How to create a Westside paradise

Recreating a Westie paradise - especially one from the 70s - hasn’t been easy. Michelle Duff finds out how it was pulled off

TV3

A first sneak peek of the Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside has been released.

Items from the 70s you had forgotten about: portable saunas. The Phillips K9 television. Those annoying little novelty packets of matches. The sticker you had to put on your car under the Muldoon government to show one day a week was a carless day.

It turns out, when you are making a television show set in that era, all those little things really start to matter. And at least four decades after they were de rigeur, not many West Auckland households are still rocking a portable sauna.

But writers on the upcoming prequel to Outrageous Fortune, Westside, saw that as a small obstacle.

Antonia Prebble and David De Lautour star as Rita and Ted West in Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside.
MATT KLITSCHER

Antonia Prebble and David De Lautour star as Rita and Ted West in Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside.

"There was a sauna written in the script, and we had to make it happen," says Clayton Ercolano,the production designer. "So we searched the world, and we couldn't find it - so we just had to make it."

The same attitude was required to track down a Phillips K9 television, the height of techology in the 1970s. Ercolano remembered his grandfather used to have one, so corralled him into digging it out of his Nelson garage and shipping it to Auckland.

The clunky box no longer worked, so Ercolano tracked down some electricians who could deal with it. But the real surprise came a script or two later - not only did the Wests own a working K9 television, but a scene called for Ted West and his buddies to steal a factory full of them.

Dan Musgrove plays Lefty Munroe in Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside. Here he tries out a portable sauna which the ...

Dan Musgrove plays Lefty Munroe in Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside. Here he tries out a portable sauna which the props team had to make themselves.

"I rang Phillips and said 'I'm going to need the graphics from the packaging of a K9 television,' but it turned out no-one had any record of it. So I found this nerd on the internet who was into K9 TVs, and he found someone who had worked in the Petone manufacturing plant in an old folk's home who described it to him, and he described it to me, and we got them made," Ercolano said.

"It wasn't like Outrageous, where we could just pop down to The Warehouse to buy something if we needed."

Clinton Ercolano was the production designer for Outrageous Fortune and the upcoming prequel, Westside. Pictured is a small amount of the props that had to be sourced from around the country."

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Clayton Ercolano was the production designer for Outrageous Fortune and the upcoming prequel, Westside. Pictured is a small amount of the props that had to be sourced from around the country.

KEEPING IT REAL

Westside, the six-show prequel to Outrageous Fortune, visits the West family three decades before the hit show was set. It follows the lives of Ted and Rita West, played by David de Lautour and Antonia Prebble, as they start the West family dynasty.

It comes from the creators of Outrageous, James Griffin and Rachel Lang, and aims to tell the back-story of the Wests set against the backdrop of a decade of social upheaval.

For the production designers, the challenge was creating an environment that was obviously the 1970s, without being cheesy - and on a shoestring budget. Ercolano, who has worked in set and prop design since the early days of TVNZ's Avalon studios, found it one of his biggest tests yet.

"We didn't want a close up of an object that was blatantly 70s to have to paint the picture, it should just be there. Sometimes a few cliches slipped in, but mostly I think we got it," Ercolano said.

"It meant being on Trade Me for hours every night, trawling the op-shops, and just finding whatever we could get our hands on. There was a lot of discussion at the start that we weren't going to do the orange and brown and avocado colour scheme, but it turned out there was nothing we could do about it - those colours are the 70s."

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ON THE SET

Ercolano based the set design of Outrageous Fortune on what the character of Cheryl West would have liked. "I got into Cheryl's head and thought 'What would she do?' and I thought: Cheryl has no design sense whatsoever, and if she likes something she just buys it. If she liked a purple rug from Farmers she didn't care if it didn't match the couch. So it was like the anti-design."

When it came to recreating the Westside era, a lot of the West house was quite 70s-themed anyway - who could forget that hideous, patterned carpet and wallpaper - mainly because the house has been in the family since Ted and Rita bought it, with no renovations.

But the original set had been turfed out after a 2010 Auckland Museum exhibition. That meant Ercolano had to re-source all the furniture and carpets to be as close to the originals as possible, while purposely dating other household items.

"I thought I'd already sort of done the 70s, but I had to go even harder. I got 70s brain, so I'd get home and see a light switch and think "Oh my god! That light switch isn't right!' and then I'd be 'Oh wait, I'm at home. It's okay'."

In Westside everything had to look newer, which included giving the West house a lick of paint and fixing broken panels of glass. The owners continued to live in their home during the three months of filming. "There was a time when we thought we might not be able to go back and film there and I was thinking about rebuilding the house, but I'm glad we didn't have to. That would have been really difficult," Ercolano understates. "The owners live there, they go to work, we pay for them to go to dinner or a hotel sometimes if filming's at night. I don't think they ever expected there would be a prequel."

THE FINAL TOUCHES

The vigilance of fans can not be underestimated. In Outrageous, there are a pair of ornamental horses that Ted stole in a heist at Smith & Caugheys. In a later episode, the horses are smashed.

For Westside, Ercolano had to find another pristine pair of tacky, ceramic horses. After months of looking, he sourced a couple from Trade Me. "They were almost exactly the same, but the legs were in different directions. We thought no-one would notice." One fan, bought in by South Pacific Pictures to watch the series in advance, picked it immediately.

Cars were another conundrum. Ercolano found Ted's Ford Escort through Trade Me, and arranged to hire it for the length of the filming from the teenage owner. Rita's 1969 Ford Triumph was also a Trade Me buy, which broke down in the rain when Ercolano was driving it home.

The rest of the cars were sourced by putting out a call through the Sunday Star-Times and Facebook for enthusiasts to lend theirs to the production.

"I thought, 'this will be a shambles,' but it wasn't, people really got into it. Same with the op-shops - I had op-shops all around West Auckland putting things aside for me. We actually could not have done this without the people of West Auckland."

With the majority of the props sourced, the last headache for set designers was covering up modern fittings. Heat pumps had to be disguised, and the facade of a large, red phone booth was built to put over rubbish bins and other modern trappings in the background of street scenes.

Westside was itself the victim of crime when producers left the booth at a shoot in Avondale and came back an hour later to find it had been vandalised. "I thought, how fitting," Ercolano says. "We were out west, after all."

SETTING THE SCENE

Episode 1 – All that impedes thee from the golden round (set in 1974)

New Zealand joins together for the Commonwealth Games, as Ted West gets out of jail after a three year stretch for a robbery that went wrong at Smith & Caughey's.Ted finds he's been ditched as leader of his gang, and is determined to root out the rat who put him in jail. Meanwhile, young Wolf resents his father being back home, and Rita has problems of her own, including a tenacious young admirer. But should Ted go solo to prove his mettle? 

Westside premieres on Sunday May 31 at 8.30pm on TV3.

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 - Sunday Star Times

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