Go Behind the Scenes of Teenage Bounty Hunters with Set Decorator, Lance Totten

Teenage Bounty Hunters, the new comedy about twin sisters in Atlanta who end up with a very interesting side hustle, debuted on Netflix last Friday. In just 10 episodes, they’ve created a rich, colorful world with so many layers and surprises. To learn more about what went into creating the show’s look, we spoke with set decorator Lance Totten.

Below he shares the fun he had working on Teenage Bounty Hunters (TBH), what inspired the decor for some of the key sets, and how rare it is to have his hometown of Atlanta play itself on screen.


At what point were you brought into the production process on Teenage Bounty Hunters?

I was first contacted in April 2019 by the unit production manager (UPM) of the show, Alex Orr. I was working on the last couple of episodes of Lodge 49 at the time, but got in an interview with Krista Gall, the production designer for TBH. I said I’d like to work with her on the show, but confessed the Lodge 49 schedule had me heading to Long Beach, CA for the month of May to shoot scenes for their second season, and that would interfere with prep for TBH. They wanted a decorator to start in the last two weeks of May, as it was slated to begin filming on July 1st.

Krista and I talked via email over a week, and I pitched the idea of starting my prep one week late in Atlanta, but also leaving California one week earlier than planned as a compromise. So, I had to convince two different UPMs and production designers that this would work and that everything could be handled successfully on both ends!

Part of my plan was to start two buyers one week before me on TBH in Atlanta and communicate remotely with them from California. It was a lot to coordinate and figure out, but because I had my regular team on board at home, they made a smooth transition over to the new show that first week without me. I have to give everyone on both shows a lot of credit for allowing me to do this, but it was especially big of Krista to trust me in this way as we had never worked together before, and it was quite a big gamble. She must have had good instincts because we forged a great working relationship on TBH over the next five months and a friendship that I will always treasure.

The settings switch up so much throughout the 10 episodes in Season 1. Did that keep things exciting and professionally challenging for you?

It sure did! There were so many big important sets that had to be up and running in time for the first episode, and they are all very important because you’re establishing the look of the entire season in just a few weeks. But the first episode is also a story of its own with scenes in different environments, so you’ve got to wrangle all those “little” sets at the same time as the ones you’ll see over and over for 10 episodes.

You’d think after that initial hurdle that you could kick back and breathe a bit, but before you know it, you’re into new set after set every week or two as new scripts come out and directors show up with ideas and requests. Episode 3 was especially challenging with a lot of new sets that were huge or very detailed — or both — and several specific needs that felt overwhelming at times. But with such great support from above and creative collaborators like Krista Gall, director Andy DeYoung, and my stellar crew, we got through it without a hitch.

Can you break down some pieces used on the key sets in Season 1? Let’s begin with the Wesley home.

The Wesley home — and the show in general — was great fun for all of us Atlanta locals because we rarely get to do projects that take place here, or are so firmly rooted in our city. The look of that home is very much a real thing in certain specific socio-economic areas of town, and although very high-end and sophisticated, there are aspects of it that seem odd or over-the-top to outsiders.

I don’t think any of us in my department exhibit that style personally (I couldn’t afford it, frankly), but we’ve all seen or experienced it and know it almost instinctively. Buyers Lauren Adams Jones and Monika Van Schellenbeck both attended private high schools here in Atlanta, and while their childhood homes weren’t like the Wesleys per se, they were especially well-suited to creating this West Paces/Habersham/Buckhead look for the show.

Monika took on the daunting task of commissioning the oil portraits of Blair and Sterling as young children. This is a motif I’ve seen in many wealthy people’s homes that I’ve worked in over the years. Monika found a portrait painter who does this regularly, but our girls hadn’t been fully cast yet at the time we needed to start the paintings. So, besides figuring out sizing for oil canvas and frames, and committing to placement in the set, we also had to communicate how to paint someone who we didn’t even have a photo of to work from. We had her do a mock-up of a blonde and a brunette — at least we knew that much was coming — and picked generic backgrounds for her to start work on. Once I got the inside scoop on who they were looking to cast, I went to IMDB and found the actresses’ photos and basically said, “Please paint these two at age 7 or 8, as best you can.” Somehow it worked out.

The girls’ bedrooms were a lot of fun and we had some great research to work from, but getting input into their individual characters from show creator Kathleen Jordan was invaluable in setting the right tone. Overall, my favorite aspect of the set dressing in those rooms is the drapery, which is a triumph. Krista had great ideas about mixing wallpaper and fabric patterns, and we spent a lot of time swatching and choosing fabrics. Lauren executed all of it, from getting the samples and verifying availability to walking the draper through it and explaining exactly what we wanted to do (which is not at all typical or easy, especially with the heavy fabrics we often chose). In fact, Lauren oversaw all the drapery throughout the set, from sheers to Roman shades to pleated curtains and half-canopies.

I was fascinated by how prevalent porcelain Staffordshire dogs seemed to be at all the estate sales we shopped in WASPy North Atlanta neighborhoods and high-end antique stores, so that quickly became a motif I leaned into almost to an excessive degree. I had to ease up on them at one point and make a “one pair per set” rule for myself. That being said, there is one pair of Staffordshire dogs in every room of that house set!

How about Sterling and Blair’s school, Willingham Academy?

I’ve dressed a lot of schools over the years, but I’ve never had to create one like Willingham Academy from scratch on a soundstage. It was very hard. The lighting budget was not what the DP had hoped for, so we had to go extra heavy on practical lighting and with the set having ceilings throughout, that meant a lot of chandeliers, flush-mount fixtures, and sconces.

Installing all that lighting was a big project for our set dressers, and they did a great job of it once we got it all placed. I also love all the custom trophies, wall plaques, and awards that my coordinator, Lisa Perry, and design assistant, Joelle Zapotosky, ordered from a local engraving shop. We bought hundreds of them and hung them everywhere, creating a nice dimensional texture to the walls. They were all custom-made for the show too, using crew members’ names and the Willingham logo. We also made custom flags, pennants, framed founder and dignitary portraits, student artwork, trophy cases, and much more. It’s one of the sets I’m most proud of and I really hope it looks like a real location on screen!

Let’s visit Bowser’s office next.

It’s always fun to do a messy and layered character set like Bowser’s office — especially for a bounty hunter using a yogurt shop for his cover — but clearing the vintage hair metal band posters for Poison, Motley Crüe, and Whitesnake was the highlight for me because it’s rare that we can pull off something like that. Kudos to our clearance team Mandy Hackenberg and Nicole Stone in LA, who worked with Netflix and all the copyright holders and photographers to make that happen.

Speaking of the yogurt shop, that set looks like it was a whole pile of fun to create.

For Yogurtopia, I love the light fixtures, the bright poppy graphics, and the color palette. That set is really Krista’s vision all the way, and I teased her she would one day win a Teen Choice Award for it because it reminds me so much of a Nickelodeon show set. And I mean that as a compliment!

Interestingly, the toppings bar built into the front counter was stocked by my dressers with real candy and toppings that lasted almost the entire season just by covering them with plastic wrap whenever we weren’t shooting. We bought tons of food for refills but used almost none of it! Makes you think about what preservatives must go into that stuff.

Anything else that you’d like to share about working on Teenage Bounty Hunters?

It was one of the most fun shows I’ve done! Great crew and creative bosses, funny scripts with snappy dialogue, an eclectic cast of upcoming talent and established industry vets, and a unique concept. We were in a modern and clean new studio close to my house, the show was contemporary and set in Atlanta, and Netflix was a dream to work with from my perspective. It was never brutally, depressingly hard like some jobs can be, but it was never easy either as the writers and directors always kept us on our toes and continually threw new challenges at us. Hopefully, that’s what makes for an entertaining and invigorating series that you’ll want to watch.

To learn more about Lance Totten’s work in film and TV, visit his website. And for his exclusive behind-the-scenes comments on Teenage Bounty Hunters, add Wiretap to Chrome and start watching now!

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Photos Courtesy of Netflix

Melissa at Wiretap

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