Before the season three scripts for Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” had even been completed, showrunners Mimi Leder and Charlotte Stoudt told production designer Nelson Coates they wanted to start the show with a bang. “They said we’re doing all these environments. We’re going to space and it’s going to be right up front.”
And so the third season of the series blasts off – literally. Jon Hamm joins the show as Paul Marks, an Elon Musk/Richard Branson-type billionaire. His character, who has taken an interest in buying the network, offers the TMS crew a chance to film a rocket launch and send one of its anchors into space.
Coates’ vision was to come up with a sense of urgency and excitement without going into the sci-fi world. And that meant building a 19-foot-high capsule, rocket and launching pad.
Coates, whose credits include “In the Heights” and “Hocus Pocus 2” says, “It’s the latest and greatest technology available to the billionaires. So, I looked at Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX to find commonalities.” He realized he wanted it to feel like “you are on a rocket, and there is a booster.”
How did he pull it off?
Coates sent location scouts searching for large expanses of tarmac that would feature in the lead-up to the launch. Everything needed to feel as real as possible, and so the search extended beyond Los Angeles, which he found to be limiting for what needed to be accomplished.
The team found the perfect location further south in Orange County, a few miles from the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin. Says Coates, “This place had a huge expanse of concrete with tie downs so we could build the bottom of our gantry tower on the tarmac there and our broadcast areas.”
With Hamm working on another project, time with the actor was limited so Coates was under pressure to ensure his sets were completed quickly. “We built the top of the tower and gantry on Stage 30 at Sony. It was made from real steel with cantilevers and other elements for that to be believable.” He continues, “I couldn’t get the capsule done fast enough. So, we had a doorway with a blue screen behind it for the days that we were on the top of the gantry and the tower.” A few months later, the actual capsule had been completed and Hamm and the cast shot the remaining scenes.
Coates also ended up building 25 feet of the lower portion of the tower, and the top two levels.
The capsule he built was 19 feet tall . Says Coates, “You’ll see a geometry of hexagons and triangles that come together, and they’re all flocked ( layering a mixture of microfibers onto a coat of adhesive ink) with the material that you get in your car glove box.”
He adds, “The capsule was built with pieces that could pop out; the whole back could come out; the window, and the top so the wire rigs could be added in for the weightlessness sequence.”
For the blue of the interior, Coates worked closely with the costume department. “We went through lots of different types of blues, and how reflective it would be. We looked at what parts would be metallic versus what parts would be textural so there could be a separation of materials,” he says.
“It’s challenging because you need to make sure everything you’re seeing on screen works,” Coates says. “So we did camera tests with John Grillo our DP and looked at it through his lighting.” He continues, “The chairs had a carbon fiber coating on the backside. We looked at the strapping to make sure they worked with the costumes. We also had to look at the weightlessness aspect. It’s not really weightless, so we had straps that had metal hidden on the inside to make it look like the straps were floating.”
As for the Hyperion logo, Coates says there was an Amazon feel to it. He says, “It needed to feel like a corporation that looked like it had a lot of divisions. It was on the clothing and straps and in some areas we embroidered it so it felt real.”
The first two episodes of “The Morning Show” Season 3 are now streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes premiering weekly on Wednesdays.