One of the things that stands out the most about Fargo is how creator Noah Hawley’s visual choices are so clear and distinct. There’s a lot of thought that goes behind the series’ styling, particularly in its nods to the Coen Brothers’ film (and their entire oeuvre). While visiting the set of the new season in Calgary, a handful of fellow journalists and I were able to speak to some of the producers and heads of department for makeup, costuming, set decoration, and more about what exactly it takes to create such a visually distinct world:
- Even though Season 3 takes place in 2010, there’s still very much a 70s aesthetic. Executive producer Warren Littlefield explained that, “Each year has, by design, defined our palette a little bit differently, visually, and that’s meant to match the narrative. And we are anthological, so yes, how we compose shots, how we visually tell our story … there’s a similarity, but each year has its own distinction.”
There are subliminal color palettes for worlds within the shows. Before filming starts, production designers create mood boards with color schemes, textures and layers. Set decorator Darlene Lewis told us, “From start to finish the journey is done in [Hawley’s] head, so we have to try and work as a cohesive group to try and put all of the pieces together. But there’s still a bit of mystery in there because we don’t know what happens at the end.”
- Some color considerations for Season 3 include Emmitt’s (played by Ewan McGregor) colors being light and gold, while Ray (also McGregor) is darker, with tinges of green (for envy), to show the different paths they’ve taken, or been forced to take, in life. Emmitt is often shot in the light, while Ray is in the dark.
- Season 3’s visual inspirations came from Coen Brothers films like A Serious Man, The Big Lebowksi, and Inside Llewyn Davis.
- There are two DPs on the production again this year, because apparently they only had one during the first season and nearly killed him!
- “I think you’ll feel contemporary America, in a way you haven’t felt it before,” Littlefield also said of the new season and its more updated setting. “And you’ll feel music, you’ll feel things that bring us closer into today’s world. At the same time there is a classic Fargo to it. What’s wonderful about the Midwest is that it isn’t trendy, you know. There are some things that delightfully don’t change, and that’s why people stay there. They embrace it.”
- When thinking about the settings for each of the characters this season, we were told Hawley’s interpretation of “Minnesota Nice” is people who don’t talk about their feelings, keep it bolted up, and don’t ask others about their feelings because that would be rude. Since they go through what they go through internally, it has to be externalized since people aren’t talking about it.
Supervising producer Kim Todd noted that, “With Noah, you always know that the gun on the wall is going to go off.” So the specificity of objects is always story-driven on the sets, and that Hawley likes to use real-world products instead of created ones.
- That also creates some nightmares for the show’s clearance department, where the legal team has to okay every distinct object that appears onscreen, as well as every character name. Even mass-produced objects from big box stores have to be specifically sourced, and the designers told us that the buys they get from Kijiji (which is like Canada’s version of CraigsList) really drives the clearance department crazy.
- Because of these legal issues, most of the paintings that appear in the show are done by a crew member, Rachel Nickerson. In general, as Todd told us laughingly, “We live in fear.”
- One thing that was repeated everywhere on set is that Noah Hawley is very specific about palettes and color schemes. Deviations are intentional, and they are meant to say something. Further, Hawley always has in mind what art, music, literature, or something obscure that meant something to him inspired the scene.
- Hawley works with composer Jeff Russo months before shooting, and sometimes even performs songs that end up in the show. He will even work out the music before writing a scene.
- Costume Designer Carol Case told us that Ray and Emmitt were the hardest characters to work on this season because it was so necessary to make them so different. But the even bigger challenge is finding clothing that works in the cold Calgary winters. Coats are particularly notable because the characters are in them so much, so they need to be distinct.
- Sometimes finding that exact objects pays off hugely, though. Billy Bob Thornton’s Season 1 character evidently only really came together when the costume designer handed him that coat, which Hawley now has hanging in his office in Montana.
- This new season has an underlying theme about particles colliding and connecting — if we don’t connect are we even real? Connections are made from conflict, which drives the interactions. And that is, of course, what Fargo thrives on.
Fargo Season 3 premieres April 19th on FX.