The Addams Family has been a cult favorite since they first appeared as single-panel cartoon in a 1938 issues of The New Yorker. The franchise has flourished as a live action television series in the 1960s, a hit film franchise in the 1990s, and most recently as a animated film films, as well as animation incarnation of the macabre family found its largest audience to date thanks to the Netflix series, “Wednesday.”
The series amassed 411.29 million hours viewed in a single week, breaking its previous record
of 341.2 million (which break the previous record of “Stranger Things” season four. It’s a foregone conclusion that the series will earn a season two order, which is in no small part to the brilliant work of production designer Mark Scruton (“Pennyworth”).
The veteran designer reveled with the opportunity to work with legendary Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman) and writers Al Gough and Miles Millar (“Smallville”) in the heart of Romania. That setting seemed perfect for the series’ stoic protagonist who joins the Nevermore Academy after less than “ladylike” behavior at her past school.
The first season focuses on a mystery unfurling around the character of Wednesday as she discovers her newfound psychic powers and a strange link between her ancestors and the blood-soaked history of Nevermore Academy.
To place the actors (and the audience) in the world of Nevermore, Scruton mixed the Romanian countryside and architecture with intricate models and sprawling designs. “We wanted an environment that would serve the characters in both a fantastical way, but also a realistic way,” Scruton shared.
Scruton designed this show with its original source material in mind, while still bringing a new take to the characters and their designs, “We wanted to maintain the identity of the original characters while also providing our own nuance to the story that Tim and Alan created,” Scruton said.
Scruton spoke to Awards Focus about the difficulties that come with transferring ideas from script-to-screen, constructing massive rigs of fake blood, and testing every formidable piece of the set.
Awards Focus: What was it like creating this extraordinary setting? Did the Romanian environment inspire you when it came to building the school and set pieces?
Mark Scruton: Initially, we were gonna film in Toronto, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to fill our purposes. So then, when we found the new location in Romania, and it had a lot of Gothic architecture and buildings.
I spent a lot of time wandering and absorbing all the Gothic structures in the area. But there wasn’t quite anything that matched the designs we envisioned. So, the town of Jericho and the Nevermore Academy exteriors were built from the ground up with our own imaginations. We also borrowed from the Transylvanian castles that we found in the Romanian mountains.
AF: Could you tell me a bit about the sequence involving the ice sculpture and the raining blood prank at the dance?
Scruton: Yes, it was clear this was going to be a challenge when we first read it in the script. Given the scale of the sequence, it was the kind of thing that we could only shoot once. So, we thought we should contain it to one location, and we found ourselves the perfect hall to do it.
When it came time to shoot, the reality settled in that we were having to dump hundreds of gallons of fake blood to get the scene right. Now, we didn’t have the money to shoot it in some grand hall, but we figured we’d set the event during winter, using the white room and ice sculptures juxtaposing against the fake red blood.
And before the scene, we tested it over and over again by pumping and spraying it out of these rigs, but the problem was it kept coming out pink. So we just kept testing it until it turned out blood red, and gave the scene the viscosity that was needed.
AF: For the secret society, was it difficult to craft the statue with the raven flapping its wings moving to open the secret passage?
Scruton: Yes, it was another challenge, since we were filming during the middle of winter in Romania. The set started creaking every time we walked over it, so we were constantly having to take a screwdriver to it. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it gave the set that antique vibe we were going for.
AF: I’ve known Al (Gough) and Miles (Millar) since working with a lot of the “Smallville” cast and they’re fantastic people. How well did you know Al and Miles prior to the production and what was your experience with them like as showrunners and series creators?
Scruton: I’ve worked with Tim (Burton) previously, but this was the first production I’ve done with Al and Miles. I still remember when I got the call to work on the project. I knew Tim was working on something, but I didn’t know what it was, nor that my name was at the top of the list. Yes, it was Sunday morning when I got the call from Al and Miles. And from there, we were talking about deadlines, and having to get on this as soon as possible.
AF: Al and Miles described an arduous scene where the production was out all night shooting fireworks. Can you go into detail on that and the challenges of night shoots in Romania?
Scruton: Yes, we were actually out all night a lot sometimes. The State Fair sequence took a lot of nights to shoot, and the fireworks were a nice touch. I remember whenever the sun was rising the crew was panicking because we needed to get everything filmed in that window. You always want to end a shoot on a high note, and the fireworks gave us that.
AF: What can you tell me about the barn burning sequence? How many attempts did you get to shoot something like that? Was it more practical or CGI?
Scruton: It’s funny you mention that because we actually never planned to burn it. We built it for real, interior and exterior. Due to time and schedule, we were gonna use CGI and cross-editing. As we were just getting closer to the deadline, we realized that we’d shot everything inside and out that we needed from the barn set.
Given that this thing was made of wood, we figured we might as well torch it. Once it burned, we couldn’t use it again, but we managed to get everything we needed off that one take of it going up in smoke. And the best part was it burned just the way we wanted it to.
AF: This is a phenomenal series that’s clearly resonating with audiences thanks to its fresh spin on a beloved franchise. What are you hoping audiences will take from it?
Scruton: It’s like you just said, it’s a fresh spin on the beloved franchise, and we want people to view it as that. We wanted to maintain the identity of the original characters while also providing our own nuance to the story that Tim and Al and Miles created. We wanted an environment that would serve the characters in both a fantastical way, but also a realistic way. The academy has its share of homages to the Addams Family, and also modern touches like drinking fountains and vending machines. We’re hoping that’ll bring new audiences into this world.