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‘Boardwalk Empire’ set designer tells all

Quinlan opens up about set design. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
Quinlan opens up about set design. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

Audience members left Mayo Concert Hall on Friday, Jan. 31, informed and inspired after hearing Blythe Quinlan speak about her career as a set designer for theater, film and television productions such as “Boardwalk Empire” — a television show on HBO.

“My job is to tell a story,” said Quinlan, who decided she wanted to be a set designer at age 15.

Although her job with each production is short, Quinlan’s tasks are varied and complex — she started by reading the production’s script and after understanding what story needs to be told, she carried out tasks such as visiting filming locations and planning what props will be used.

For productions like “Boardwalk Empire” that are set in the past, Quinlan has to ensure that the location for filming has no trace of present-day elements such as light switches, certain light fixtures or even some door parts.

“Sometimes I spend days deciding how walls and ceilings are going to move,” Quinlan said to the audience in an explanation of how a camera moves through a given set.

Dan Fitzgerald, a junior communication studies and interactive multimedia double major, found Quinlan inspiring.

“She gave a good firsthand insight into production, which is interesting to me,” Fitzgerald said.

According to Quinlan, it took a month to decide whether “Boardwalk Empire’s” boardwalk should be built indoors or out-doors, and when the production team decided to build the boardwalk outside in Brooklyn, N.Y., there were many obstacles that Quinlan had to face.

For the three months of construction, rain was pouring down on the boardwalk, which caused many of the buildings to leak. It was part of Quinlan’s job to either bring in other knowledgeable construction workers to fix the leaking or order new props — each costly choices.

Although Quinlan has faced some complications, which threaten the cost effectiveness of the production, she has kept an optimistic approach.

“It doesn’t really matter what the bud- get is,” Quinlan said. “The truth is, you can tell the story with a paperclip. You just have to tell it the right way and have good ideas. You have to make it happen under the circumstances that you have and there are no excuses. And that is challenging on every project.”


  1. 1. There are about 1-2 large sentences in each paragraph
    2. The article begins with some background information about the designer, and transitions into more recent and specific information about “Boardwalk Empire”
    3. A date, the main persons name, and an interesting thing about them (they were on HBO)
    4. The article was a little all over the place, the organization could be better. A lot of facts and specific details were included throughout the article, which was done well


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