How did you get into TV work?
I always wanted to do special effects. But there wasn’t a major for that. I took
art, and after a semester, I was lured over into the theater world. I then realized
that maybe I wanted to build worlds and create sets. I liked figuring out
special effects, but I didn’t like the execution. The makeup and the blood and
the gore – it’s sticky all day long. Everyone knows you’re going to make a mess,
and it takes a long time to reset.
I am indebted to [former theatre professor] Jim Brown with teaching me how to draft
and draw architectural designs. It’s a skill not everyone has. It’s demonstrable.
That’s the best way in. There’s not that many draftsmen.
How’d you get your foot into the door after college?
Someone mentioned Wilmington, N.C., of all places. It’s actually the second-
or third-largest city for TV and film production in the country. I drove down there
from Clarksburg, W.Va., and had a job two days later. I came in knowing they had
a movie studio so I drove up to the studio gates asking for a job. They were looking
for carpenters the day I showed up, and they hired 200 carpenters. So that’s where
I started. They’d hire you as long as you could stand for 12 hours a day, regardless
of experience or ability. You’d keep working until you got hurt or fired.
I didn’t know how the film business worked at the time, but on the studio lot you
can wander around and see how everything operates. And you trick your way into
an art department. I did three shows as a carpenter and then became an assistant
to a designer. I worked on building sets and drawing.
How were the Christmas lights on “Stranger Things” made?
We built the interior of that set and knew we had to have a lot of control over
it. Our prop master gathered the period Christmas lights and took it to the electrician
to rewire them. Every strand of lights had to be rewired. We made them
computer-controlled so the lights could do all sorts of different things.
It was a ton of work. Fortunately, it was not our sole responsibility, but we
collaborated on it. It passed through several hands to get the desired
effect. When the light board first lit up, I thought, ‘That’s a really beautiful
Any other memories stand out from “Stranger Things?”
We worked on the Void (the vast dark space that represents Eleven’s mind). It was mostly black space and water. That set, in person, didn’t seem like it was going to be very good but the director of photography had a vision and it turned out stunning. We built it in the dead of winter. We had a 30-by-40-foot tray of water on the floor (to produce an eerie effect). It was so shallow we couldn’t heat it, so poor Millie Bobby Brown [who plays Eleven] was walking in it and freezing cold.