Set Designer PATRICK HOWE talks about ANOTHER WORLD's scenic wonders -- and
a new set
guaranteed to bowl you over!
DIGEST ONLINE: How long have you been with ANOTHER WORLD?
PATRICK HOWE: Well, I've actually worked here about 8 years or 9 years, but
I became head
designer at the very beginning of last year.
DIGEST ONLINE: Tell us a little bit about your background.
HOWE: I was somebody who studied theater in high school and all through
college, both in
undergraduate and graduate school. Specifically, I majored in theater
design. I did undergraduate at
Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles. Then, in 1980, I moved to NY and
started graduate work at
DIGEST ONLINE: How did you land on ANOTHER WORLD?
HOWE: I had done one other soap opera previously. I had worked on ONE LIFE
TO LIVE as an
assistant designer from about 1985-88. I worked on that first sort of
spaceship to Heaven thing,
where they had all those characters from the past come back to the show.
That was my beginning
in soap opera, and it was all by accident. My background was theater. I
wasn't pursuing television
at all, but it was the classic case of you drop your resume off at the
networks, just like you drop it
off anywhere else, and literally a couple of years later my resume was
pulled out of the file for
overhire. I was hired on part time at ONE LIFE TO LIVE and it just turned
into a full-time job.
DIGEST ONLINE: What exactly is "overhire"?
HOWE: If a show is extra busy, and needs additional help for a few days or a
week or a month,
they hire extra designers on a per diem basis. That's overhire.
DIGEST ONLINE: And from ONE LIFE TO LIVE, you made the transition directly
HOWE: Yes, I did three years there. Then this job came up right away. I
started being as assistant
here, sort of started at the bottom, and worked my way up, so to speak.
DIGEST ONLINE: Let's talk about some of the sets you've designed recently --
like Vicky's trip to
Heaven. How did you come up with the concept?
HOWE: It was a challenge because Heaven is such a controversial thing. It's
so open to
interpretation; it could be anything. I felt that what Heaven is to one
person is the complete opposite
of what it means to someone else. So, in a way, I sort of felt justified in
doing like whatever I wanted
-- any interpretation was as valid as anything else. You know, Heaven could
be a field of yellow
daisies, or it could be some void, or it could be some architectural
structure. While incorporating
some traditional images about Heaven, I wanted to create a situation where
you had a sense of
being in some other space, high above earth, where you could look down on
earth. I started noticing
imagery that just seemed to symbolize Heaven emotion wise, things like those
of angels from the Renaissance. I mean they're sort of an eternal symbol of
life, mythology wise. I
also added a little bit of fire and water. I don't know if the water was
ever obvious or not [to the
viewers], but there was water in that reflecting pond. I just wanted those
two images. Fire, water and
earth are eternal, symbolic ingredients of life.
DIGEST ONLINE: How long did it take to actually build Heaven?
HOWE: It was quite an ordeal. It was a couple of intensive weeks of
painting, doing all of that mural
work and fresco work, and a couple of weeks of construction. And we had that
big window with sky
and clouds going by. We were trying to get a sense of the universe and
planets below. I was hoping
it would be staged where you would see Vicky looking out there, and getting
a real sense of the
universe going by. It didn't ever quite work out, but that was sort of the idea.
DIGEST ONLINE: You've just built the "Bay City Bowl-o-rama." Not many soaps
have their own
bowling alleys. Designing it must be have been a challenge.
HOWE: It's an ongoing set, and it should be fun. Viewers saw the bowling
alley for the first time,
actually, in flashbacks of police officers bowling. It was part of Gabe's
funeral. The idea is that the
cops have a regular weekly bowling night, and they might play the newspaper
or the hospital. The
people who work at the Bay City Herald will have their own bowling team, and
probably the doctors
and nurses at the hospital will have a bowling team, too. Hopefully, it's
going to be a great crossover
set. On soaps, it's always a battle; characters tend to get stuck in one
place. You're always trying
to justify people running into each other at somebody's house. But a bowling
alley is a natural
meeting place. It's easy to bring your kids there, so you can have Vicky and
Bobby going there with
the kids. Anybody can slum and go bowling -- you can have Rachel Cory go
bowling if you want
DIGEST ONLINE: How much research did you do for the bowling alley set?
HOWE: Massive research. Bowling is something that I've always wanted to do
and just never have. I
bowled a couple of times as a kid; otherwise, it's just not been a sport
I've ever paid any attention
to. So we did lots of research. I had everyone in our office calling friends
in the towns they grew up
in , and asking them to go take pictures of their favorite old bowling
alley. It would be great to go fly
around the country yourself and take pictures, but there's not the time or
money for that. One of my
assistants is from a small town in Minnesota, so he called his mom and said,
"Please, go take
pictures of the bowling alley and fed ex them to me today." My other
assistant went around locally
in New York and took pictures of bowling alleys in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten
Island and Manhattan.
DIGEST ONLINE: Now that you've become an expert in bowling alley decor, are
HOWE: It's funny; you see what they all have in common, and then you see the
They all sort of have the same amenities.
DIGEST ONLINE: It sounds like Diner America -- the sense that there's a
basic uniformity to
bowling alleys, whether they're in Honolulu or Hoboken.
HOWE: Yes, there are certain kinds of seating units and lockers and things
that seem to show up
everywhere. And then from our pictures, we discovered that the differences
just depended on how old and vintagey they were. I tried to seek out the fun
ones from the 1950s
and 60s and not do anything new.
DIGEST ONLINE: So, the Bay City Bowl-o-rama has supposedly been around for
30 years -- we've
just never seen it before?
HOWE: Oh, definitely. It's a crossover between a vintage look and something
more retro. It definitely
has a 50s edge to it.
DIGEST ONLINE: How many actual bowling lanes will we see?
HOWE: You'll see a lane, and then you see all the surroundings. Eventually,
it will have a
bar/lounge area attached to it -- a raised platform area with some tables,
chairs and bar stools right
behind the main scene area. The lane is sort of enclosed by these small
little banquettes and raised
tables, and you've got all the other amenities: lockers to put your bowling
bag in, your shoe rental
area, and your racks of bowling balls. All that stuff will be there.
DIGEST ONLINE: Can the actors actually bowl on the set?
HOWE: If they do, they'll break a camera or something. There's a platform
for them to start their
bowling. But the camera is actually positioned at the end of the lane, where
the pins would normally
be. So you bowl into the camera -- right toward it. You might see the ball
leave the actor's hand, but
in reality it's going to be caught by a stagehand or hurled into a mattress
in the aisle [off-camera].
DIGEST ONLINE: One can only imagine the actors clowning around during
rehearsal when it's "Bay
City Bowling Night."
HOWE: We just did the bowling flashbacks for Gabe's funeral, and it was
DIGEST ONLINE: Who are the championship bowlers going to be?
HOWE: I think the first time we see them in current time, it's still police
officers -- Josie, Gary and
Joe. The following week I know Bobby and Vicky are there -- Bobby's playing
a race car video game
at the bowling alley. The first few times we're not using the bar/lounge
area, we just don't need it
yet, but then you will see it later on.
DIGEST ONLINE: Recently, Jake McKinnon was in jail. Oscar Wilde once wrote,
"Stone walls and
iron bars do not a prison make." How much leeway are you allowed in
designing a jail?
HOWE: Well, jail is jail. When you really get down to it, the requirements
are pretty much the same
-- you've got to have bars for actors to grab on to and for cameramen to
shoot through. It's just a
matter of how much of a cage you do. You can have bars on one side or 2
sides or more. Jake's in
sort of a holding cell in the police squad room, and [soon we're going to
have another character]
hauled off to a county jail. For the set designer, it's often more about
logistics than anything else.
The directors want to see the bars, to show that the character is obviously
in jail, but then very often
they like the bars removed so they can shoot the scene without all those
bars in the way.
DIGEST ONLINE: What about some of the show's longrunning sets. Are there any
plans to refurbish
the Cory mansion?
HOWE: Oh, God. I think we need to do Internet donations maybe to pay for it.
If people send in $5
each or something, maybe there will be the money for it, because it's been
in the works for a few
months, and it's still honestly and truly just finances that's been
preventing it, because it's long
overdue. That set was done long before I ever came here, and the current
look is about 10 years old.
It looked very good 10 years ago, and now it's still holding its own, but
even if it were in perfect
shape, it's a design and a style that is definitely 10 years old. It looked
very current when it was
done, but at best it looks very 80s now. I would love to redo that, and our
Charlotte Savitz is desperate to. We just have to get somebody to pay for it.
DIGEST ONLINE: What about recycling sets -- what happened to Wallingford's
after it drifted out of
HOWE: Wallingford's had some really neat stuff in it. I've saved pieces, and
a lot of it got converted
into the coffee house, which you only saw a few times but is coming back. If
things don't seem like
they'll be usable again, we just throw them away, because it's a constant
battle. We have only so
much warehouse storage space. So you store only the most key elements that
you think you can
recycle and use some other way.
DIGEST ONLINE: We understand Sofia is getting a new set -- tell us about that.
HOWE: Sofia is going to leave Joe's house and move into an apartment of her
own. She'll wind up
taking in two roommates. I'm hoping to use a little bit of the bookstore
and some pieces from other
sets to create her apartment. They've written how Sofia doesn't have two
nickels to rub together, so
it's going to be a cross between a tenement, walkuppy apartment and/or some
warehousey space converted to residential use. It's going to have a big
window that opens on a tar
beach rooftop, so Sofia and her friends can do scenes out there. They'll
step right out on the roof. If
[the producers and writers] can work that out, it will be nice, because in a
soap situation the
potential is unending for all those romantic, rooftoppy things; you know,
late night dinners on the
roof, or dancing out there, or even sleeping out there in good weather.
DIGEST ONLINE: What kind of set do you literally cringe at having to create?
HOWE: It's awful to have to create exteriors, particularly daytime
exteriors. When they write the
beach and they expect viewers to see ocean and sand and clear blue sky,
those kind of exteriors
are impossible to pull off, really because of how difficult it is to light
them. You can never get
convincing daylight, sunlight, so that's a real struggle. No matter how
realistic I can make foliage
and sand happen, which often costs a fortune, you just can't light it
believably enough, so that's
frustrating. It's also true that Caribbean type sets or European sets are
harder to pull off because
they're more costly. If you don't have any extra money to do it, then you
really have to compromise.
If you were doing a European hotel room for a high-budget film, you'd have
enough money to rent the
suitable antiques, but when you do it on a real shoestring, with all these
fake substitutes and
reproductions, by the time you add enough reproductions together, it doesn't
add up to the
believable collective end product that it should.
DIGEST ONLINE: Fires and disasters are a very popular story device. Does it
upset you that after
you've built a beautiful set, the crew comes in and drenches it with water?
HOWE: Kind of. It's fun when it works out like, "Oh, let's burn the set down
so we can make a new
one." For instance, if they decided to burn down the Cory living room
because they had a whole new
one built, designed and ready to go, then that would be fine. But fires are
a lot of trouble to produce;
they are very time consuming to tape, if you want to get the effects
anywhere near right. There's a
lot of hands-on time where you've all got to be on the floor, helping to
make all this fire and smoke
and lighting and water happen.
DIGEST ONLINE: How many sets are used during the course of a year?
HOWE: It feels like a million and a half. It's a lot of sets, a lot of
volume. There are people who find
out you design sets for a soap opera and they'll say, "Well, how much do
you design? Isn't it just
the same sets every day?" They obviously don't really watch the shows. Every
script has about 10
or 11 locations, and we have sets that come and go all the time.
DIGEST ONLINE: In total , about how many people does take to keep all the
sets up and running?
HOWE: On the technical side alone, you have all those carpenters, prop guys,
lighting guys and
stage hands who truck everything in and out. That's upwards of 50 people --
plus 3 designers.
That's the basic corps, but the number is much higher if you count
producers, directors and
cameramen. And there are crews that move the scenery at night, when the show
is dark. They're
fascinating people; they all have their own lives, but the good ones are
dedicated to the show. They
have continuity concerns that things are done the same way [so when they put
the couch back in
Rachel's living room, it's in the same place as last time]. In putting sets
back up, they try to do their
best with the information they have. They take lots of pictures and try to
restore everything exactly
as it was. Most people don't really grasp that these sets come up and down
every day. They all
break down into small pieces, and all the props go into hampers, and then
they go into trucks, and
then they get driven to a warehouse [if the sets aren't going to be used
next day]. People just
assume that all these sets are standing forever. But if they were, you'd
need several football fields --
you'd need an entire stadium to house all the sets if you put them up and
never took them down.
DIGEST ONLINE: If you could live in any ANOTHER WORLD set, which would it be?
HOWE: We just did a cabin for Daniel, who's a longtime friend of Bobby
Reno's. The cabin turned
out really beautiful; we wound up using real logs, real timbers, cut offs of
wood from a mill, and we
faced the whole side of this cabin with wood. It looked really great, and
everyone [in the cast]
wanted to move in there. It would make a perfect time share. And I'd
certainly like to eat at the
Harbor Club, or stay at Vicky's cottage. Also, we also had a really
incredible, romantic country inn
a while back that was just the epitome of quaint and cozy. It made you just
want to snuggle up on
the big feather bed and light a fire.