hard to pick because I do like the really close up detail shots, but I also like the wide angle shots of all the rooms so I can see everything all at once. So yeah, it’s hard to pick. I like everything as a whole rather than choosing something individually.
What part of Lisa’s set did you enjoying capturing the most?
It’s too hard to choose — there are so many awesome rooms, but probably Ambrose’s room and the morgue. I could go on and on because every set is incredible. There is so much detail and so much to look at, it’s almost like Where’s Waldo? you just want to look at everything. Even after I took the photos, I would keep staring at them and noticing new things.
Do you have any tips for capturing the perfect photo?
I think asking questions is pretty important and just observing. Asking questions and watching and looking around as much as possible and sometimes I feel like its better to beg forgiveness and just go for it then walk away with regret later on.
Is there an underlying message you hope to spread through your photography?
I think for me, it is just about storytelling and sharing points of views or things that people don’t usually get to see.
Catch ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ on Netflix and follow the show on Instagram for more BTS @sabrinanetflix