How the ‘Severance Office’ is supposed to prank viewers – The Hollywood Reporter

Read the description for severance pay, a show about a workplace where employees forget about life outside the office for the duration of the workday, thanks to a surgical procedure that severs the link between work and private life, one could imagine an environment as mundane as Dunder Mifflin. But when production designer Jeremy Hindle got his hands on Dan Erickson’s challenging script, he saw something far more interesting. “I think it really is 2001: A Space Odyssey as an office,” he says.

Before meeting the project’s director and executive producer, Ben Stiller, Hindle created an extensive lookbook. Unbeknownst to him, both he and Stiller had envisioned the architectural style of Eero Saarinen and interior designer Kevin Roche as inspiration for the production design. Together, they landed on the Saarinen and Roche-designed Bell Labs Holmdel Complex as the location for Lumon Industries’ exterior facade, lobby and atrium. “There is only one precision in aesthetics,” says Hindle. “Ben loves when everything is really graphic and that suits his style.”

The interiors, based on Erickson’s idea that Lumon’s headquarters were miles underground, were built on top of soundstages, the number of which increased as the show grew in scale. “Originally, I think they only had two stages,” says Hindle. “The show was way bigger than they imagined. We needed more stages and more stages.”

The Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, designed by Eero Saarinen, served as the site for Lumon Industries’ outdoor facilities.

Courtesy of Jeremy Hindle

At York Studios in the Bronx, Hindle built an endless maze of hallways that subtly change in width as you go (Hindle tested 26 shades of white to pin down the color of the walls) and the simultaneously vast and claustrophobic office space, known as the MDR room, the according to Hindle sets the tone for the entire show. “It’s a very unnatural design. Every background in this room is interesting because it’s asymmetrical. It’s like playing with their brains,” he says. At the same time he remarks: “There is something really comfortable about the rooms. Even if it’s scary, you kind of want to be there.” The Roche-inspired desk in the middle of the MDR room is Hindle’s showpiece. “I wanted a desk that sits on a center column so it feels like an umbilical to the subway. I also wanted to make it interactive. You could raise and lower the dividers for shots to create interesting eye lines,” he says.

Lumon’s labyrinthine offices comprised an endless series of gleaming white corridors built at York Studios in the Bronx.

Courtesy of AppleTV+

While severance pay, which required four concept artists to design everything from Lumon logos to vending machines, is Hindle’s most collaborative project to date, it was only after the series was completed that he was able to convince his colleagues that their vision would work. “It was really an attempt to get everyone on the show — every producer, everyone in my department — to understand that this is going to be different. Most people fall for what they know, and I say, “There’s nothing you know about it.” And by the time it was done, nobody really understood the show,” he says. Luckily, the end result speaks for itself. “I was blown away when I saw that. Like, “Oh my god, it worked.” ”

This story first appeared in a standalone July issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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