In the Dark: The Challenges of Set Design for Blind Actors & Characters

Exclusive interview with production designer Naz Goshtasbpour on the latest CW series

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Designing a set for a blind character, for a show featuring blind actors is no easy feat. This is what production designer Naz Goshtasbpour was tasked with when creating the story world for the CW's upcoming drama, In the Dark, which premiered April 4.

The show follows hard-living, hard-drinking, disaffected twenty-something, Murphy, who is also blind. Murphy’s life comes crashing down when she stumbles upon what she’s sure is the lifeless body of her best friend in the alley outside her apartment.  But when the police arrive there is nobody to be found—and with Murphy not exactly sober, the police aren’t especially inclined to investigate. Murphy is determined to find the truth, no matter the risk.
Naz talked exclusively to ProductionHUB about the series and her involvement. 
PH: Can you talk about how you came to work on In the Dark? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: I think it was a combination of my agent putting my name forward as well as one of the executive producers knowing me from a past project. I was contacted by the producer to interview for the pilot; it was a phone interview.  I never get a job through Skype, let alone a phone interview. Furthermore, the year didn't start well for me. I had turned down returning to a series that I worked on for 3 years, turned down a feature, and had no other job prospects.  I got the call in late January, put the package together, emailed it, and had my phone interview. The interview was very short, about 15 - 20 minutes.  I didn't think I had a chance but immediately after I hung up, the phone rang again and I was offered the job!
PH: What made you excited to work on the series?
Naz Goshtasbpour: This was a project I had never done before. It was really interesting researching people who were born with sight and lost their vision later and how they adjusted. I came across a really interesting TED talk with Chris Downey, an architect who lost his vision and I don't think I would've found it if I were working on a different project.  Overall, in addition to the script, it's the research that really excites me about any project. 
PH: Can you describe what pre-production was like? How did you prepare? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: Research was a big part of our prep.  We visited a few guide dog training facilities in Southern Ontario for the pilot and on the series.  I also sat down with our consultant who worked for Guide Dogs of America to talk about what their training facilities were like.  I wanted to make sure that what we created was authentic. 
In addition to that research, it was important that we found neighborhoods that were a close match to Chicago. After I designed all the standing sets,  I worked closely with the location manager and put together a location comparison document.  
PH: You designed a realistic home for a blind character. How did you envision that and what key elements did you include and why? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: In my interview for the pilot, I pitched that if she's in her mid-20s, blind, and has unprotected sex with random men, she wouldn't care about her room or what she looks like.  I pitched that the furniture in her bedroom would only be there to serve a purpose.  She'd probably throw a mattress on the ground to sleep on and more importantly, she does not have any lights in her bedroom since she doesn't need them, and the main source of light would come through the window. For her bedroom, we included a lot of items with textures.
PH: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?  
Naz Goshtasbpour: The challenge was to create something realistic that would look good on screen and would work well for the story, which I think we managed well.
PH: What are some of your favorite shots in the series and why? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: I had the opportunity to design a lot of great sets so it's hard to think of just one. If I really had to choose, of all the standing sets, although they are all my favorites, the police station would be number 1. I watch a lot of police/detective dramas: anything from True Detective to Law and Order! I've watched a lot of police station sets and I wanted this to be different from anything I've seen on TV before.  It was one we got a lot of great feedback from our directors as well.   
From the first episode, Hank and Joy's (Murphy's parents) house is one that stands out at the moment. Everything from the furniture, the bills and the flyers we created, the mountain of paperwork, the basket of unfolded laundry that ended up on the dining room table, and all the braille labels we put on kitchen cabinet doors that you couldn't see on screen.  I was very happy with that set. 
PH: How do all of the elements shape the story? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: Film is such a collaborative medium. All the departments come together to create a world and tell a story. As a production designer, I want to make sure that I designed a space that is true to the character and tells the story in one frame. 
PH: Can you talk about how important color and shape are to any story world?  
Naz Goshtasbpour: On In the Dark, every set was its own world that Murphy navigated through. Her bedroom lacked color but was full of texture: the exposed brick walls, the sheets on her bed, the rug, etc. Her roommate's bedroom and the rest of the apartment is colorful. 
For The Guiding Hope, a business Murphy's parents started when she lost her vision that trains guide dogs, we chose more vibrant colors for that set to represent the parents' optimism and hope for Murphy. The police station, although inspired by art deco architecture, is mostly grey and brown. It's very institutional. The bar she hangs out in all the time is dark but still feels warm and comfortable. It's Murphy's safe place other than her bedroom. 
PH: Is there anything else you'd like to add? 
Naz Goshtasbpour: This was one of the most incredible experiences of my career so far. I had a great construction, scenic and set decorating team. It was such a pleasure to get to know everyone and work with them but if I can, I wanted to give a specific shout out to my partner in crime, Stuart Pearce who continues to support my dreams and ambitions. 
You can watch the trailer here: 

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