June 13, 2024

How the High-Powered Worlds of HBO’s Succession Are Mastered

Hollywood has long held a fascination with the inner workings of the upper 1 percent at work and play. Whether it be family-squabble driven series like Dallas and Dynasty or the Wall Street worlds of Bonfires of the Vanities and Billions, the examples seems endless.

HBO’s new dramedy Succession is the latest entry: a dark, funny, and often cringe-worthy, hour of television featuring an aging patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) who controls one of the largest media conglomerates in the world known as Waystar Royco.

His dysfunctional family includes his third wife and four children who battle each other for his love, attention, and control of the family company, with all the Machiavellian maneuverings and ploys of power, privilege, and family dynamics of the incredibly rich.

Emmy-winning production designer Stephen Carter and Emmy-nominated set decorator George DeTitta Jr. , who both worked together on Birdman, were responsible for creating Roy’s world, set against a backdrop of soaring Manhattan towers, luxurious Upper East Side apartments, and stately country houses.

Inside the Roy family home on Succession.

The set of HBO’s Succession

The soundstages of Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios East double as the self-made scion’s two-story Fifth Avenue home. Carter initially researched the homes of Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone, whose media empires and families draw obvious comparisons in the story line.

“I was influenced by the Fifth Avenue apartments of Edgar Bronfman and Charles Bronfman as they were on the same stretch of street where Logan’s apartment would be, particularly the simple muted color scheme from Charles’s apartment. Edgar Senior’s apartment has the scale, views, and layout, but the color palette was pretty shocking to the eye. ” It was also important that the apartment on the show would have views of the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park; a residential tower on Billionaires Row was chosen for the exterior.

Since this was the apartment Logan shared with his third wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), “the look would be very clean and not a lot of knickknacks since she was, after all, the third wife,” details Carter. For the color scheme, he employed creams, golds, and beiges. “The color palette was very clean and almost a bleached monotone of wealth,” he says. “I didn’t feel these were very tactile people, comfortwise, and they wanted everything around them to be visually elegant. ”

For the sets that included a black and white marble floor hallway (no details were spared, as often budgets only permit the use of contact paper), living and dining room, balcony and study where most of the family battles take place, DeTitta shopped a variety of high-end sources for the furnishings. Newel Props (an offshoot of Newel antiques and the go-to spot for set decorators) was used for establishment pieces along with 1stdibs, John Street Antiques, and The Antique and Artisan Gallery in Stamford, Connecticut, as well as antique shops in Westport, Connecticut.

Inside the Waystar Royco office on Succession.

As production design plays an essential component in narrative storytelling, Carter decided to add a subtle detail that often goes undetected by the audience. For the wrought-iron stairway that goes to the fictitious second floor, “I chose a subtle militaristic detail with wrought-iron gold-tipped arrows and a handrail that was a culmination of fascist eras,” the designer explains. This was a nod to the fact that “Logan never served, but appreciated the military. ”

The imposingly sleek corporate Waystar Royco offices were built on a soundstage and a “build-out” in a couple of vacant spaces at the World Trade Centers 4 and 7. Chosen primarily for the views, Carter notes that Logan’s corner office has the vantage point of being able to view the Empire State Building. The designer wanted to keep the sons’ offices in close proximity to each other, particularly son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) who is hoping to be next in line, so he could keep a watchful eye on his father. Due to their obvious reflective nature, the glass-paneled offices proved to be a challenge. “I love shooting through glass, and the director and cinematographer embraced the challenges as the weather is changing and we love working with natural lights. ” As a result, the team developed custom lighting using LEDs to balance the interior and exterior.

Inside the Roy family living room on Succession.

While dressing the office sets in neutrals, grays, and blacks, DeTitta explains, “I looked online at the Murdoch media offices for inspiration and went for a more clean, modern approach. ” With less than a week to place the furniture and art, he sourced midcentury-modern desks from Dallas, along with furnishings from Kravet Contract, Arteriors lamps, and case goods from Jensen-Lewis, BDI, and Hudson Valley. “It was a fight to the finish! ” he says.

The results are a voyeuristic peek into a high-powered arena that seldom of us see. As DeTitta aptly sums it up: “The challenge is to show these people in this world and how they live. It’s a world not many people know. ”

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