On Set With Michael Weatherly's 'Bull': Inside the Courthouse, Corridors and the 'Pod Room'
David M. Russell/CBS
Nothing stays put for long on the Queens, New York, set of CBS’s Bull. Nearly every piece—
including the conference table and the wall behind the judge’s bench—is built to be moved effortlessly. (The trick? Wheels.) But there is method to such madness. When trial consultant Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly, center, with Jaime Lee Kirchner and Chris Jackson) and his team at the Trial Analysis Corporation (TAC) travel to help a client in another city, the show’s production designer, Sarah Frank, and her crew don’t have to create a whole new backdrop for the characters. They just rearrange the scenery, and voilà: A breezy Southern courtroom becomes a cramped New England city hall. It’s sneaky, but so is Bull. Frank lets us in on even more tricks of her trade.
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Production designer Sarah Frank wanted Trial Analysis Corporation’s office to function like a true mobile workplace, filled mostly with pieces that Bull’s employees could easily transport when they were out on a case. One example: The conference table is made of the same road boxes the team uses to carry their wall of monitors. (There are 18 in all, and they run actual live feed.) She also gave the place a “We’re so busy, we never have time to settle in” feel with unfinished ceilings, exposed pipes and visible wires. “The shooting crew loves it,” Frank says. “On most sets, you have to worry about hiding the cables. We embrace them!”
Frank chose a chilly silver and black color scheme for TAC’s Manhattan home base, but be on the lookout for brightly hued items among all that stainless steel to warm things up. The desk of Bull’s computer hacker, Cable (Annabelle Attanasio, who helped Frank decorate the small space), is usually one place for such items. “We’re always asking ourselves, ‘What elements can we use to add some color?’” says Frank. Fun fact: The location of Cable’s desk changes from episode to episode.
The punching bag serves dual purposes: to “punch” up the set with a splash of red and to amuse the ever-energetic Weatherly. “He said he wanted
to really have fun in here,” Frank recalls. “One of the joys of this job was coming up with things Michael could play with while still staying focused and then incorporating them into the set.” His toys so far also include a Ping-Pong table, a golf simulator and a contraption for indoor batting practice.
Welcome to the “Pod Room.” Even the TAC team needs to crash once in a while! To design the office’s sleep area, Frank looked to companies whose employees are known to work long hours—like Google—for inspiration. The result: a bed, a tent, a few cots and these green pods. “They’re weird, but everyone loves them,” says Frank. That includes Weatherly’s two youngest children, who use them for naps when they’re visiting Dad on set.
David M. Russell/CBS
There is only one proper courtroom on the set, which Frank’s team expertly redresses over and over again to look like it’s in various cities. The room’s warm base colors “are not just about a lot of wood,” Frank says. “The courtroom scenes are about people’s feelings and reactions. So it’s personal.” To help the cameras catch those feelings and reactions from different angles, Frank made the windows and one of the walls movable to accommodate the camera equipment. This also cuts the time it takes to switch scenes.
The Texas courthouse depicted in Episode 4 (above) was one of Frank’s more elaborate transformations: Valances were added to the windows. New fans and light fixtures were installed in the ceiling. Large paintings of old men lined the back. To capture Connecticut for Episode 16 (airing March 7) Frank added a wall to make the room smaller. But the tweaks aren’t always so major. “When we don’t have the budget or time to do a full changeover, we just swap an easily identifiable element that makes you feel like you’re somewhere else,” she says. “We’ll change the mural behind the judge’s bench to a seal or add some wood paneling.”
To decorate the courtroom corridors, Frank studied municipal buildings in Manhattan and the Bronx. But her inspiration can come from anywhere at anytime (thank God for camera phones). To stay organized, she keeps a binder full of ideas. “We’ll be scouting a judge’s chambers,” she says, “and though we won’t film in that location, there might be a great, random plant that he has next to his gavel or a bowlful of paper clips and cough drops. And sometimes it’s drapery or chairs or signage that catch my eye.”
Bull, Tuesdays, 9/8c, CBS