This sketch, a throwback to the first season of “Basic Prom,” was filmed in an abandoned medical campus at Pomona’s RSI location. “We had a bunch of wire and our title card was lit with canopy lights, and we wanted to bring those elements into this sketch,” explains Chao. The high angle slope of the ceiling makes this room, in effect, a small ballroom, like a church space. Chao and Yu illuminated the room with “a rainbow of colors,” with Chao noting that the funeral scene “is not about the loss of life, but the celebration of life. We filled it with big, bold statements and flowers to make it more fun.”
This mixed tone also applies to the atmosphere of the scene. “It’s a skit comedy show, so people think we work fast, but it’s silly about it,” Yu said. “I don’t know we’ve ever done anything that everyone took so seriously.”
Yu added that the speed of production requires a certain level of professionalism. “All of these sketches are really mini-movies,” she said, and putting together all the pieces of so many sketches took a lot of planning. “It’s intense and huge, and it’s very helpful to work in the art department with people who have that approach. All of our work is in preparation, and the more we do it, the better it gets.”
Chao also pointed out that the sketch was shot randomly, which added more challenges to the art department. “We decorated the space for the funeral ball, and then we had to reset it to its original state to start sketching,” she explained. Yu added: “The show didn’t have a pick-up day – we were filming it and then we went out.”
One of the things Cindy and I like to joke about with Robin [Thede, A Black Lady Sketch Show‘s star and creator] Bad Zillow posts,” said Michele Yu, citing intricate real estate listings as inspiration for the heartwarming scene in this sketch. “Sometimes we have real winners — like, this is what you’re trying to attract [buyers] to your property? “
Cindy Chao and Yu fill that space—the sketches were shot in an empty house—with some items with cheeky buzzwords. “It’s about living, laughing, women who love life,” Chao said, “but [the reveal is that they are running] Sweatshop in their house”, in which other women are making tea towels and mugs with inspirational quotes.
A framed poster that says ‘In this house, we hug’, a pillow commanding people to ‘Pray boldly’, a clock that goes off at ‘Wine Point’ – all give the sketch an edge. It’s a real stupidity and sparked a hilarious off-the-cuff reaction from Thede and co-star Ashley Nicole Black.
But Chao and Yu didn’t just spruce up the set with playful embellishments. “You always need art, and there are definitely plenty of places where you can put clean art. You just go to a Hollywood studio gallery and you get a set of things and put them on the wall,” Yu said. “But this is black lady sketch show, which was created to celebrate black women. We realized this was an opportunity to showcase other black female artists.It’s not hard to reach black women [artists] Who may enjoy exposure, who may enjoy being part of the process, who may be excited to see their work on screen. “
This effort is not only a show of goodwill and solidarity, but it also enhances the authenticity of a location—especially in this sketch, which is set in a black woman’s home. “It helps some of these interiors feel more real and concrete, rather than just renting another landscape painting that’s easy to remove,” Yu said.
This sketch, another callback to the characters from season one, was also shot in an empty classroom at the RSI Pomona location. “There was a beehive,” Chao recalls the space, which needed to be cleaned before their team started tidying up the room, which was not uncommon. “A lot of places like this [need to be fixed up] Before we start designing the space. “
Elementary classrooms require a lot of background details, from drawings on the chalkboard to posters on the walls, some of which are made with construction paper and glue, similar to art made by children.Later projects include science fair placards, such as those about volcanoes, and posters celebrating black literary achievement – including re-creations for Maya Angelo’s book covers I know why the caged bird singsToni Morrison’s belovedOctavia Butler dawn and Alice Walker’s Purple.
“Our core mission is to celebrate black women,” Yu said. While the humor in every sketch may not get there, Zhao Heyu incorporates this celebration into every one of their set designs.
This set highlights the production designer’s ability to add narrative to the background of the scene. “At this point, Cindy and I have been working together as a team for over a decade, and we come from independent film backgrounds,” Yu said. “We have developed a [talent] Make the most of what you have and use every possible resource to tell the story. Every inch of space on a set might support a story. “
This consideration applies to thinking about how the characters in the sketch will decorate the space they inhabit. “The show is very fast-paced and fast,” said Yu, whose priority was figuring out the basic items needed for each scene. Once these are identified, they start thinking about who the character is and how they can help tell their story: “We’re trying to understand the person as a character, where they come from and what they’ll choose.”
Yu also added that while preparations for the production took place during Trump’s presidency, the sketches were set during the Obama era. “It’s such a relief,” she laughs, “because we can include [former] The president and his wife, not who the president really is as we prepare. “
The location of this dugout is, in real life, a drab room for storage at the Long Beach Oil Club, which Yu describes as “a very old-school club of oil executives.” The show spent a week on set during production, using different spaces as locations. (A sketch of a bachelor’s night was filmed in the club’s restaurant.)
The sketch in particular alternates between two positions. The club’s stone-walled lobby serves as the company’s front desk, and the security guard (another returning character from season one, played by Blake) is on the phone with a bomb-control specialist (played by Thede), who is interrupted to celebrate his success. When Blake’s character pleads for help in dismantling the explosive device, he’s about to retire in the office.
Upon finding the space, Chao and Yu were immediately drawn to something special: a large floor lamp in the center of the room, and mirrored smoked glass wall panels on the sides. “We were really leaning against the mirror,” Yu said, adding that DP was able to work with “cool lights” thanks to the reflective walls. “We decorated the room with multiple tables to suggest that other people were working there,” Yu added of other details of the scene, including party balloons and a half-eaten cake.
The end result, however, is a pitch-dark office and a close-up shot of Thede’s character, with cool teal lights from the ceiling. “The ceiling light is perfect,” Chao says of the room’s striking features, which give the sketch an almost supernatural vibe.
While much of Chao and Yu’s work is only visible for fleeting moments in this sketch, they say that doesn’t hinder their detailed efforts to create the world in which such a sketch takes place. “We had to be very creative with these spaces, because when we were dressing them, we never knew exactly what made it into the cut,” explains Yu. “We really have to dress up the world just in case.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.Click here to subscribe.