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The ‘WeCrashed’ Sets Were So Inviting, Nobody Wanted to Leave

Production designer Amy Williams and showrunner Lee Eisenberg told IndieWire that the show's versions of WeWork spaces became real-life hangout spots

Jared Leto and Theo Stockman in WeCrashed

“WeCrashed”

Courtesy of Apple

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The Apple TV+ series “WeCrashed” tells the true story of Adam Neumann (Jared Leto), his wife Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (Anne Hathaway), and their rise and fall as the founders of WeWork, a company that made and lost billions of dollars on a new vision of communal office life.

As a show that revolves around questions of how the spaces we live and work in define us, “WeCrashed” offered unique opportunities to production designer Amy Williams, who was initially as intrigued by the offbeat romance scripted by showrunners Lee Eisenberg and Drew Cavello as she was by the architectural potential. “I had had production offices in WeWork spaces and was familiar with the environments, but I didn’t know the backstory,” Williams told IndieWire in a recent interview. “As soon as I started digging into the research I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got to do this, this is wild.’”

One of Williams’ immediate challenges was designing a period series set in the recent past. “We’ve all lived this, so if you use the wrong wood flooring, someone’s going to know it,” she said, noting that the task was made even more difficult by the fact that so much of the series was set in drab offices. “Real office locations tend to be similar, and they’re not very interesting,” Williams said. “They’re very practical, which in a way is our story — it’s how WeWork came about.”

After spending weeks going up and down Manhattan elevators looking for the right locations, Williams did find some that served her needs. “I’m always looking for something that isn’t just a box, so the actors and camera have space to move around. We actually shot in the Lipstick Building, where Bernie Madoff had his headquarters, because it has great curved walls and a really nice view.” When designing the WeWork offices for the series, Williams took inspiration from real WeWork locations spread across the globe. “I want to give a lot of credit to [WeWork architect] Miguel McKelvey,” she said, “because he designed the first WeWork spaces and had great ideas I was able to pick and choose elements from.”

The most important WeWork set was the massive headquarters where Adam reigned as master of his domain, and for that Williams had to strike a balance between reality and the show’s dramatic and visual needs. “We had images of what the real headquarters looked like, and one thing I really gravitated towards were these bright blue sofas,” Williams said. “We started finding out who made the products, but we also needed to take some creative license to make this more cinematic. We came up with this concept of having three levels with staircases leading everywhere, almost like an MC Escher drawing, and we put Adam’s big glass fishbowl office at the top so that he could address his disciples with the status of a kind of preacher.”

“WeCrashed”

Courtesy of Apple

Conceptualizing the headquarters set was one thing, but building it proved to be a daunting task. “Lee and Drew really liked it, but it meant we had to build a really big set on somewhat limited stage space,” Williams said. “We built it as big as could possibly fit into the studio, and it was a beast: three stories, a city block long. It was considered a building within a building and needed to have a sprinkler system and coded HVAC system installed, which made it feel more real.” Eisenberg said that the set was so inviting that the production of the series started to mirror the content.

“The crazy thing is that the crew would just hang out there like WeWork people,” he told IndieWire. “They would play pool and get in little desk combos, and it really did feel like, ‘Oh, of course you would never leave this office.’”

Williams made the set especially attractive with touches like a waterfall in the courtyard, and, as she put it, “a color explosion with bright primary colors.” Color was a key component of Williams’ design arc, as she created a color-coded timeline to match the period of the story. “We started with a period called ‘the rise,’ and that had an organic palette with earthy, urban tones — rusts, deep blues, grays — and then as people began to throw more and more money at WeWork we heightened it and made it brighter, creating an almost carnival-like atmosphere. That led to a lush palette of golds and greens as Rebekah came more into the story and it became more and more about excess. Then when everything came to a stop and harsh reality set in, we drained the color out and went for a muted, slaty look.”

Aside from WeWork headquarters, Williams’ most impressive creation for “WeCrashed” was the set for Adam and Rebekah’s penthouse apartment, a spectacular living space slathered in opulence. Although she had the couple’s real home to use as a reference, she found that it wouldn’t quite work for the story’s dramatic purposes. “It’s hard for New York City living spaces to translate on screen, because they’re often so much smaller in real life,” Williams said. “The idea was that this was an older building that they had taken over and completely renovated and turned into their love cocoon, their family cocoon, and gave it really fleshy tones, warm colors, kind of a safe space. But also, even though the real apartment had a lot of money in it, in real life it didn’t have the best aesthetics, so we wanted to show the excess and waste of money. Some of the touches are not perfectly arranged. There’s a nouveau riche idea of what’s nice and beautiful. We even borrowed from some famous celebrities’ homes — there’s a bit of Kim and Kanye influence with the organic arches, for example.”

“WeCrashed”

Courtesy of Apple

Another source of inspiration was Williams’ collaboration with Anne Hathaway, who had her own research team and worked closely with the production designer on environments and props related to her character. “I always like to approach the actors if they’re into it,” Williams said, “because we’re creating spaces for them to move around in and it’s not just about the camera. Annie was game right away and very hands-on. I would send her flower arrangements for the wedding, sofa selections for the house, and other bits and bobs.” Williams’ relationship with Hathaway’s costar was a little different: “I never met Jared Leto,” she said. “I only met Adam. Luckily, Adam is a gregarious, kind character, so I always got positive reinforcement from him.”

Williams’ dialogue with Hathaway was a natural extension of her approach to production design as a form of stewardship over the project as a whole. “The great thing about doing TV is that besides the showrunner you’re the only creative constant,” she said. “You have alternating directors of photography, or brand new directors coming in, so I’m there to act as a translator for the showrunner’s vision and to stand by it and carry it through very gently so that things look and feel consistent. That was really fun to do across eight episodes — can I carry that crazy wild baby? It was a production design dream.”

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