Crafting the Post-Apocalyptic World of Netflix's Daybreak

Q&A with Production Designer Laurel Bergman

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Production designer Laurel Bergman has contributed her creative fingerprint across many notable projects including The Revenant, Rampage, Godzilla, Fifty Shades of Grey and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Her latest work is based on the comic series by Brian Ralph, Daybreak. The series follows the story of a high school outcast, Josh, searching for his missing girlfriend in post-apocalyptic Glendale, California. He must stay alive amongst the horde of Mad Max-style gangs including, evil jocks, cheerleaders turned Amazon warriors, zombie-like creatures called Ghoulies, and everything else this new world throws at him.

Laurel spoke with ProductionHUB to provide a unique, behind-the-camera perspective on what goes into creating a post-apocalyptic world, as well as discussed her design process and the story told in Daybreak.

PH: Let's talk a little about your latest work on Daybreak. How did you get involved with this project?  

Laurel Bergman: I got involved with Daybreak because I had worked previously with this team, Brad Peyton, Jeff Fierson, and Barry Chusid on the feature ‘Rampage’ with Dwane Johnson.  Barry brought the project to me.  It was a passion project for Brad Peyton, and teaming up with writer/producer/showrunner Aron Coleite, we brought the graphic novel to life. 
PH: What was your thought process behind post-apocalyptic California? How did it differ than other post-apocalyptic worlds we might have seen portrayed in other films? 
Laurel Bergman: Daybreak pushes the boundaries of storytelling in just about every way imaginable, serving up bloody fight scenes, next-level profanity, cannibalism, blinged-out warriors and furious make-out sessions alongside a why-so-serious attitude. After all, it’s only the end of the world. Its visual language is just as powerful as its tone, taking inspiration from various styles and genres to create a post-apocalyptic world of its own.  What is refreshing about Daybreak is... the kids are gonna be alright.  They can make it in the world.  And, I love the aspirational aspect of this.   
PH: What type of pre-production goes into this? How do you begin to lay the groundwork for the world you're going to create?  
Laurel Bergman: I always look at a script or story for it’s essence above all else.  What story are we trying to tell and how can I within the weights and balances of a visual language, can amplify color, space, and textures to support this.  Initially, I read the script without pulling it apart from start to finish, like devouring a good book.  After sitting with it, determining how much visual oxygen the story needs to give it flame, I read the script again, this time letting myself visualize the worlds in full 3D,  moving through and revolving around it, to understand how this could potentially support the story we are trying to tell and technically engineer ideas of how we would shoot it.  From there, locations, concepts, plans and drawings are made and shared with the creative teams.  It evolves into a collaborative experience, and from there it just gets more and more exciting as the layers , characters, and ideas come together. 
PH: Where did you draw inspiration?  
Laurel Bergman: Daybreak is without adult supervision.  We knew we needed to build the world around what normal life looked like after the apocalypse and this world, surprisingly, is FUN and boundary-less.  With Mad Max-style gangs and ghoulies that are like zombies, our characters had to fight and navigate their way through this world and survive.  
I tried to design sets or find locations that had an edge and peeked into the absurd, and challenge our expectations.  We are in the apocalypse after all, so our world was always semi-destroyed but hinted to a happier and safer time.  It needed to convey a complicated danger ahead but isn’t this fun feeling. But most of all, it needed to put the Apocalypse in your face, and say, “yeah, so, what’s the big deal?”   
In the overall design, we used a lot of sand and tumbleweed and pops of bright colors to bring us into a comic book feel.  Cars, buildings, anything you would see on the street frozen in time had to be aged heavily.   It sounds easier than it is, there is an art to fabricating disaster.  The focus behind this project had a child-like curiosity and contrasting concepts that allowed for less traditional scenery.  Every set seemed to have a fun and intuitive energy around it. 
As a designer, the opportunity to be outside the box creatively, in combination with when the audience responds enthusiastically to such unique scenery generates a fantastic feeling. Humans love creativity, it’s a heartbeat that shows us life.  I think Daybreak will thrill pop-culture aficionados with its references to everything from Mad Max to '80s John Hughes films. Nearly every episode has countless little easter eggs, I think fans of pop culture who value being “in the know” will love it.
PH: What was your favorite set from the film? 
Laurel Bergman: What set stood out to me, or what brought me the most enjoyment was The Missile Gantry.  It really brought all the departments together.  The Grips, were excited to have a creative moment tasked with building the Gantry sub-structure as part of the set, which usually their work goes unseen, SPFX were given a massive practical explosion which always makes them happy, Stunts had a dynamic stage on multiple levels and moving parts to choreograph some great fight scenes, Set Dec lived out a “Pirates of the Caribbean” fantasy with all hands on deck getting into it with swashbuckling banter, the stairs were painted in the colors of a rainbow, who doesn’t like that, and Construction in combination with SPFX had a full-size missile to build.  Can this get even more ridiculous?  Everyone poured their heart and soul into the project, you could feel it.  The Director, Cinematographer, and actors were all excited to have this as their playground. That brings me joy. 
PH: What was your favorite part about telling the story of Daybreak visually?  
Laurel Bergman: It’s a relentless quest for the ridiculous.  I have great respect for humor as an art form when done well.  Imagine trying to pitch a Mad Max coming of age story, how funny that sounds on the surface.  We made the apocalypse look and feel like it was a great idea, and it was fun!
PH: As a production designer, how do you constantly reinvent yourself? Where do new ideas for new worlds come from?
Laurel Bergman: I think it is an unwavering spirit of curiosity and wanting to live the fullest version of yourself.  It’s about being brave to examine what is uncomfortable.  It’s about reading constantly and embracing multiple views of one story.  I feel I am reminded every day that there are people doing great things, and it inspires me to participate it whatever format has presented itself to me, which happens to be Production Design and Film. 
You can’t hang around negative people and expect a positive result.  In my early days, I started out as an artist studying Sculpture and Installation, so playing with environments and presenting new ways of seeing has always been part of my DNA.  As a designer, builder of worlds, and a modern-day storyteller, media and film is becoming more and more accessible to everyone every day.  I see it as a tool to help us humans understand each other a bit better.  I like to embrace the abundance model of all the new content coming our way, excited about the future of cinema, where the education of story can be a path to empathy and understanding.   
PH: Is there a world that you have yet to create that you'd like to? What is it and why?  
Laurel Bergman: O.S. we hear the song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon as we cut to a Scorsese film with endless respect for the craft of filmmaking and a celebration of Production Design. I have had the pleasure of working with Dante Ferretti, who has been a Production Designer for Scorsese and Fellini and I certainly learned a lot from him. The worlds we create are another character in the film and keeping the Art in Art Direction will capture the magic every Director hopes to achieve.  As a designer now myself, that is the world I hope to stay a part of. 
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