Mandy Actors UK

'Bring something special every day' Legion production designer Michael Wylie shares his TV journey

Michael Wylie is an Emmy-winning production designer known for his work on sci-fi drama series Legion, Agent Carter, Masters of Sex, Californication, Pushing Daisies and Little Britain USA. Here he tells Mandy News how he got started in the industry, how he approaches production design and what aspiring production designers can do to get noticed.

18th May 2018
/ By Andrew Wooding

Legion production designer Michael Wylie MICHAELWYLIE

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in production design and film.
I'm Michael Wylie and I’m a production designer. I got into the industry the way most people do. I came to Los Angeles and bumped into a friend from high school on Hollywood Blvd who asked me what I was doing there and I said I didn’t know and he said "cool, do you want to work on a movie in the art department?" I said yes. Years later I lied to a producer in NYC and told her I was an art director. She hired me on a commercial and that started my design career. Thank God this was all before the internet...

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How did you come to work on Legion?
I won an Emmy Award in 2010 for a show called Pushing Daisies. After that, I got a lot of opportunities to do shows that were either flat-out kooky or heavily designed. Noah Hawley, who created Legion, knew that he wanted a designer that would not only understand but also contribute to the oddball nature of his show. I interviewed with him and Lauren Schuler Donner, who is basically in charge of the X-Men universe. Noah had a very clear idea of what he wanted the show to look like. He had made a small book of images. Some of those images matched the images I had brought in as a sort of mini-presentation. I got the job.

It's a very visual show. What was your approach to the design of the world the show takes place in?
We wanted to make sure that the audience was always questioning what they were looking at. Either as a WTF or just confusion. We didn’t want them to know what was real and what was a delusion in the head of a mental patient as told by an unreliable narrator. This meant obscuring the time stamp, thus giving the show a somewhat period feeling.

What is the turn around for each episode? Could you talk us through the process of working on an episode of Legion?
We have nine days to shoot an episode. So nine days before the day we shoot we start to prep the episode with the new director. Each episode has a separate director. Sometimes I’m given the script earlier so I can start to pull design ideas from different sources like magazines, books, and the internet.

We also scout locations and do casting and costume fittings and lots and lots of meetings. Every department gets its own time with the director to talk about ideas and strategies. It’s a whirlwind that never stops whirling.

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You have also worked on some great shows like Californication and Agent Carter. What is it that draws you to working on a project, and does your approach change a lot from production to production?
I’m drawn to projects that seem out of the ordinary. This job is really hard. If the subject or the theme of the show doesn’t keep my interest I wouldn’t be able to do it for long. The approach is always the same. I’m here to advance the narrative of the screenplay through visual clues and visual backstory. This means I serve the story. That must remain the same.

What are your plans for 2018 and beyond?
I just finished season two of Legion and I’m off to Vancouver to do a reimagining of The Twilight Zone. I’m very excited about it.

What advice do you have for people wanting to get involved in production design?
HAVE A POINT OF VIEW that is singular to you. Designers are hired to bring something to the party. Bring something special every day. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out.

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