Tag Archives: GLOW

Back to the 1980s

As a host of scripted series find inspiration in the 1980s, DQ speaks to the creatives behind these shows to find out how they recreated the era – and why it remains so popular almost 30 years after the decade ended.

It’s hard to believe shoulder pads and neon clothing were once fashionable. But take a look at any number of television shows on air today and you might think time has stood still since the 1980s, such is the number of scripted series now set during the decade.

Spy thriller The Americans, tech series Halt & Catch Fire, various instalments of Shane Meadows miniseries This is England, Argentine gangster drama Historia de un Clan, British series Brief Encounters and Black Mirror’s Emmy-winning season three episode San Junipero (pictured above) have all fuelled this trend, in which series largely use the period as the backdrop for stories centring on historical, political or cultural events that took place during the decade. For others, such as short-lived Sex & the City prequel The Carrie Diaries, it suits the age and sensibilities of its fashion-conscious characters.

The show that has arguably done more than any to inspire nostalgic recollections of the 1980s is Netflix’s Stranger Things, in which co-creators Ross and Matt Duffer turned a paranormal murder mystery into a love letter to their childhood. Inspired by the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, the show, which returns for a second season this autumn, is loved as much for the use of walkie-talkies and Dungeons & Dragons as it is for introducing viewers to a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down.

Netflix hit Stranger Things has been at the forefront of the 80s trend

“Fortunately it’s not the 1780s,” remarks production designer Chris Trujillo, who was tasked with creating and dressing the fictional Indiana town of Hawkins, both at a studio lot and on location in and around Atlanta. “A lot of this stuff is very collectible and very available, so with a thorough internet search we were always able to find super-specific stuff. The challenge is being true to the 80s and making sure everything’s authentic, as opposed to just going to a prop house and renting a bunch of furniture that’s been on half-a-dozen shows. The more challenging items were the fantasy stuff, where you’re making it up for the Upside Down.”

But while Ghostbusters figures and He-Man bedsheets might be collectibles now, the fashion of the period was much more disposable, as costume designer Beth Morgan discovered when she joined another 1980s-set Netflix series, female wresting drama GLOW.

“It is a challenging period because it was a time when people didn’t save their clothes,” she says. “In the 50s, 60s and 70s, people didn’t have as many clothes. People took really good care of them, they saved stuff. The 80s was a lot more casual. A lot of T-shirts and jeans got ruined and were thrown out. There wasn’t as much care. So there’s a lot of stock out there but not good-quality stock.”

As well as its resurgence on television, 1980s style is also enjoying a renaissance in real life, and Morgan found unlikely competition for thrift-store garments in the guise of LA hipsters looking for authentic items to add to their own wardrobes. “If there are any other shows in town that are set in the 80s too, you’re racing to the costume houses to get the stuff you want,” she continues. “But we were always able to find the perfect piece for each actor for each scene. There’s a blouse for Ruth [played by Alison Brie] that’s my favourite thing, which we found on the floor of a rag house.

Female wrestling drama GLOW is also on Netflix

“The hard part for us was the Jazzercise class. We have so many workout looks in our show. The key was those 80s elastic belts that perfectly match the leotards – finding those was a real challenge. Finding the right clasp for a belt was really hard because there’s not a ton of them around. So it was a challenge but a fun one, and now we have so much stuff. Next season will be even more fun.”

In contrast, when Cold War family saga Weissensee launched in 2010, costume designer Monika Hinz was tasked with finding considerably less glamorous clothing. “In the beginning, it was very important for me to get away from the sepia look that is often used to create a historic atmosphere,” she says of the German drama, which airs locally on Das Erste. “The script dived into all kinds of classes – artists, military officers and generals – so my costumes served all of those different people. It was my concept to use lots of colours as it was the fashion in the late 70s to wear green, orange, brown and yellow. This helped a character like Julia Hausmann, played by Hannah Herzsprung, to look young, cheerful and sexy, ready to jump into life.”

Hinz’s biggest challenge, however, was finding the right material to dress prisoners depicted in the series. “The original clothes were a striking neon-blue synthetic material. They were given to the prisoners in purposely non-fitting sizes to make them feel bad because they had to hold their pants to stop them falling down. So I had to find cloth that was as authentic as possible. It’s a terrible colour for the camera, but the DOP and the director thought it was very important to do it that way. And I got them all tailored in a non-fitting size.”

When production designer Frank Godt joined the team behind Weissensee, which was created by writer Annette Hess and is distributed by Global Screen, his task was to recreate East Germany (DDR) right down to the smallest details. “We searched for furniture, wallpaper, props, cars, lorries, buildings, surfaces, shields and so on,” he recalls.

Weissensee, which highlights a less colourful side of the decade than many other series

“Compared with the Western countries, the DDR was very conservative and simple – because of communism and socialism, of course – and that was also the case in the 1980s. Trabbies [East German Trabant cars], food, furniture and all other consumer goods were like this. The DDR was an isolated and closed country, totally cut off from the outside Western world. The wall looked like a bastion – it demonstrated fear and a prison feeling to the inhabitants every day and one felt scared all time.”

It’s for this reason that the show stands out from the more vibrant 80s-set dramas, adds Godt. “Life seemed colourless, grey and sad. Western people were constantly looking over to the DDR people and felt sorry for them. But the people behind the wall created their own colourful world and made the best of it. To visualise this incomprehensible contrast between the grey DDR and the colourful and cosmopolitan life in the West was the biggest challenge for the production design team.”

Fellow German drama Deutschland 83, meanwhile, demanded splashes of colour in every scene. As such, set designer Lars Lange sought to create a visual language for the show to avoid it looking like a documentary or “museum piece.”

“It was quite a challenge and an exciting task to grapple with the history of Germany during this very special time in the Cold War,” he explains. “It was also a challenge to interpret this through our sets and images for an audience that, in part, is acquainted with that time from personal experience, and, at the same time, for those who had nothing to do with it.”

To create the look of the show – whose sequel, Deutschland 86, is now in production for RTL and Amazon – Lange used historical research, eyewitness accounts and memories from his own youth. “Apart from the wall, soldiers, punks and shoulder pads, there were, alongside the half-crumbling backyards on both sides, also architectural highlights from the 50s, 60s and 70s, which shaped the cityscape.”

LA crack cocaine drama Snowfall

That visual language was strengthened by the costumes designed by Katrin Unterberger, who wanted the FremantleMedia International-distributed series to be “colourful and cool.”

“The creative heads had agreed a look to visually distinguish between East Germany and West Germany,” she recalls. “The East had to be in pastel colours, with floral patterns and hand-crafted stitching. The West, on the other hand, was fast-paced, so characters needed clear lines and bright colours without patterns. But in reality the styles were not as black and white.”

With 1980s fashion still popular, Unterberger was able to source original items in second-hand shops, though the large cast meant she had to find specific styles for lots of different people. That meant high heels, big hairstyles and colourful make-up.

One discovery particularly stood out: “I found a very nice patchwork T-shirt in the West, and in an East shop I found an almost identical piece,” she says. “[The latter] was made from different-coloured bed sheets, self-sewn and then decorated. This was a moving moment for me that spoke volumes politically. In the West, people could buy what they wanted but in the East, they had to use their imagination.”

US drama Snowfall, which airs on FX, has a vibrant and colourful style. The series, recently renewed for a second season, recreates LA in 1983 to follow the rise of the city’s crack cocaine epidemic.

“We did want to embrace the world as much as possible,” says showrunner Dave Andron, although he adds that he was keen to ensure the period in which the series is set did not overshadow the story. “For me, a lot of it was doing it in a way that felt authentic and organic and not distracting. And with costumes, it was always a fine line where you want it to feel 1980s but you don’t want there to be neon shoulder pads to the point where all you’re looking at is the clothes. It’s got to feel completely of the piece, with the world you’ve created, but not distracting all at once.”

So why is the trend for 1980s-set series so prevalent? One theory is that the commissioners and screenwriters now working in television grew up during that period and are dramatising their own experiences. However, Stranger Things’ Trujillo believes there’s a “general exhaustion” with technology, apps and selfies that means viewers are keen to return to a period where such trappings belonged in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

“There’s something really fun about these kids on an adventure,” he says. “No one’s going to call them on a cell phone. It harks back to a time when I was a kid and you could go out in the neighbourhood and have a real adventure. I feel like somehow that’s a bit lost and the idea of adventure is now virtual adventures. But when I was a kid, you imagined having a Stand By Me adventure instead of doing something weird on the internet. It’s a bit of a relief.”

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Ready to rumble

Sydelle Noel and Britney Young tell DQ why they climbed into the ring for GLOW, the forthcoming Netflix show about a group of women who are chosen to star in the first female wrestling TV series.

When it debuted in 2013, Orange is the New Black (OITNB) quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular original series. Like the streaming giant itself, the women’s prison-set drama has since gone from strength to strength, with its fifth season landing on Netflix on June 9.

It was only natural, then, that the streamer would also become the home of OITNB creator Jenji Kohan’s next project, GLOW, which launches on June 23.

Created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, with Kohan exec producing, GLOW (which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) is the fictionalised story of an out-of-work actress called Ruth, played by Alison Brie, who makes one last attempt to live her dream by joining the cast of a weekly series about female wrestlers.

Inspired by the true story of the 1980s female wrestling league, a women-only version of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), the series is exec produced by co-showrunners Flahive and Mensch, Kohan and Tara Herrmann.

Britney Young (right) puts the moves on Alison Brie

Headlining alongside Brie are Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young and Marc Maron. Young plays Carmen, the daughter of a wrestling family who wants to continue that dynasty but is not yet prepared for the Hollywood limelight.

The actor’s route to GLOW came in serendipitous fashion: after reading about the series, she intended to email her agent about it – but never did. As it happened, the stars aligned when her agent secured her an audition without knowing of her interest.

“What excited me about Carmen was I am a bigger girl and I do sometimes have very strong features where I can play a mean girl and a bully just by a look,” Young says. “I found that some of the auditions I was going on were constantly for the mean girl, the bully, which is great, it’s work – but when they described Carmen as a gentle giant, I wanted to play her.

“I’m a bubbly, very talkative person and wanted to play something that was a little more my personality. So I was always drawn to that aspect. I also love the fact that, because I’m so used to playing the bully, playing a nice character has been something of a stretch for me. Carmen’s very challenging in that aspect and I appreciate that she has so many layers to her personality.”

Noel, meanwhile, says she was hooked on playing Cherry Bang – a professional stuntwoman whose career peaked in the Blaxploitation heyday and is now looking for a chance to be more than a body double – from the moment she read the script. “I told my reps Cherry was definitely the role for me,” she recalls. “Cherry is a former Blaxploitation stunt double for Pam Grier – Foxy Brown, of all people! I grew up watching Foxy Brown movies and I also wanted to do action movies, something where you’re being very physical, so when I read she was a stunt double and then she’s coming in for wrestling, this was hands down what I wanted to do. It just really screamed out at me. Then they also said she was the coolest chick you’d ever want to meet – now come on! She’s a stunt double and the coolest chick you’d ever want to meet? I was like, ‘That’s me, hands down!’”

Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang

When Young auditioned, she was asked to perform a rap and carry out a stunt, while Noel, a former track athlete, proved her agility by following the script to the letter. “It literally said that Cherry Bang says her line and then does a tuck roll and a spinning kick,” the actor explains. “Then she pulls out a gun and says, ‘Freeze motherfucker!’ So I was like, OK, and what I found out in the end was I had been the only person to do that. Everyone else just pulled out the gun but I did the roll and the kick.

“But there was nothing that was going to deter me from getting the role, so I did it on the hard concrete floor – I did the roll, jumped up and did a kick. Luckily I didn’t kick the camera. So I showed them I could do a little something in the audition room.”

Though Noel had maintained her fitness since her running career came to an end, wrestling was something entirely new for the actor to get to grips with. But under the watchful eye of professional wrestler and GLOW wrestling coach Chavo Guerrero Jr, the ensemble cast were put through their paces for five weeks in order to shape up for the fight scenes that were to follow.

“When we started training last August, that was my first time ever getting into a ring and it was an unbelievable experience,” Noel says. “A lot of people have this idea that wrestling is fake, but it’s a physical toll on your body. It’s definitely not fake. Before GLOW, I’d never done any wrestling but now I’m totally a fan. I watched WrestleMania and I’m thinking of moves we could do if we get a second season. I want to take it to the extreme.”

Despite fellow cast member Jackie Tohn twisting her ankle while filming the season finale, Noel says there were no other injuries on set – a lucky break for a show about wrestling. But that may have been thanks to the stunt team led by Shauna Duggins and Helena Barrett, who ensured all the moves were performed safely, even if it meant doing them more than once.

Marc Maron plays GLOW director Sam Sylvia

It was the training that Young believes brought the tight-knit ensemble together, so much so that they still communicate daily in a WhatsApp message group, five months after the production wrapped in December.

“Besides Kia Stevens [who plays Tamee], who’s an actual professional wrestler, all of us came in at the same level, and growing together really made us stronger as a team,” she says. “That is one of our messages on the show – this is a female empowerment show and we are showing that this group of different women can come together, form this team and be so supportive of each other.”

On set, showrunners Flahive and Mensch were constantly communicating with the cast, keen to ensure the actors were happy with their characters and seeking their input on everything from the script to hair and make-up. Kohan was also a regular on set, whenever she could reach LA in between shooting the fifth season of New York-set OITNB.

“They were very hands-on, which I really appreciated,” Young says. “During the pilot, they pulled us all aside for little meetings where we talked about our characters, explaining where they thought our character was going to go and how we should approach it. The stuff they write is so great and I love that they’re so excited to be there. They were on set every single time they were available. To see them laughing and giving us the thumbs-up was so reassuring and inspiring.”

Noel picks out episode two as a personal highlight, with Cherry showing her assertive qualities when she is handed the task of training the GLOW ensemble. Then in the finale, viewers will see how wrestling becomes more to her than just a job.

“I also had my big wrestling scene,” adds the actor, who has recently finished filming a part in Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster Black Panther. “So that was the best part ever. The crowd was really cheering us on. I had my managers and my agents come to see that scene and they were like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that.’ Neither did I! I definitely have wrestling on my resume now.”

Young describes herself as a “true fan” of the show. “People are really going to respond to it,” she adds. “It’s got something for everyone – the sports aspect, the comedy, the drama. A lot of people will hopefully relate to these characters and see themselves in them. I can’t wait for it to launch. I’m counting down the days.”


Netflix originals around the world

The launch of GLOW coincides with the broadening range of international dramas airing on Netflix. Here are some of the most recent…

UK: The Crown
Described as the inside story of two of the most famous addresses in the world – Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street – and the intrigues, love lives and machinations behind the great events that shaped the second half of the 20th century. Season two is in production.

Spain: Las Chicas del Cable
Set in Madrid at the beginning of 1928, when the national telephone company opens its headquarters and hundreds of women queue up to work as ‘cable girls.’ Starring Blanca Suárez, Nadia de Santiago, Ana Fernández and Maggie Civantos, it launched in April.

Brazil: 3%
This post-apocalyptic thriller is set in a near future when a select few are allowed to join a privileged society after undergoing an intense and competitive process. It stars Bianca Comparato, João Miguel, Michel Gomes and Rodolfo Valente, and a second season has been ordered.

Italy: Suburra
A crime thriller set in Rome that explores how the church, the state, organised crime, local gangs and real-estate developers collide and blur the lines between the legal and the illicit in their quest for power. Based on the novel of the same name by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo de Cataldo, but set several years before.

Mexico: Ingobernable
Kate del Castillo stars as Mexico First Lady Emilia Urquiza, who wants to improve conditions in the country. But when she starts to lose faith in her husband (played by Erik Hayser), she finds herself at a crossroads where she must deal with a great challenge and uncover the truth. Renewed for a second season in April, a month after the series debuted.

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