How 'Griselda''s production designer evoked 1980s Miami

Knut Loewe eschewed the stereotypical pinks for a broader colour palette.

By Gabriella Geisinger 14 Jun 2024

How 'Griselda''s production designer evoked 1980s Miami
Sofia Vergara as Griselda Blanco; Cr: Netflix

TV series like Miami Vice have fixed an evocative colour palette for the Floridian city in the minds of audiences. For Knut Loewe, production designer on Netflix’s Miami-set Griselda, it would have been easy enough to use the familiar neon pinks and flamingoes to establish Miami, but he chose a different path.

Instead Loewe thought of shades of green. “Miami always has around 90% humidity and everything is overgrown,” he explains. “You have banana leaf, palm trees, birds of paradise are everywhere. It’s so green. It’s like a jungle, or a greenhouse. I decided and sold it to the rest of the production team, to work with greens.”

Loewe and his team made “truckloads full of banana leaf and palm trees and carried that everywhere. A lot of the greenery that you see in the show is man-made,” he reveals.

The Netflix series stars Sofia Vergara as the titular Colombian drug lord and takes place predominantly in 1980s Miami. But shooting in the city was never seriously considered. “The infrastructure isn’t big enough for the size of the show we were doing,” says Loewe. “We would have had to fly out with a huge crew and find them accommodation. We decided that money could be spent more wisely.”

Additionally, the Miami skyline has changed dramatically since the 1980s, and filming on-location would not have offered the production the era-appropriate architecture.

To replicate Miami’s unique inner-costal waterway in Los Angeles, the team made use of San Pedro and Long Beach, so the proximity to water would be evident throughout the series.

What helped Loewe with his research was his collection of interior design magazines. He found a collection of 1980s Architectural Digest magazines and searched them for Florida interiors. “In Miami’s well- to- do neighborhoods, you have a lot of very prominent interior design examples that were featured in those magazines,” he discovered.

But Loewe wanted to make sure he was showing a multi-dimensional Miami. He was inspired by a 1970s coffee-table book, ‘Settle In The Sun’, featuring photos of New York Jewish transplants to Florida. “There will be a gorgeous expanse of beach, and someone walking with a metal detector. Or landscaped gardens, and people sitting with the mirrors under their chin to get tan.”

The book also opened up the show’s visual references. “In the 1970s, the dominating colours are turquoise and yellow. It’s the perfect foil for pink.”

Further, the first half of the show is full of warm blues but as the decade moves on “you have ultramarine blue and steel blues - these cold blues – and turquoise almost completely disappears. I used that colour coding for a transition between the 70s and the 80s,” Loewe explains.

While many scenes were filmed on location in Los Angeles, Loewe and his team also built over 200 sets, with interiors being filmed at Los Angeles Center Studios.

Production began in December 2022 and wrapped June 2023, with post-production completed in January 2024.

Freeway blues

One of the downsides of filming in Los Angeles, says Loewe, is “you spend a lot of time on the freeway,” which eats into valuable meeting time with the production team. Luckily Loewe had worked with Los Angeles- set decorator Kimberly Leonard previously which allowed for easy communication amid the hectic schedule. “We had a shorthand [so] we didn’t have to have proper meetings,” Loewe says.

GriseldaLeonard wanted to go bigger on Loewe’s initial designs for the interiors of the yacht. “Kim said to me, ‘these are drug dealers. We have to be a bit more bold.’”

To convince him, all Leonard had to do was send Loewe a picture.

“She sent me a photo where she had a black -and -white bold block stripe next to the mahogany wainscotting inside the main salon, and I went, ’Oh, I see what you mean! Yes, go ahead.’”

Loewe also worked closely with the VFX department, whose input was used in an unexpected way. “Netflix couldn’t possibly provide us with enough fake cocaine as you actually see in the show. We got around 10 pallets of [fake] cocaine, and the rest are digital.”

For Loewe, Griselda was a welcome return to a tactile, theatrical way of working in an industry landscape increasingly turning towards virtual production.

“The further we move away from the theatre stage, the more dead and artificial [our work] becomes,” says Loewe. “To me, opera is where we want to be. We want the acting, the drama, the music, the flying cupids; all of that, the glamour and the glitz. We want the audience clapping.”

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