‘Thousands of Images’ Helped Recreate Iconic Sets in ‘George & Tammy’

“George & Tammy” airs its penultimate episode Jan. 1 on Showtime with stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as George Jones and Tammy Wynette — and more than 120 carefully constructed sets reflecting the couple’s stormy personal and professional lives. icon of country music over 30 years. – period of one year.

“We had over 300 people in the art department between carpenters, painters, drapers, builders, set designers…and there was a huge amount of set design,” Jonah Markowitz, production designer for “George & Tammy” told the Post. “On a project like this, where we went from 1965 to 1995, you constantly have to remember what era you’re in – and what’s going on in George and Tammy’s story.”

Markowitz (“Generation”, “Room 104”, “Mapplethorpe) said he used colors to shade the different eras in the lives and careers of Jones and Wynette, who were married from 1969 to 1975 and continued to perform together after their divorce.

“I’ve done movies where I’ve used different colors for different characters or worlds or decades or flashbacks,” he said. “It was an interesting palette progression because [the story] was not going in a linear direction. When George and Tammy meet [in the mid-’60s] her colors are red and green and she is always yellow, and when they are at their best, we enter this blue world. We have reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of reference images from these periods. »

George and Tammy (Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain) share a moment on their tour bus.
Dana Hawley / Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Markowitz said the team tried a new approach to using color in the ’70s “George & Tammy” scenes.

“I do a lot of period work, and the way we came to represent the 70s is always with the same colors: brown, avocado, orange…we wanted to do something different where we kinda broke the molds, so we looked at a lot of very bright colors and primary colors that were absolutely there [in the ’70s] … their country house [in the series] is bright teal and the bedroom is cherry – just not colors you’re used to seeing in 70s movies.”

Markowitz and his team have also intimately recreated key historic sites from the Jones/Wynette saga: the Ryman Auditorium, which housed the Grand Ole Opry until 1974; the legendary Quonset Hut Studio in Nashville, where Jones and Wynette recorded together; their numerous tourist buses; and their suite at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas where, in 1971, they became the first country music artists to headline Sin City (and Jones didn’t show up on opening night).

“The Grand Ole Opry moved out of the Ryman Auditorium, but we had the opportunity to shoot in the original auditorium…and we actually built the [Grand Ole Opry] together from 1968, which was an amazing experience for us,” he said. “We also built the large Grand Ole Opry barn, which served as a backdrop for years; we built two of them at different scales for production purposes when we were shooting in two different locations.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as George and Tammy recording together at Quonset Hut Studio in the 1970s. They face each other;  George wears headphones and smiles at Tammy, who smiles and wears a red shirt with a white collar.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette (Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain) recording at Quonset Hut studio in ‘George & Tammy’.
Dana Hawley / Courtesy of SHOWTIME

“People were seeing the Grand Ole Opry every week in their homes, so we had to really understand the vibe,” he said. “That’s the opening scene, so that’s kind of where you’re going to make country fans lean in or walk away from the show.”

Markowitz et al. also recreated the Quonset Hut Studio (which closed in 1982).

“We had photos from the original studio and… We tried to be true to form,” he said. “We wanted to make it real and complete it, so we built these dividers that had pieces of glass at 45 degree angles at face level, which wasn’t a real thing. But [director John Hillcoat] always wanted to be able to film and see both George and Tammy and not just when they were standing next to each other singing. So we designed ways for it to either shoot through the glass or use it as a reflection to change the dynamic – and use the design to tell the story.

Creating the many tour buses owned by Jones and Wynette posed a big challenge, Markowitz said. “There were like five different buses…and there were really intense scenes in such a small space…so conceptually it was cool to understand that those scenes were really important.”

Once the buses arrived, Markowitz discovered that they would not work in their original form, as Michael Shannon (as Jones) was too tall to walk around comfortably. “We ended up welding two bus frames for four vintage buses and made them a little taller for Mike to stand on, and all the panels came out so they could pull and we went -returns between buses,” he said. “The decoration teams have gone crazy. George Jones was a bit over the top so we tried to recreate his red bus. It’s just wild. I think he spent something like $150,000 on his bus.

Photo of the Landmark Hotel penthouse suite designed by Jonah Markowitz for "George and Tammy." There is a round bed with a red bedspread and green fringes and a headboard.  The second floor balcony is also visible.
Here’s the couple’s Las Vegas penthouse suite — complete with the half-balcony on the upper level — designed by Jonah Markowitz and seen in “George & Tammy.”
Dana Hawley

Markowitz said he had the most fun designing George and Tammy’s lavish Landmark Hotel suite during their ill-fated run in Las Vegas.

“It was super exciting,” he said. “It’s both story and character driven and it’s kind of the show’s climactic moment and George just leaves Tammy there, alone. Some of the researchers got their hands on the original plans for the penthouse; it’s funny, back then they weren’t that luxurious or that big…they weren’t doing these lavish suites.

“I immediately tripled its size with 20 foot windows,” he said. “I wanted the scale to be huge so that, for once, Tammy Wynette felt small. She’s headlining a huge show at the peak of her career with a number one song on the charts and I wanted that the camera pulls so far away from her that she looks tiny, like Vegas is just going to swallow her.

“I designed this red bed for her and, above it, a second level with a round opening with a balcony…to show her super-alone – and to balance verisimilitude and story.”

George & Tammy” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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