Stevie's Aliens had a very specific look that would not have been possible without the hard work of its production designer, Danni Juhl. She was brought onto the project based on a recommendation from our producer Caroline Joseph, and was one of the core seven crew members who stayed in the house for the entire shoot. Due to the small size of the crew, she was often arting entire scenes on her own.
1. What drew you to this project?
I was really attracted to the optimism of this project as well as the potential to create an entirely new world. Something I love is creating spaces for different characters; you really get the opportunity to show who someone is by what they include in their room, and for this film I got three chances to do that.
2. How did you begin the process of planning this shoot?
I had a lot of weekly meetings with Austin, Sidney, and Alex (the director of photography) about ideas for the spaces. We first talked about the meaning behind the script and the personalities of the characters, going in on the big ideas of what each character represented. Then we talked about lighting plans in conjunction with what I was doing so they would be cohesive.
3. Walk us through each of the bedrooms – why did you choose to decorate them the way that you did?
Greg’s room is centered around escapism, so a lot of space-oriented things and travel, also the color blue. He’s even got a little suitcase packed in the corner which you see in the wide shot to kind of represent him wanting to leave. His desk is relatively chaotic with all his ideas sprawled out.
It was important for Julia's character that she was into science and was an organized overachiever. So there are framed certificates on her wall as well as lots of textbooks and a calendar. The other element of her character was that she was very into hip-hop, so we had various hip hop posters throughout the room (that kept falling down while shooting). Even under her bed was relatively organized, compared to Greg.
Stevie’s space was the most fun. He’s eccentric, passionate, and interested in everything. This is the space where he can really focus on the aliens. He’s got a room full of old vintage stuff that is able to emit light, for his experiments with summoning the aliens. His room is relatively chaotic as well, compared to both Greg’s and Julia’s.
4. What are some details that people might miss?
We don’t get to see much of Greg’s room but his is dedicated to travel. Everything on his wall is dedicated to faraway places and escapism. He has dreams but isn’t sure enough to pursue them. He also has a lot of post-it notes on his desk dedicated to story ideas, but by the time he returns to his room after his rejection, a lot of those notes are gone and his room is more organized, representing him giving up on that dream.
Stevie had a lot of posters that referenced various films centered around belief, such as the X-Files or E.T. I also designed an album cover for the fictional “Starlight Symphony” album which I think you see a corner of for just a second. Fun fact was that during the wide shot where all the lights start to go crazy, I was actually in the corner hiding behind one of the shelves so I could unplug the extension cord connected to all of the moving parts at the right time.
5. How did you use color to tell the story?
The first thing I wanted to do was to establish meaningful colors for the characters. We chose blue for Greg, the color of the sky, kind of associated with escape. You’ll notice the first shot of the film is also of the sky and Greg looking up at it. The light on Stevie’s alien-summoning device is also blue, representing a hint of Greg’s dreams within it.
Green was for Julia, because she was interested in the sciences, the color of the earth and the ground. She is the grounded one in their relationship, she believes in things you can see. The walls in her room are green and so is the jacket she wears. She also has many plants in her room.
Red and Yellow was for Stevie - someone who is passionate and loud and doesn’t care necessarily what people think of his interests. It’s also optimistic. I think this was cut out of the final, but Greg’s rejection letter logo is actually colored in that same yellow color, to represent his dreams and optimism.
6. What was the process of arting on set like?
The process of arting on set was pretty crazy during the initial setup, since we had a lot of night shoots so we’d stay up all night the night before and then I’d be the first one in to start dressing. Particularly for Stevie’s room, there were so many props to set up and also work with Alex on how they were going to coordinate with the light. Sometimes the shot would also change or I’d figure out we were going to see a certain side of the room I didn’t anticipate while I was arting so I’d have to change certain things.
We left a lot of things until we arrived at location, since it was out of town, which turned out to make things even crazier. We were planning on printing the concert ticket when we got to location but there was no printer in sight, so we had to scramble to Austin’s house while they were shooting the scene in order to get the ticket printed. Oh, and we also couldn’t figure out how to work the printer. So that was fun. But I ran over to them while shooting and we get to see the ticket for a whole 1 second.
There were also a couple difficult to find props such as a book based around aliens aimed at younger children that fit the vibe of the script. A lot of stuff we ended up ordering 1 day or same day shipping on Amazon Prime, so I would be checking the door at 7pm every day. Luckily we didn’t normally start shooting until 8.