Emmy-winning production designer James Pearse Connelly describes his inspiration for The Voice Season 10’s Emmy-nominated style
On the day of our interview, Emmy-winner James Pearse Connelly received the kind of early morning phone call that only happens in Hollywood.
“Hey, we need to shoot Christmas tomorrow!,” Connelly laughed. “What can you do to make it throw up Christmas? Well, first off, it’s never throw up. Second, it’s always a running scramble. Somebody go get a frickin’ Santa!”
Such goes the life of a highly sought-after production designer.
Now serving as a governor for production design at the Television Academy, James Pearse Connelly won his first Emmy back in 2009 as an art director on the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards. Subsequent Emmy nominations came from NBC’s The Voice with Season 10 brining Connelly his latest nod. Connelly and his creative design services company J.P. Connelly boast a robust resume that includes television, film, and live events, but it’s his work on unscripted (reality) television programming that has Emmy standing at attention.
On finding his way to production design
With an art teacher mother and architect father, James Pearse Connelly’s childhood was surrounded by art and variations of design. After exploring other disciplines outside of art, he returned to the world when he found his niche in the drama club, working primarily backstage. That experience led to a stage design program at Rutgers University where the infamous lightbulb moment happened.
“I remember thinking that very first day, ‘You mean all I have to do is read a play, understand it, and make a diorama box about it?’ Like, that’s totally me,” Connelly said. “And I’m literally still doing it.”
After graduation, the massive impact of September 11, 2001, limited the possibilities of starting a new career in New York City. Connelly then relocated to California where he “caught the reality unscripted wave.” Opportunity after opportunity began to present themselves, and James Pearse Connelly built a career out of reimagining those diorama boxes time after time.
On giving The Voice a new tone
While Connelly and his team keep things fresh by working on a variety of projects, his interpretation of the role of design in an unscripted television series keeps him coming back to the genre.
“To me, in an unscripted show, the environment becomes the script,” Connelly said. “I think that behavior is really determined by an environment plus personality. Once you mash those two together, you get a lot of television behavior. I can really effect what’s not just on camera – the pretty lamp – but also what really is the driving personality on camera sometimes and give motivation for that.”
Connelly finds working on NBC’s The Voice particularly exciting because the creative team embraces and advocates change year after year. The partnership proved successful as Connelly merited four Emmy nominations for his work on the show since 2013. Season 10 provided the most significant challenge as Connelly needed to reinvent the entry and build-up to the primary audition. To achieve that, Connelly called back to a day on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot where he put himself in a Voice contestant’s awestruck shoes.
“I wondered what it must be like for these artists to drive through the Universal gates to see this stage and this television production wonderland everywhere, and so I really wanted to capture that,” Connelly said. “The next day, I took a GoPro with an associate of mine, and we shot just as much as we could to get all the rich texture of production around the lot… That authentic journey is really mine, and now everybody gets to experience it.”