If you haven’t seen the Fifty Shades of Corden spoof on The Late Late Show With James Corden, you missed out, but it’s OK, read on and you can see what you missed. Lou Trabbie is the show’s set designer who often gets a script the day before and is given little lead time to create sets for the talent and James Corden to spoof.
I caught up with Trabbie to learn about his secrets and talk about the excitement of working under such tight timespans. Read our chat below and I encourage you to watch Trabbie’s Emmy submission for the set of Fifty Shades of Corden.
Where do you start with a show like James Corden?
I came in month five and do the day to day design work. We get a script, usually the day before when talent signs on and they decide they want to do something. I typically have a day to design it, load it in, rehearse it and light it. It’s a crazy busy show. We do everything really fast. I have a very large crew that works for me.
The show is getting so popular that everyone wants to do a sketch with James.
Have you any inkling or any lead time with where they’re going to go?
We never do have lead time. Tomorrow, we’re doing something on the show. I found out midday we were going to do something, so today, I’m building a set. My crew is downstairs, we’ll bring it upstairs later on and load it in for tomorrow morning.
Everything happens usually within a 12-hour timespan.
What is that excitement like, having that on a daily basis where you’re constantly challenged?
I start my day around 5am. I work from home for an hour or so, coming up with ideas and concepts. I get to the shop about 7am and get my guys rolling. We pick paint colors. My set decorator and I go shopping to get things we need. I have a lot of resources and have done this for twenty years.
What have been some standout sets for you?
A few stand out. We had Jamie Dornan do Fifty Shades. We built that set. I had to find an antique dealer that had trainsets and so I had to organize that and get it all here. A lot of times we’re spoofing other movies or ideas so that design concept will come from that. When you do sketch comedy, you’re usually spoofing so I can look online for research and that helps.
That was one of my favorite sets.
Melania Trump’s bedroom was nice and fun. James is so talented and he makes everything come to life.
Did you refer to the film for the fifty shades spoof?
We copied the architecture of the entrance from the movie. The director wanted some shots for shot. I had bookcases that had trains instead. We put in old train collections and that was just fun to do.
Melania Trump bedroom set. How did you set that up?
We have two sound stages. We did that in front of a live audience. We did a pre-tape, loaded in the set the night before so it could be lit. It’s a lot smaller on the stage when it’s in front of an audience. The set wasn’t that huge, even though it looks big. It was the first time we shot an exterior so I had to build a facade wall. When the camera pulled out, you could see a little bit of the White House and greenery into the exterior of the bedroom, looking into the bedroom. It was directed well so it made it look really grand.
We have great writers on our staff that come up with great ideas.
Do you ever wonder, “What am I taking on?”
Yes! I came in month five, they were struggling and I got a call from Ben Winston and I said that I’d come and help the show out for a few weeks. I came and two and a half years later I’m still here. The first few weeks, I couldn’t wait for my thirty days to be over because it was constant and crazy. Everything was about not having time. I got into a rhythm and kept building my team. I have amazing people working for me who make everything shine.
How many people are on your team?
I have a full-time set decorator, a full-time assistant. There are seven guys who build for me. I have scenic and graphics guys who freelance who I hire per project. We have eleven people on my team right now. Today, it’s busy so I have four guys.
The popularity of the show has grown, what do you put that down to?
I think James is a triple threat. He’s funny and likable. Everyone wants to do a sketch. We just did Crosswalk The Musical. I think Carpool Karaoke put him on the map and I think the next biggest thing is Crosswalk The Musical and it’s a hit. It’s about the talent we book. We shoot outside at Television City and that’s a character in our show. We use the building and it’s an iconic studio which helps in my day to day stuff.
We’ve done a lot of fun things. I’m a perfectionist and I love a challenge. James is so gracious to me and says he can’t do it without me. I feel so appreciated and that keeps me going. They trust me 100% and trust my ability to build something.
Who would be your ideal sketch guest to design for?
Carol Burnett. I’ve worked on her Showstoppers special and it was a tribute to Bob Mackie. It all started with her and her show back in the day. I think if she and James did a sketch it would be amazing. I can end my career with that.
Bob would have to do the costumes.
Of course, Bob would have to do that.
Watch Lou’s work in Fifty Shades of Corden with Jamie Dornan