Written by Knut Loewe

After I had received the first script of episode one of Griselda, still in Berlin at the time and stuck within COVID restrictions, I started to research movies, TV shows, and period photographs that depict 1970s Miami and Florida.

Soon, I realized that there was a lot of what I would call Pink Flamingo-style. I wanted to find another element that would give the audience a “Florida Feeling” that did not use the typical color branding that we have seen many times before.

New York has the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, Berlin has a Brandenburg Gate, and Paris has the Eiffel Tower, but how would we recognize Miami? To me, it would be the Inner Coastal Waterway and the amount of green in Florida, parts of Miami, such as Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, or Kendall, feel like a jungle, they are so green.

Palm Beach Mansion - 'Griselda'Netflix

In my very first meeting with director Andres Baiz and Producer Eric Newman, they, of course, wanted to know how I would envision the world this story is set in. I explained to them that if I had to direct the first episode or the series as a whole, I would want a background that does not look like the Florida and the Miami that we had seen so many times, that I would want to minimize the use of pink that I would want to go further back in time and bring in 1950s MCM and 1930s architecture to complement the 1970s and I would want to show as much water as possible and show as much greenery as possible, palm trees, banana leaves, and Birds of Paradise, for example.

Griselda | Official Trailer | Netflixwww.youtube.com

They were amazed and amused, but they also liked the idea and the approach. Going forward, we now started to dive together into period photography and period documents. Soon, it was apparent that Miami today does not look anything like the 1970s anymore and that it would not make much sense to do any principal photography over there. We decided to shoot as much as possible in and around Los Angeles.

Andy and Eric were busy with the development of the other five scripts with casting, and Sophia was busy with endless prosthetic make-up tests and costume fittings. I set off together with location manager Kris Bunting to bring key locations to the table, such as the Mutiny Nightclub, interior and exterior, several Motels, and Griselda’s future homes in three different sizes going from “normal” in episode 3 to silly-big in episode 5.

I also wanted to present a couple of locations that had a Colombia feeling, such as a bar in Lincoln Heights with its typical plasterwork or Griselda’s and her Husband’s house in Medellin, which I scouted in Hancock Park because it featured a lot of dark exterior woodwork.

I presented the findings together with my concept as to how I wanted to treat these locations, how much I thought we could accomplish on location, and which ones of the interiors would probably be better to be built on stage to give the actors and the camera more space to play with. I also created a rule for the use of colors, wallpapers, materials, furniture, interior and exterior decoration, and the treatment of surfaces and patina. I then share this rule with the art directors, construction, the painters, and the set-dec department. Once the sets come together, I like to break my own rules, play with layers and details, and figure out unwritten backstories, especially together with the set decorator, Kim Leonard.

Andres Baiz liked that way of working, and because everybody had so much work to do; the scripts for all 6 episodes were still in the making, and we had already counted more than 100 different sets before we even started shooting, I presented my work less and less often, and the director almost treated me like an actor; he wanted to be surprised by what I had to offer, and then he gave comments on what he liked more and what he liked less, these meetings, in which we created and adjusted the precise tone that the show should have, were a joy.

It was even more joyful to walk the sets that we had created together with Sophia. She had worked on the development of this show for such a long time, she had done extensive research and knew a lot about Griselda Blanco. She really appreciated every detail and the various layers that the set decorator, together with the set dressers, had come up with in every set and location.

Once all the scripts for all episodes were finished, we counted 200 hundred sets, yes, two hundred. We shot in two blocks, we started with the first three episodes, took a break for two months, and then continued with the remaining three episodes. We worked on this endeavor as if it were a feature. Every episode has its own new sets and locations.

Palm Beach Mansion - 'Griselda' Netflix

One of my favorite sets is The Palm Beach Mansion: It is a compound in episode 4 that Griselda rents to get away from her many enemies. There is enough space to build and assemble her own private army. Her previous house, in episode 3, was much smaller and decorated by herself or, at least with her input, the first house she owned after leaving Colombia. Now, the bigger house in episode 4 has a different purpose: This house needs to be fortified, it needs to protect her and her family.

The backstory we created for this particular house is that she rented a furnished but abandoned summer residence of a well-to-do family that has inherited the mansion but has not used it in years. To highlight these ideas for the audience, we created wallpaper that comes off, showing an empty pool, giving the greenhouse many broken glass panes, the entire compound is overgrown, inside the house, dust covers are everywhere, and every piece of furniture is more than 20 years old. Some of the paintings on the walls have faded over the years, and some have been removed. The big mural by Franz von Stuck in her bedroom/bathroom is just a sinister highlight, it yet again emphasizes the overall atmosphere of the episode.

Mutiny Nightclub - 'Griselda'Netflix

One of the very few recurring sets, apart from a police station interior, was the Mutiny Nightclub: I was scouting the Long Beach area with location manager Kris Bunting on the way to visit a marina or a mooring for the yacht party. As we drove past the decommissioned ocean liner Queen Mary, I asked whether we could see it or not. Thanks to Kris’ connections, within an hour, we were standing inside the beautiful, grand, 1930s art-deco ballroom of the Queen Mary. After I had already scouted about ten other spaces with Andres Baiz and DOP Armando Salas, I knew that this ballroom was the one we needed. The other locations were nightclubs, discos, and warehouses; they were just big, but none of them had the specific atmosphere that I was looking for.

Years ago, I explored nightclubs in New York, such as the Palladium, the legendary MK, and Studio 54. The vibe I wanted the interior of the Mutiny NightClub to be should be reminiscent of those great clubs. The Queen Mary Ballroom features beautiful murals and many extravagant Art Deco details, in addition, I designed backlit bar counters on both sides of the dancefloor. All of the 1970s disco lights, trussing, mirror-globe, chasers, and spotlights are deliberately exposed, as it was in Studio 54 back in the day.

I broke up the room’s symmetry by adding extra walls. Pilasters between the wall segments featured indirect light sources as it was fashionable in the 1970s. These lights also illuminate the metallic wallpaper and create beautiful reflections. The VIP area was important for the drama, several scenes were scripted in it. I raised the entire area on a platform and set-dec provided pink raspberry-colored velvet seating and velvet ropes in front of it, together with an enormous amount of ostrich feathers, which created some visual punch.

Since we could not use the exterior of the Queen Mary, we had to find another location to cover scenes that take place in front of the Mutiny. We found a boring but period-correct hotel in an area called The City of Industry. I designed golden screens (laser cutouts) that we used in both locations as a connecting element. Another connecting element is what I call the “Tiffany Ceiling”: It was installed over the dance floor in the Queen Mary ballroom, and we do see a similar ceiling in the hotel in the City of Industry. The set decorator, Kim Leonard, had these beautiful golden tables made with a mirror tabletop that wasn’t only ideal for doing cocaine but also the perfect device to show the ceiling more often.

It did not always work out like this: In episode 5, for instance, we scouted a Villa By The Sea that was supposed to be huge, but it wasn’t even big enough, therefore we extended the size of the villa digitally. Also, the rooms inside weren’t big enough to accommodate stunt scenes, including Griselda’s office, dressing room, and bedroom. In this case, I designed the entire 3,000 sq ft. master suite to be built on stage at LACS, Centre Studios.

'Villa by the Sea' - 'Griselda'Netflix

The materials and details I chose were gold-leaf wallpaper in one room and Lalique Glass sliding doors in another room. The suite of rooms is a mélange of a 19th-century faux Victorian English Manor House and an 18th-century French Chateau. Griselda did not grow up learning a great deal about style, and this fact is always supposed to be visible throughout the six episodes. In episode 5, she has already become incredibly rich, so everything needs to look very expensive, and she needs to show off what she has accomplished. At the time, certain people in Miami bought expensive jewels, watches, supercars, and designer clothing just because it was super expensive, and they called it: “I am spending fuck-you-money.”

And that’s what we were aiming for with this episode. Episode 5 really is the party episode. The real Griselda Blanco hosted several infamous parties that must have gotten out of control with guns and drugs and forced sex plays on the dancefloor. I thought shiny black lacquer for the woodwork and deep purple colored French wallpaper would be a good background, and on top of all that, set decorator Kim Leonard came up with the idea to bring in two oversized, gilded, chinese fu-dogs to flank her desk.