David Bomba, Emmy-nominated for his production design work on Netflix’s Ozark, spoke to Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki about crafting major new set pieces for the thrilling third season.
In Ozark Season 3, Wendy and Marty Byrde (the enthralling and exquisite Laura Linney and Jason Bateman) have expanded their money-laundering operation to include a brand-new casino, the Missouri Belle—becoming further entwined in Omar Navarro’s treacherous drug cartel. The stakes have never been higher, resulting in some of the most heart-pounding moments of this Emmy cycle.
A major draw for production designer David Bomba in joining the third season of the Netflix hit was the opportunity to create these new editions to Byrdes’ bolstering empire.
In conversation with Awards Daily, Bomba reflected on his Emmy-nominated production design and inspiration for the Missouri Belle Casino and sprawling Navarro compound as he begins work on Ozark‘s fourth and final season.
Awards Daily: Congratulations, your first Emmy nomination!
David Bomba: I’m really, really, really excited about it!
AD: I was doing some research in preparation for speaking with you and one thing that you’ve said is that the attraction for you in joining Ozark Season 3 was getting to work on the Missouri Belle casino and the introduction of the Navarro cartel’s compound.
What was the appeal for you in designing those two set-pieces?
DB: The casino was exciting to me because it was a brand-new element. A large set-piece and brand-new element in the storyline for the season. Getting to design that set and develop it was really exciting for me. Not only did we have to incorporate a casino off-shore gambling operation with the boat that was introduced in Season 2, but we had to make that work in the context of a casino compound where you have land-based elements where anything that isn’t gaming or gambling takes place on-shore—that would be like offices, or the restaurants, or the support facilities. We put on an REO Speedwagon concert so that all had to be taken into consideration as to how the boat was going to be incorporated into the land-based portion of the complex.
And the Navarro aspect of things was really exciting to me because we got to go to another country in the story. We go down to Mexico, and to do that in Atlanta was a challenge. They were both challenges. That’s what drew me to the project—something that wasn’t just mainstream design. It was a challenge to try to figure those elements out.
AD: And you’ve mentioned that you talked to Jason Bateman about whether or not he was willing to move away from the blue and gray color palette that has become so signature to Ozark, and that he was really receptive to the idea of introducing reds and the golds. Can you tell me more about the textures you were working with and if there were any other themes that you wanted to introduce alongside the casino and Navarro compound?
DB: I wanted to make sure that everything connected visually to what had been established, but also to introduce contrast wherever that was possible.
The Mexico aspect of that was easier. We go to another country, we go to another climate a couple of thousand miles away. So we introduced stone and arid textures, beige, and browns in a very dark world. We got to go into more of a historic world, something that was 19th or maybe even early 18th century in the context of the Hacienda that Omar Navarro occupies.
With the casino, I really wanted to add something new and fresh to the show. The casino was new construction. They took an old boat and revamped it into a brand-new casino operation. That was the gate that I could open in order to introduce design, different colors, and different textures with this new construction. Marty and Wendy, they’re cosmopolitan people from Chicago so they’re bringing some of the aesthetic that they’ve experienced in Chicago to the Lake of the Ozarks. So we could bump it up a notch from the textures that we saw in the Blue Cat Lodge or the things that we might see at the diners or the places that we have already frequented in the Ozarks. It was an opportunity to expand that into new construction, new design, and fresh ideas.
AD: And maybe adding in some glamour as well.
AD: One thing that I’m always interested in is the evolution of your concepts and ideas. So, did that change from the time that you’re making your initial pitch to Jason Bateman and the producers to what viewers ultimately see on screen?
DB: It really didn’t change that much. I mean, I could show you the imageboard of what I presented to Jason right off the bat. And those boards were images collected from research that I did—mostly they came from a scouting trip that I took prior to gearing up in Atlanta.
I drove to Indiana then down into Missouri to two different off-shore casinos. The casino in Indiana was more of a New Orleans riverboat, Mark Twain ilk, then we went down to Missouri and saw another one that was a little bit more contemporary. I was drawn toward the New Orleans style, Victorian-era riverboat. I grew up in New Orleans and I just liked the feel of that and thought it might be a good novelty theme to incorporate into an attraction in the Ozarks.
I took the imagery for both of those casinos and presented those to Jason with color palettes that were along the lines of where I wanted to go—the golds and the reds; patterns that I was looking at for carpeting; wallpaper treatments; and light fixtures. And when I presented those, he gave me the thumbs-up, and it evolved to be from there.
AD: And as viewers go back and revisit the season, or as they’re watching it for the first time, are there any details or particular pieces that you’re really proud of? Things that you hope people notice?
DB: I like to build scenery as if it’s real construction. And if you’re inside of it, it should all look real. The casino was a two-story set. Structurally it was hefty, and you can walk up the stairs from the first floor of the casino to the second floor. There is a feature in the stairwell, which I wanted to have anyway, but that actually became a camera portal. There’s a huge painting of a riverboat on the landing of the stairs, and behind that, when we take the painting off, there’s a big hole where a crane could fit. And so there were several times during the season where a crane move or a camera move was incorporated as an actor is walking up the stairs to the second floor, revealing on film in a single shot that we built the casino as two stories.
AD: One of the themes of Ozark that I really love is this idea of hiding in plain sight. How did secrecy and the Byrdes’ double-life play into your production design?
DB: Certainly, with Marty’s office, he was keeping track of stakes in his office. And his office is connected to the casino. He’s concealed in his office, but he can see what’s going on through a window that leads out to the entrance so he can see people that are coming and going. If he has his door open at the casino, he can see what’s going on and he can immediately from his office go right onto the casino floor. He’s always got monitors and surveillance going on with all of the cameras and that we incorporated throughout the casino’s interior, and exterior.
With Navarro, it was scripted as a rural estate. So for me, that just shouted out as a Hacienda in Mexico. Haciendas were kind of the center of a ranch or a farming community. It was kind of like the city center and a building structure onto itself. And that’s what we found in Atlanta. I feel like the Navarro character is living in a fortified fortress. It’s accessible from the field to the areas around it, but because he is who he is, he has his henchmen and his guards ready with their automatic weapons patrolling and surveying the area.
AD: Did you make any changes to the set pieces that we were familiar with from Seasons 1 and 2?
DB: Yes, we shoot a little bit of Ruth [Julia Garner]’s trailer on stage, and that was augmented. We added a bedroom for Ruth’s trailer. I did some work on the Snell house—the finishes of the woodwork and plastering work on the Snell house. But most of the other scenic work was already done.
The Byrde house, which is built on stage, is a beautiful replication of what is actually on location on Lake Lanier. It’s a really good, beautiful match for that. And that’s where the bedroom scenes, are shot—the kids’ rooms and Marty and Wendy’s room, as well as everything else in the Byrde house. I just embraced all of that for Season 3. We’ll see more of all of those things in the next season coming up.
AD: I was just going to ask if you’ll be returning for Season 4.
DB: I started three days ago!
AD: Oh, that’s exciting!
DB: We’ve been having talks and I’m taking a drive across the country from California to get back to Atlanta because my department set up their construction there. We’re actually moving our stages from where they have been the last three years to another stage facility.
We need more stage space. We were sharing this studio space with two other productions and we’re moving to a place that is just going to be Ozark only. So COVID-wise, it’ll be much easier to monitor everything and keep us moving forward because production right now is really a new game for everybody.
Between the testing, social distancing, and the fact that certain people can only be in a given “pod” at a certain time, there are all sorts of new rules, guidelines, and protocols that we’re learning and putting into place for Season 4.
AD: Is there anything you can tell me about concepts you’re looking at for Season 4? Any and all teases are welcome.
DB: I can say that we’ll be returning to Chicago. [Laughs]. And as is typical for Ozark, we will be saying goodbye to some of our characters.
All episodes of Ozark available to stream on Netflix.