Mark Worthington confirmed to an audience at Eagle-Con LA last month that he is indeed the new Production Designer for CBS’s upcoming Star Trek television series. We caught up with him after his panel to talk Trek.
Before he headed out to Toronto to begin work on CBS’s upcoming Star Trek television series, we caught up with Production Designer Mark Worthington at Eagle-Con at Cal State LA on May 14, a student-centered sci-fi/fantasy/comic convention where he was talking about his last job, Production Designer on American Horror Story. His work on the American anthology horror television series could prove particularly relevant to the new Star Trek series if the prevailing rumor, that Trek will be an anthology series, proves true.
After his panel, we approached Mark to interview him about his new gig. We were fully aware the odds he would be willing or allowed to discuss the new show were slim to none. Not only did our intuition prove right, but he pointed out, “There’s nothing to talk about yet,” noting that scripts were still being written, and the world he would be giving life to had not yet been developed.
“There’s nothing to talk about yet.”
–Mark Worthington, Star Trek All Access Production Designer
We did have a brief chat however about some of the similarities of re-dressing standard sets like Ugly Betty’s ‘The Tube’ week after week to give the set a different look and feel and how that could easily be applied to creating multiple starship sets.
Although he didn’t have much to say in the way of Trek (yet), he spoke at length during his panel about his work on previous shows, along with American Horror Story Costume Designer Lou Eyrich and Set Decorator Ellen Brill.
When the moderator introduced Mark as Emmy award winning, he laughingly corrected her “Not winner, nominee – still waiting! I’m the Susan Lucci of production design!”
She then asked him how he got his start in the industry.
“Well a producer just found me under the 101 freeway one da and said here’s a pencil. No, No I started drawing as a kid and I always had a pencil in my hand growing up. One wonders why I can’t draw better.”
Ellen Brill chimed in “Oh he’s an amazing illustrator!”
Mark continued “I wanted to be a fine artist then my dad kind of intervened and he wanted me to go to a liberal arts school, so I ended up going to Reed College in Portland Oregon which had, at that point, a joint program with an art school, but I didn’t end up doing that.”
“I got into drama and theater and stayed in Portland after graduation with friends, directing and in designing theater pieces there and taking the money and then thinking ‘Hey! graduate school and theater because that way I’ll make money—even more!’ Of course this got a huge chuckle especially out of knowing students.
“I just started designing for the new Star Trek series for CBS, and no I can’t talk about it.”
“So I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and got a costume design MFA.”
“Carnegie at that time had and still has a lot of contacts in the film industry and alums working in the industry…and within the next two years I was art directing the film Tombstone.”
“So, I came out to LA I started art directing and eventual production designing.”
“I did the pilot to Lost, which was my first foray into television. They hired me because I had done bigger features, and I was the person who wasn’t scared that it was only four and a half weeks when they brought me on util they started shooting. I was the only one who didn’t break out in a sweat apparently when they described what was happening.”
“And then I got Ugly Betty. Some of you may know that I was on that show, helped invent that show, was on for all four seasons, did some other things and now American Horror Story… although now I’m not doing American Horror Story‘s sixth season. I just started designing for the new Star Trek series for CBS, and no I can’t talk about it.”
“So that’s my bag!”
Creating Multiple Worlds… for a Star Trek anthology?
And while the panel discussion was exclusively about “American Horror Story” much of what Mark discussed could easily apply to the Star Trek universe and gives us a glimpse into how he would deal with a show not only with a rich universe, but one that might be part of an anthology with changing eras and cultures. This of course will be particularly relevant if Star Trek All Access turns out to be an anthology series.
This was Mark’s response when asked to talk about the creative process of building a world each season:
“That’s an interesting question. It’s the most fun and most daunting. We didn’t know that’s what was going to happen. I don’t know if Ryan [Murphy] knew he was going to turn this into an anthology series.”
“Yeah he did,” Lou Eyrich American Horror Story Costumer Designer chimed in.
“Did he? I was a newbie it takes a while to get into the inner sanctum! So I didn’t know. So he obviously sort of invented, well didn’t invent but revivified, this idea of an anthology show.”
“We were in a house in LA and contemporary times in season one. Now were in early 1960s in Massachusetts in an asylum for the mentally ill, so where is the DNA that continues through? There’s no way you can self-consciously determine that before hand and say ‘here are the things we’re going to keep and not keep’. Tonally with the story you have to kind of trust that somehow it reveals itself. Which it does.”
“So every time you’re creating a whole new world. Even with the murder house that was in contemporary LA we have flashbacks to the 30s and 40s.”
“And we build everything for the most part. I’m not sure that something you’re aware of because people come up to me especially with that hotel and say ‘Where’s the hotel? Is that the Oviatt?’ No, it’s not. It’s on Sound Stage 15 at Fox.”
“One of the difficulties is that we rebuild from scratch every year. The template for television for decades has been that you set up a procedural show. So there’s a crime lab and then there’s the apartment of the protagonist and the apartment for whoever else, the antagonist, and then there’s the bar where they all meet and those are all set up from the beginning and then you have that for 10 years so it’s very cheap.”
“Not only do we tear things down and rebuild from scratch every year, they’re huge, ambitious feature- and more than feature-quality sets. That’s because in television you don’t know what space you’re going to need or what’s going to happen in that space in terms of narrative, so you have to build more. In a feature films you get a relatively short scene and you can say ‘we can leave this part out’ and reduce the cost. And of course a movie script is just one script where a television show can have any number from 5 to 25.”
He and the group also spoke to dealing with budget issues and creative ways around it: how to hold their creative ground and prove why they need that extra couch or winding corridor. The speed of television production was also discussed. The current season of American Horror Story has an incredibly detailed Art Deco hotel that, as Mark mentioned, was actually a set. It took seven weeks from concept and empty sound stage to finished product. For all of those who think that Star Trek All Access should be further along in production, that’s something to keep in mind!
It seems with all of his skills and experience Mark is definitely qualified to help create the new television world of Star Trek.
CBS’s new television series comes to it’s online platform CBS All Access January 2017.