Saturday, May 21, 2022

The weird computers and claustrophobic hallways of Severance

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Inside the vast underground office of Lumon, the mega-corporation at the heart of Apple TV Plus’ thriller severance pay, the computers are downright bizarre. At first they look a bit like an old Mac, but the closer you look, the weirder they get. The CRT screen is somehow a touchscreen. The beautiful blue keyboard is saddled with a giant trackball. The goal, production designer Jeremy Hindle explains: The edge, was to design a device that doesn’t make much sense, and is a reflection of the purgatory-like world that only exists in Lumon’s basement. “The idea was that anything you could see under the ground doesn’t exist at the top anywhere,” Hindle says. “You’ll never see that computer or that keyboard.”

This article contains slight spoilers for Severance.

severance pay takes place in a world where a new procedure — the titular severance payment — allows workers to split their lives in two after minor brain surgery. They essentially become two people: one who lives a relatively normal life and another whose entire existence is in a purgatory-like office. Therefore, the design of the office itself was very important. It had to feel like a place outside of time and space. “You have to ensure that the inner and outer world [different] enough to immerse you in the world so that you feel like you’re separated when you’re down there with them,” explains Hindle.

The starting point was 1960s offices. “They work in this office environment, and they were brought in to just be these pro workers, and they were born in this place,” says Hindle. “It should be like offices used to be. Beautiful desks, beautiful structures, beautiful lamps. Just about work. On the desk is a pen, a rolodex, a telephone. It felt like it should be the same tone – but much more playful.

Image: Apple

At first glance, the offices in severance pay look pretty normal. They are brightly lit with clean white walls and green carpeting. But in the macro data refinement wing — where much of the show takes place — things go a bit wrong. Despite having a huge room, the four workers are crammed together through a cluster of desks in the center of the room. From there, things get even weirder. The hallways, designed with the intention of making people get lost, twist and turn in confusing ways, and there are rooms filled with 3D printers and baby goats.

The cafeteria, despite its name, is a gloomy, dark place where employees are punished for breaking the rules. To access it, they are forced through a long, narrow and dimly lit corridor barely wide enough for a single person. “The space makes people feel uncomfortable looking at it,” says Hindle. “In [macrodata refinement] the ceiling is so low, so even though the room is like a football field, it’s oddly claustrophobic.” (According to Hindle, series creator Dan Erickson once drew him a map of the labyrinthine basement, which he describes as a “maze.”)

The next step was to perfect the smaller details, as the underground office should be its own little world. “It’s not a spaceship, but it’s… is a spaceship,” says Hindle, referring to the original Alien as a great source of inspiration. That meant that everything in it, from the desks with their adjustable dividers and the snacks in the vending machine to the finger traps handed out as a bonus, had to be created in-house. Hindle estimates that the production team designed about 100 different products for office use, all intended to evoke the Lumon aesthetic.

Image: Apple

Which brings us back to the computers. Those Lumon rigs, which workers use to put “scary” numbers in a minesweeper-like program, look like they were hacked together from several other machines. “The trackball just destroyed me,” Hindle says. “We kept thinking, ‘If you experimented with these people, what would you serve them?'” They were designed not only to look out of date, but also to give the cast of office drones — including the likes of Adam Scott , Britt Lower, Zach Cherry and a very charming John Turturro – something to play with while acting. “Imagine how nice it would be to sit at this thing instead of putting a laptop in front of it,” says Hindle. “It’s like a child’s device.”

Hindle says the computers are functional and the actors are really fiddling with numbers on the screen during the show. The machines also went through multiple overhauls before the production was properly sized (among other things) so that they were large enough to be a focal point, but small enough not to obscure the actors or interfere with their eyelines. As Hindle points out, “They are in this room for three hours in the first season. It had to be very special and pretty fun.”

When you combine all these elements – the retrofuturistic computers, the labyrinth layout, the 60s decor, the claustrophobic hallways – and add voyeuristic cinematography often reminiscent of security camera footage, you get a show that is both instantly familiar and uncomfortable. is strange. In these offices, even a dance party takes on a tinge of horror, which, given one of Hindle’s main sources of inspiration, shouldn’t be too surprising.

“It was really my Twin Peaks,” he explains. “The similarity is that they have a tone to the writing, the art direction, the design, the cinematography. It’s its own world.”

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