In Daisy Jones & The Six, Jessica Kender faced the challenge of recreating the vibrant music scene of the 1970s. This captivating adaptation of the beloved novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid takes us on a journey through the rise and fall of its titular fictional rock band. Kender’s task was no small feat, as she had to capture the essence of an era that remains legendary for its distinctive fashion, atmosphere, and spirit.
In our conversation, Kender discusses how the primary use of on location sets in well-known LA locations with distinct and important connections to the music in this era, including Riot House and Sound City, influenced her approach to the production design. She also breaks down the process of designing performance scenes between the on stage and backstage spaces that impact the dynamic of the show’s characters.
Read our full conversation with Daisy Jones and the Six production designer Jessica Kender below.
Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am very excited to be speaking here today with Jessica Kender. She is the production designer for Daisy Jones & the Six. Jessica, thank you so much for joining me today, and I am delighted to be talking about this show with you!
So, just to start it off, I would love to hear from you just a little bit of the atmosphere of what was the vision for when this show was starting to come together, back a few years ago now, but what was what was it like in the early stages? What were some of the conversations you were having as you were starting to get on board and just feel out what was going to be the tone and vision of this show?
Jessica: Well, I think one of the big things that we started with was that we wanted the show to feel real, not sort of the pop-y 70s that sometimes people think of with “flower power” everywhere and that type of thing. We wanted you to be able to get really close to the characters by creating an environment that felt authentic. It’s interesting because as we started talking about it and developing the style and the palette, I call it “super close to authentic.” A lot of the research we look at when we see the 70s, I think there’s a little bit of almost the quality of the images are slightly degraded which gives a slightly nicotine feel. We almost played that up. So, if you really went back to the 70s, it wouldn’t be exactly our show. It’s a sort of blend of what the 70s were and what we think of as the 70s because people are so familiar with that era they already have stuff in their heads, so our goal was to create this environment that immediately made you feel like you were somewhere real.
Mm-hmm. And, of course, taking place in the 70s, was this an era you had operated in before in your production design experience or was this something you were jumping into that was something you hadn’t done before? What were some of the original ideas you had swirling?
Jessica: I have to say the 70s was a first for me. I’ve done stuff that was in the past before. I do feel like I was meant to do the 70s. I have this dead straight hair. I was meant to have the middle part and I love a bell bottom. You know? But this was new but super exciting because I feel like it is a beloved era. I also have done the 90s, which is not a beloved era. Super fun to do because I was raised in it, but for the 70s, it’s this era that everybody loves. You rarely meet people who are like “Ew, gross.” You know? So, the second I got a chance to do it, you want to jump on it. Then, to have it also involve rock and roll, it’s like a designer’s dream.
Yeah. So, what was a little bit of your research process going in, just feeling out what types of locations, what types of sets you were going to start to incorporate into this show when you were looking at this script, and, of course, what was your reference with the source material with the novel?
Jessica: So, what was really interesting for me on this show is very early on it was decided that we were going to do this show very heavily on location. And because the characters in our show really are into the LA music scene, because we decided this would be a location heavy show, there was a commitment to try to use as many of the actual spaces as we could. Sort of a mix of paying and homage to those places and also, I think for the actors, something comes from being in spaces where this stuff actually happened. It’s almost like the helpful ghosts of the past take you one step up. When they’re performing at the Troub, they’re performing at the Troub. I think the one thing that was tough for us was that what we did is essentially my whole department created this … I called it our “bible.” And it had for every place we were going to shoot … because we were lucky enough that almost everywhere said yes. We even had the Riot House, which no longer is that, it’s now called the Andaz, agreed to let us shoot there. So, I had a binder that said this is what it looks like in the 60s. This is what it looked like in the early 70s. This is what it looks like today. So, when we would scout, I would have a flip book for me and the directors to look and be like, “Here’s what we’re looking at. This is what we’re walking into. This is what it should be.” Now, given that when we came back up we were coming back up during when the pandemic was finally allowing venues to open up again, they wanted us here, but not at the detriment of actual live music. So, they were like you can have two days here, but this venue that looks very modern and you want to change, that’s too bad. Either make it work or don’t. So, it was this mix of exciting because music was coming back but challenging because they were like, “You’re important but this is more important.” So, we would come in and I would have this bible sitting there and you had the initial issue of you have all this modern equipment, modern speakers, modern lights, all of this. You don’t have the time to take them down. They don’t want you to take them down because after we’re coming out, some real – well, I actually think our guys ended up being a real band in the end – but a band that was a band, not a TV show, was coming in, so they didn’t want us taking their equipment apart. So, you would go through the initial of how do we get rid of the modern, and then second, how do we bring it back to what it was. In the Whiskey, the Whiskey had go go cages. It was the Whiskey a Go Go. Those don’t exist anymore. How do you throw up a go go cage that can actually hold people in 24 hours? So, there was a lot of that going on where it was this interesting mix of, number one, it’s critical nobody looks and is like, “That’s totally wrong for the era,” and then number two, you can’t just cover stuff up and say you’re done because that’s not right either. We had an entire file cabinet of just research, and then it was called down into this perfect thing by my people of like here’s the critical stuff you need to know. After that, we’d highlight, I’d highlight pages and write lists and lists so that everyone would come in and just hit the ground running.
Yeah. And, I know, of course, this show had originally started to take shape right before the pandemic and unfortunately was hit during that timeline. Were there any considerations or obstacles that you maybe tried to adapt to because of that? Were there locations that you had considered changing to sets or vice versa? How did that workout? How did you adapt on that front?
Jessica: I would say that, honestly, in a way, with the exception of our prep time, getting much smaller. It was already small if we’re shooting in these real venues because we’re not their priority and we shouldn’t be, but once the pandemic restrictions got lifted and that’s when we wanted to film, that became a real issue for us. It was not only my departments coming in and changing stuff, we had to make room for camera, we had to make room for lighting. We were all on top of each other. It didn’t change where we wanted to film because we had already decided this was how we wanted to approach it and we would make it work. It just became a different way of working. We ran a lot more 24-hour crews than we had intended. I would actually say the pandemic, not so much for my departments, but for the show overall, what it did do is the actors all went into band camp over the pandemic, so every week they were practicing. When we started up, we had 14 weeks of prep. They were learning to play their instruments. They were learning to play together. When we came back a year later, they had now been playing together for a year. And they held this concert for us. It was only like 40 of us, like department heads got invited to see them playing as a band. And I remember watching them and being like, “Oh my god! It worked! They’re an actual band! I’m listening, they’re all playing live, they’re all singing live, and it’s working.” They’re incredibly gifted and skilled, but without an additional year, there’s no way they could have made it to that level. So, that didn’t affect my design, but it did affect the show. The fact that there is this album that they produced that people love, it’s because they actually played as a band and the pandemic gave us that.
Yeah. That’s what’s really amazing and special about this show. And the fact that it is a fake band but if you don’t even know that, you might truly think it is a real band from the start. I think that totally shows through in the series. So, talking about some of the locations in particular, you mentioned the Riot House. What were some of the more really special opportunities to get to film inside of that were really difficult to maybe get but ended up working out for the show.
Jessica: Well, I definitely think Sound City was huge for us. The book is loosely based off of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks and they actually recorded there. We were talking about building it for a long time. I have fully drawn up plans for the build. And we walked in and there was something about it where they were like, “We need to be here,” but if you look at the lobby, the lobby now is fully modern. Exposed beam ceiling, concrete floor, no rooms, no nothing. There is in the different live rooms and the control rooms, it has the board, but everything else is different. It was one of those where coming in and changing it was huge but there were little gifts, like on the walls there were all these baffles in live rooms, and when we were in there looking to switch that over, my art director had walked over to some of the coverings on the baffles and she had pulled it apart and underneath was the vintage fabric that’s in a shot of Stevie Nicks recording. So, that was huge. Sound City. We also shot at, like I said, the Whiskey, the Troub, the Viper Room, which was Filthy McNasty. We shot on the Sunset strip. We got to shoot in other iconics, like where you see that party where Daisy pushes the guy into the pool. I mean, that right there, that is the LA epitome of locations. Our whole first five episodes really are a love letter to LA because we got to shoot in so many great places that everybody recognizes. Apple Pan.
Yeah. Yes. There are so many, and it’s really cool to see that authenticity show through. One thing that I’m very curious about is, of course, this is about a band. What were some of the, on your end, infrastructural questions that you had to answer in terms of setting up a realistic band venue. What were some of the things you learned along the way about how you actually have to establish a stage set to get that to work functionally for a band?
Jessica: I was very lucky for the LA section in that we had a great music supervisor, Frankie [Pine]. I didn’t have to worry about how you set up a band because they would come and set themselves up. But then we went into our tour, that became massive. I have a friend who works in concerts and I was like, “Look, we’re doing this thing where they’re doing theaters and arenas and stadiums.” And he was like, “That’s not the way tours work. It’s one of those. You build a tour around theaters, you build it around arenas or stadiums. Not all three at once.” But to show the band growing, we need to do that in the show. So, the biggest challenge was figuring out how I could do a cohesive design that would look like it was meant to go through all three, and then when it came to Soldier Field, learning how to make a concert stage. Usually I’m doing this stuff that sits in a stage, not the stage itself. So, we called on this company in Pennsylvania who still maintains the scaffolding from the 70s that they used, so they came in and shipped down from that. I’m using all my research and stuff I’ve pulled up, but you kind of cross your fingers and hope that when it finally gets up there, what you thought you were looking at, will that really come across. And I think it did. I remember walking that first day when everything was up and we were about to shoot and looking around and being like, “It is it! It’s all working.” And that was an interesting learning curve for me because I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. And it was a funny mix of my backstage is a little different than what would be an actual backstage because so much of our world takes place backstage that I have to pay more attention to it than your standard concert show that backstage is just a holding to get people on and off. We have to play in that a little more. So, we actually shot Solider Field in New Orleans and the bleachers there run about 270. There’s an open space where their scoreboard is. So, when a concert comes, they set up the stage to cover the scoreboard, but because so much of my world backstage, we wanted to see a bunch of seating and stuff going on behind them. I drew it up facing the other way and I knew we were going to visual effects in crowd, and we had to submit it to the city who sent it back and were like, “You did this wrong.” And I was like, “No, no. I get it. I get it. But in this case, it’s a little different for us.”
That’s really funny. Yeah. Something you referenced there, the idea of backstage, I’m wondering, how did you develop that spatially further relationships and the activities and how these characters interact in the on-stage environment in the backstage environment. How that played out for you in your designs.
Jessica: So, one of my favorite tricks, and this was actually the idea of my supervising art director, Brian [Grego]. I was struggling with backstage. Normally, you have these big painted drops and when you come around, you’d be looking into just this solid wall. So much of our world ties in with the drama backstage to them playing on stage and feeling the tension. So, we used this theatrical trick called a scrim where when you light it from the front it’s opaque, so whenever you’re on stage, you’re looking at this drop, but when you light it from the back, you can see through it. So, we were able to have, in Billy and Daisy’s kiss at the end, you could still see them playing on stage so you could feel the levels of tension going on in there instead of just them doing the kiss against a blank wall, which I don’t think would have had the same emotional impact. So, doing little tricks like that. If you look at my backstage too, it’s a little bit deeper. I also did a little bit more of a maze through scaffolding, so when they’re entering and exiting, you’re looking at things. Our lighting, we had an actual concert designer come in and we went back and forth on the lighting. He had put lights in places that are perfect for a concert, and I was like, no, we don’t want them here because that goes too deep into the world where we need to see people. Or I would like some back here on the scaffolding, and he’s like, “Well, that’s backstage,” and I’m like, “Yes, I know you wouldn’t like them there, but let’s pretend you would so they feel lit.” That type of thing.
Yeah. That’s so cool to hear. And I just want to say congratulations on this show and all of your efforts on it. It looks beautiful. The stages, everything. It’s stunning to watch unfold. I didn’t live through the 70s, but I want to go back to the 70s and watch this band play. So, I really appreciate your effort and congratulations on this show and thank you so much for chatting with me.
Jessica: Thank you!