Interview: Production Designer Mylene Santos Discusses The Music Videos That Inspired ‘Girls5Eva’ [EXCLUSIVE]


I’m going to pull out my soapbox for a second. If you don’t have a Peacock subscription you are missing out! The NBC/Universal app is giving us some of the funniest comedies on streaming right now. From We Are Lady Parts (about an all-female, muslim punk rock band) to Rutherford Falls to the triumphant return of the Tina Fey sitcom – Girls5Eva. About a now mostly retired girl group from the late 90s/early 00s who decide to reunite, Girls5Eva is hilarious, packed with catchy songs, and is finishing up its second season! Ok, soapbox finished.

We were lucky enough to chat with Mylene Santos, the production designer for Girls5Eva, and got to pick her brain about what it was like to build the meta world of Girls5Eva, and which bands she would love to build a music video set for in a future season of the show.

Editors note: this interview has been edited for clarity.

Nerds and Beyond: Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your research process for the show. Did you immerse yourself in a lot of late 90s/early 2000s music videos? And if so which were your favorites?

Mylene Santos: Well, you know, I lived through those eras. That was pretty easy. I had worked on the first season as the art director. So we did a lot of our research then. And which music videos are my favorites? Well the showrunner, Meredith Scardino, based the show on groups like the Spice Girls. So we started from there and looked at those specific music videos. Meredith would bring up specific inspirations and we would run with it. 

There was one episode from this season, where they are on the set of a music video for Lil Stinker, and Meredith brought up the banquet table from The Great, so we jumped off of that and created a long table with all the sneakers and watches and diamonds and fruit. And also added chandeliers, and you know just designed something that was super fun and glittery and opulent.

Nerds and Beyond: I was also curious with that set, because you have to design the set from the perspective of what the audience sees if they were to watch the music video, but also all of the behind-the-scenes bits of the stage that normally stay hidden. It becomes a stage of a stage and a stage of a backstage. It gets pretty meta! What is it like building a set of a set?

Mylene Santos: When we read the script I was like, “Oh, we’re gonna have to use the stage as our set.” You know, our soundstage. And we only have two sound stages so it was pretty tricky because we had already built in that soundstage for the episode before and we had to find time to take it down and put up the new sets in. And we have really quick turnarounds between each episode. We ended up having so many sets in that soundstage! We would look in one direction, and the whole shooting crew was on the other side of the soundstage. And then when we shot in the other direction, they were constantly moving around, and it was all pretty tight in there. 

So that was pretty much it. I mean, in a way it’s fun because you don’t have to worry if you see our equipment, or a ladder, or other set dressing because it just lends itself to the whole scene. So that was easy, but you know, in terms of trying to make space for the sets that we actually had to shoot inside of, that was time limited, but in the end, it all looks super great.

Nerds and Beyond: I also wanted to ask about the sound studio that the group spends a lot of their time in this season. What was it like building a set that has to have that sitcom vibe but also still feels like a workable, usable space for the characters?

Mylene Santos: So we researched a bunch. We had a few recording studios that we built last season too, but this one had to look completely different. Meredith asked for this one to be more mid-range because the girls were just starting out, so it wouldn’t be something super high-end and fancy. So I designed it so that it would look like it had history, like this was a recording studio that had little money in the beginning, and then as they made more money they would renovate this or that. You know one era gets this, and then they would renovate something else in another era. Just to give more history to the place. We were very lucky to have Jeff Richmond, our music composer with us. He helped us by making sure all of our technical equipment looked correct and would be something they would actually use. 

Nerds and Beyond: I was also curious, because the show deals so heavily in parody, especially in the flashbacks and the music videos, that I was wondering how you find the balance between incorporating those larger-than-life comedy elements of the world while also keeping it grounded?

Mylene Santos: I just have to be truthful to whatever I read in the script. So when we went to the “Ricky Rats” flashback that could be more fun and exaggerated because it was scripted as regional TV and post will also come in and tweak the look of it to make it look older and of the time period. So I think when I’m truthful to what the scene is, it plays funny because of it.

I make that regional TV set look as real as possible because it should be a little hokey. When you look at those kinds of sets, they’re not high-end professional. I think that’s why it works. 

For the music videos, because hip-hop videos are so high-end and flashy, I wanted to go over the top with those sets. Like a nightclub, just glittery and luxurious and over the top obnoxious. Just rolling in the dough. So I think as long as you’re truthful to what the writer is really intending, I think that’s how it works for me. In terms of designing between fantastical sets and realistic sets.

Is there a 90s or even early 2000s pop music video that you would love to pay homage to in the show that has not been done yet?

Mylene Santos: It’s funny because I didn’t really listen to pop back then, I was more of an alternative and grunge band listener. I was even in a band myself actually, but we didn’t go very far. Not as far as Girls5Eva. But as far as bands in the 90s to pay homage to… would it have to be a female band?

Nerds and Beyond: Oh no, choose any band! Let’s get wild with it!

Mylene Santos: Ok so I would probably say Radiohead. I love Radiohead and they were big in the 90s. But I don’t think they fit into our Girls5Eva world. So for a pop band… Destiny’s Child was around in the 90s right? Or were they the 00s?

Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, I think they kind of overlapped both. This will date me but I was in middle school when I got their album The Writing’s on the Wall and that was 1999. So they are definitely in the same space as The Spice Girls and Girls5Eva.

Mylene Santos: Yeah, so if we’re talking a female group I’d probably have to do them. Or like in Kimmy Schmidt when they referenced the Lemonade video, something like that. 

Nerds and Beyond: Destiny’s Child is a great choice! They had that one video for “Say My Name” that had the rotating color blocked rooms, where each one of them is in like a different primary colored cube.

Mylene Santos: Yeah, it’s funny my MTV was definitely in the beginning in the 80s so I can bring up any music video from back then, but the 90s they started transitioning more to Real World and that kind of stuff.

Britt is a Los Angeles based writer, burlesque performer, and life long nerd. A former drama kid turned playwright and classic ambivert, (shout out fellow ambiverts! There are dozens of us! Dozens!) her love of books, snacks, and cats makes her a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings. She is a voracious reader, writer, and unapologetic binge-watcher. Her lifelong obsessions include Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Arrested Development, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Herbert's Dune series. Her current obsessions include: Sherlock, Black Mirror, The Great British Baking Show, RuPaul's Drag Race, and Counterpart. She will also gladly talk people's ears off about graphic novels if they let her, which they usually don't. Find Britt on Twitter @MsGeorgiaOQueef

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