Interview: Production designer Mylène Santos talks about the music videos that inspired “Girls5Eva”
I’m going to pull out my soapbox for a sec. If you don’t have a Peacock subscription, you’re missing out! The NBC/Universal app brings us some of the funniest comedies streaming right now. Of We are lady parts (about an all-female Muslim punk rock band) at Rutherford Falls to the triumphant return of the sitcom Tina Fey – Girls5Eva. About a group of girls from the late 90s/early 2000s, mostly retired, who decide to get together, Girls5Eva is hilarious, full of catchy songs, and is wrapping up its second season! Ok, soapbox finished.
We had the chance to chat with Mylène Santos, the decorator of Girls5Evaand got to pick his brain on what it was like to build the meta-world of Girls5Evaand which bands she would like to create a music video for in a future season of the show.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
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Nerds and Beyond: Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your research process for the show. Did you delve into a lot of music videos from the late 90s/early 2000s? And if so, what were your favorites?
Mylene Santos: Well, you know, I lived those times. It was quite easy. I had worked on the first season as an art director. So we did a lot of our research at the time. And which clips are my favourites? Well, showrunner Meredith Scardino based the series on bands like the Spice Girls. So we went from there and watched those specific music videos. Meredith would bring specific inspirations and we would run with them.
There was an episode this season, where they’re on the set of a music video for Lil Stinker, and Meredith lifted the banquet table from Great, so we skipped that and created a long table with all the sneakers, watches, diamonds, and fruit. And also added some chandeliers, and you’ve just designed something super fun, sparkly, and opulent.
Nerds and Beyond: I was also curious with this set, because you have to design the set from the perspective of what the audience sees if they were to watch the music video, but also from all behind the scenes pieces of the scene that normally remain hidden. It becomes a scene of a scene and a scene of a backstage. It’s getting pretty meta! What does building a set of a set look like?
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Mylene Santos: When we read the script, I thought, “Oh, we’re going to have to use the stage as a setting.” You know, our soundstage. And we only have two soundstages, so it was quite tricky because we had already integrated this soundstage for the previous episode and we had to find the time to take it apart and install the new sets. And we have very fast delays between each episode. We ended up having so many sets in this soundstage! We were looking in one direction, and the whole film crew was on the other side of the sound stage. And then when we pulled the other way and they were constantly moving, and everything was pretty tight in there.
So that was pretty much it. I mean, in a way, it’s fun because you don’t have to worry if you see our gear, or a ladder, or some other set wrap, because it just lends itself to the whole scene . So it was easy, but you know, to try to make room for the sets that we actually had to shoot in, it was time limited, but in the end, everything looks great.
Nerds and Beyond: I also wanted to ask about the sound studio the band is spending a lot of time in this season. What was it like building a set that has to have that sitcom vibe but still feels like a functional, usable space for the characters?
Mylene Santos: So we researched a bunch. We had also built a few recording studios last season, but this one had to be completely different. Meredith asked for this one to be more mid-range because the girls were just getting started, so it wouldn’t be something super high-end and fancy. So I designed it to look like it had a story, like it was a recording studio that had little money at first, then as they got more money , they were renovating this or that. You know, one era in that, and then they were renovating something else in another era. Just to give more history to the place. We were very lucky to have Jeff Richmond, our music composer with us. He helped us out by making sure all of our tech gear looked okay and would be something they would actually use.
Nerds and Beyond: I was also curious, because the show deals with so much parody, especially in flashbacks and music videos, that I was wondering how you strike the balance between incorporating those larger-than-life comedy elements of the world while also keeping it grounded?
Mylene Santos: I just have to be honest with everything I read in the script. So when we went to the ‘Ricky Rats’ flashback it might be more fun and over the top because it was scripted as regional TV and the post will also come and change the look of it to make it look older and period . So I think when I’m honest about what the scene is, it plays funny because of that.
I’m making this regional TV set look as real as possible because it should be a little hokey. When you look at these types of sets, they are not high end professional. I think that’s why it works.
For music videos, because hip-hop music videos are so high-end and flashy, I wanted to go above and beyond with these sets. Like a nightclub, just glitzy and luxurious and overly obnoxious. Just roll in the dough. So I think as long as you’re true to what the writer really intended, I think that’s how it works for me. In terms of design between fantastic sets and realistic sets.
Is there a 90s or even early 2000s pop music video that you’d like to pay homage to on the show that hasn’t been done yet?
Mylene Santos: It’s funny because I didn’t really listen to pop back then, I was more of a listener to alternative and grunge bands. I was even in a band myself actually, but we didn’t get very far. Not as much as Girls5Eva. But when it comes to bands from the 90s to pay homage to… would it have to be a girl band?
Nerds and Beyond: Oh no, pick any band! Let’s go crazy with it!
Mylene Santos: Ok so I would say probably Radiohead. I love Radiohead and they were big in the 90s. But I don’t think they fit into our Girls5Eva world. So for a pop band… Destiny’s Child was in the 90s, right? Where were they the 00s?
Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, I think they sort of overlap. This will date me but I was in college when I had their album The Writing’s on the Wall and that was in 1999. So they’re definitely in the same space as The Spice Girls and Girls5Eva.
Mylene Santos: Yeah, so if we’re talking about a group of women, I should probably do them. Or as in Kimmy Schmidt when they referenced the Lemonade video, something like that.
Nerds and Beyond: Destiny’s Child is a great choice! They had this video for “Say My Name” which had rotating color blocked rooms, where each one is like a different primary color cube.
Mylene Santos: Yeah it’s funny my MTV was definitely early in the 80s so I can post any music video from that era but the 90s they started moving more to Real world and that kind of stuff.