We recently spoke with the production designer behind Disney+’s World’s Best and the new CW series Son of a Critch, Liz Bischof. A heavy believer in research and making her designs fit the character and story buildup, Liz worked on both these projects with a sharp and creative eye.
PH: Can you describe a bit about your professional history and how you got into the field of production design?
Liz Bischof: I came from theater, where I worked as a props builder and sculptor in Toronto before moving to London, where I worked for the English National Opera. Then I traveled to Australia to work at the Australian Opera. I finally settled in Amsterdam and traveled back and forth to Toronto, working on many Broadway shows in both cities like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, Ms. Saigon, Aladdin etc. I joined the art department relatively recently, but prop building gave me a great set of problem-solving skills and a knowledge of construction and paint that has helped me succeed as an art director and production designer.
PH: How do you go about selecting a project to work on? Do you have a certain criteria you follow?
Liz Bischof: I think in terms of selecting a project, there are many factors. Sometimes the idea of building a town or full city is amazingly appealing. Sometimes it is working in a specific time period. I really like to challenge myself with content I need to explore. I love world-building and creating the spaces that are needed by doing research to form an accurate picture of a specific time period or style.
PH: How did you become involved with Disney + World’s Best and the new CW series Son of a Critch? What drew you to each project?
Liz Bischof: I think with both projects, it was word of mouth, and then I pitched for the shows. I think I was drawn to Son of a Critch for its time period. I also read Mark’s book and thought it was really funny. Creating a world in 1986 was such a fun thing to do.
As for World’s Best, I didn’t know much about Hip Hop, so before my pitch. I took a deep dive into 90s Hip Hop and learned all I could about the art, music and fashion of the style. I think part of the challenge is finding the perfect world for the story.
PH: Can you talk me through your pre-production mindset when constructing the design for these projects?
Liz Bischof: I think that it starts with the pitch for me. I read the script and try to find what speaks to me within the story. Then I start my research process and try to find out more, and as I do that, the concept starts to gel in my head, and I’m sold. Then it is easy to pitch for because I believe it. I can't pitch if I don't find that hook.
PH: For Son of a Critch, how did you incorporate elements of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s design to give the main home set a more authentic and lived-in look for the time period?
Liz Bischof: Mark had lots of pictures of his childhood in that house and had some specific ideas about some of the elements. When I thought about the house, I thought about the timeframe Mark’s family had lived in it and worked backwards. It was built to house radio people as the radio station was right next door. I imagined that Mark’s father and mother had moved in after marriage, the house was built in the 60s, and they were probably not the first occupants. They didn't have a lot of money, so not a lot of changes to the finishes, but an eclectic collection of department store paintings and donated furniture. So 60s architecture and wallpaper and floor finishes, some 70s smaller details like dishes and art, and just a smattering of 80s chachka’s that Marks's mother might have purchased to add to the house. I also liked the idea of them keeping everything for that possible rainy day need and having layers of things stacked in the cupboards and halls. Mark's grandfather (Malcolm MacDowell) was older and had a shelf of his possessions, and those were from the 1930s.
PH: What were some of the challenges filming in a small town with limited supplies?
Liz Bischof: St Johns, Newfoundland, is a very unique place to work as it is an island, and there isn’t the easy ability to run to a props house and get what you need. Every small detail needed to be sourced. Importing all the finishes would have been very expensive. I had some ideas of what I wanted for the house then we took to the local social media pages to find some of the elements. I wanted a specific period kitchen, and it was just our luck that someone 45 min away was taking one out of their newly bought house. We did that with the flooring and wood paneling in the house as well. We bought the carpet from a woman who had it on her attic floor. The paneling came from an old ice cream factory. It was really a unique way to dress a set.
PH: Can you dive deep into some of the interior and exterior sets you specifically had to create? Where did your inspiration come from?
Liz Bischof: There were a lot of fun sets. For example, in Season 1, Ep 9, Mark is performing in the school Easter play, a reenactment of the Last Supper. I thought it would be funny to riff on the actual painting by Davinci of the Last Supper and create a one-point perspective set. We changed the corners of the table to match the painting and raked it so you could see the whole surface of the table, and all the goblets and food on the table were cardboard cutouts on the stands. In the background, Signal Hill (an iconic location in St John’s) is the backdrop. We even put a cardboard cutout of Maple Leaf bologna on the table, a staple in every Newfoundland household in the 80s.
Another example is the finale of Season 1 was a school dance and the theme was a nod to Enchantment Under the Sea from Back to the Future. It was a mish mash of fun things we thought would be funny but still very Newfoundland. The refreshment area was the Titanic (sunk off the coast of Newfoundland) with its front end broken and there was a giant whale (Newfoundland is famous for whale watching) cutout about the entrance of the gym. The DJ booth was a giant pink sculpted scallop shell which I took from Birth of Venus by Bottecelli. So fun!
PH: For World's Best, can you talk about how you focused on balancing the hip-hop elements and the colorful Disney aesthetic?
Liz Bischof: When researching, it became clear that the most fun and child-friendly hip hop would be the 90’s east coast hip hop when new ideas in music videos were being explored, and there was rich saturated color being used. I referenced the Bling era a lot: Busta Rhymes, Jay Z, Tribe Called Quest, Missy Elliot, Mase, Puff Daddy. I think that the Mo Money Mo Problems video by Notorious B.I.G. had a big impact on the style we tried to emulate. The music videos were fun and colorful, using fisheye lenses which we used in the WORK video in the film.
PH: What type of research did you do when it comes to music videos?
Liz Bischof: Oh, I watched everything. I was a rave child and didn’t really have much experience with hip hop. I had a friend in the Netherlands who was very big into hip hop and wrote blogs about hip hop fashion. He gave me a landing point of where to start, so I did a really deep dive and watched music videos for days before my pitch.
I learned about the culture, fashion, art and graffiti and history of east coast hip hop. I looked at the difference between artists from Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx. So I could speak to where in New York this story felt most at home. I researched graffiti artists and the collectives that made graffiti from the 90s to the present day to see how I could incorporate some of that language into the film. It was really interesting, and I learned tons.
PH: What's a big focus for you this year (personally or professionally)?
Liz Bischof: I think, as always, I want to continue to grow and work on projects that challenge me. I think the best projects are ones where I have to push myself because I learn the most.
PH: Can you share any upcoming projects you have in the works?
Liz Bischof: I just finished a project in Vancouver called A NICE INDIAN BOY, which is a gay Rom-Com starring Karan Soni and Jonathan Groff. It is directed by Roshan Sethi. It was a blast! It is a story about an Indian family finding acceptance with their gay son/brother and his choice of partner, and from the design perspective: fun Indian weddings to decorate!