If you’ve watched Moxie, the amount of detail that went into bringing the story to the screen likely caught your eye. One of the people responsible for that look is Emmy-winning set decorator, Kimberly Wannop. Read on for excerpts from our interview with her. Also, don’t miss our previous post about Moxie, which was our kick-off for Women’s History Month.
Kim has worked on hit TV series like Veep, Parks and Recreation and The Good Place, and is the host of the Decorating Pages podcast. We were so lucky to chat with Kimberly following the release of Moxie to discuss her role in producing the film, especially how she used decor to represent Vivian’s journey throughout.
What is the role of a set decorator in bringing a film or TV series to life?
The set decorator is responsible for bringing the character into the room. We are responsible for furniture, lighting, textiles, putting pictures on the walls or family photos in the background. We give the characters their surroundings.
I know that the production design team looked to resources like the Riot Grrrl Collection at New York University for inspiration. What specific research did you do to prepare for this project?
I researched a lot of teenage girls’ rooms. We wanted [to convey] sweetness and innocence while adding the characters’ personality and making room for them to rebel. We definitely had the Bikini Kill and Riot Grrrl influence, too, while bringing it into the present day. There was a lot of Googling, reading, and looking at pictures of what people were wearing at [punk] concerts.
If you look closely, some details, like the butterflies in Vivian’s bedroom, suggest what her journey will be throughout the film. How else did you show that character’s evolution throughout the film?
There were conversations between me, the production designer – Erin Magill, and director Amy Poehler on how we were going to show Vivian’s progression in her bedroom. Between scenes, we’d change the posters on the walls, or switch the sheets to something not as sweet and soft. And the room got more cluttered. It’s tricky because [after we’ve finished our work], we give it up to editing and hope [our vision remains].
I chose butterflies because, in a sense, it’s [an obvious symbol]. Color-wise, the palette got harsher when we added the Riot Grrrl posters. Also, we placed those mostly by the door so that when Vivian’s mom, Lisa, is standing in the doorway, she can’t see that Vivian is transforming bit by bit.
One of my favorite sets in the film was the den in Lisa and Vivian’s home, with its rebellious nods and even a diploma from the college where the Riot Grrrl movement was born. How did that all come together?
The design of that room was thanks to Erin McGill, the production designer. She wanted it to look old and like the spot where they store their stuff. It’s where you put everything, then 10 years goes by and you remember a suitcase you forgot about. It was great to layer into that and go into depth with the prop master, Gay Perello. She did the whole suitcase that Vivian finds and everything in it.
The den establishes who Lisa is. She has to fix everything herself, so a toolbox is there. This is also where they put their Christmas decor. Then she has this closet that she never goes into with winter coats from years gone by, and her leather jacket is in there. It’s a time capsule. We filmed in a real home, and this was a sunporch. Erin added the cowboy wallpaper, and I added the old lighting in there so it looks like a room that Lisa never got to fix up.
Were you able to purchase most of the decor you needed, or did you have to create some of it?
I rent a lot of items, especially for a film like this. The posters have to be cleared, and then printed and framed to the size that we want. Even some of the artwork was rented. The props department buys a lot of their items because they have to manipulate them, like the suitcase. But most of my world is rented unless it’s something specific.
One of the scenes that I loved was the concert they have in the veterans’ hall. What did you add to that space to bring it to life?
We use that hall a lot. I’ve shot Veep and The Good Place there before, too. When they were playing mahjong there, I added elements to make it look even more like an old VFW hall. When the band is playing, Erin designed the columns and the backdrop with the eagle against the flag. There wasn’t a lot for me to do because it’s already a good-looking VFW hall.
I don’t think most people realize that when you see a poster or art in a TV show or a film that you have to purchase the rights to use it.
It’s my worst nightmare. Some prop houses have reached out and said, “Oh my god, Moxie looks so good. We saw our chair or artwork in it.” And I’m always petrified that someone’s gonna email and say, “Hey, that’s my art, you owe me $100,000 because you didn’t get clearance.”
I like to go on Etsy or find independent artists because I want to give people an opportunity for their art to be seen. I’ve rented a lot of artwork from prop houses, but so has every other decorator, so you want to find something new. To have a piece commissioned is expensive. So I went on Etsy for Vivian’s room and the den, and I did the same for the Netflix show, Love. I ask the artist for permission, and they sign a clearance agreement. I negotiate the price, and then it’s printed and framed.
Is there one element that really stands out for you when you look back at Moxie?
I’m proud that although they’re both teens, Vivian’s room and Claudia’s room are noticeably different. Claudia is still a teenager, but her color scheme is more juvenile and innocent. When I finally got to see the film, I thought, “Oh, good. It looks different,” because, in the research that we did, everybody’s room looked the same.
For more behind-the-scenes intel about Moxie, add Wiretap to your Chrome browser and look out for comments from Kimberly.