As the production designer of Minx, Jefferson Sage was able to pull from his own past to create an old-school magazine. The process of publishing has changed a lot since the ’70s, but Sage knew he could find the research materials in his own archives.
Created by Ellen Rapoport, Minx takes place in 1970s Los Angeles, where Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) is planning to start her own feminist magazine. Doug (Jake Johnson) is the only publisher willing to give her a chance, but the result is not what she originally planned as together they create the first erotic magazine for women. A key location in the series is the office of Bottom Dollar Publications, where the magazine was put together.
For the color palette of the series, Sage managed to find an old Sears Catalog to pin down the exact colors that were popular at the time. The catalog also provided inspiration for the sets and what the average home would look like.
DEADLINE: What did creator Ellen Rapoport have in mind for the production design?
JEFFERSON SAGE: We really connected on a couple of points. One thing that struck me in the script was the whole divide between our fully digital world, where we’re on our computers constantly, and this very sort of technical exercise in magazine making in the early 1970s. To me, that was all about old school photography, hands on layout writing with typewriters… it was all that stuff. I brought a point up with Ellen and I said,” The show really has to embrace that.” You’ve gotta show that because it sets the period, but it also resets our thinking to a time when none of this world quite existed yet.
This provides a really great relief to one of the exciting concepts in the show, which is going back to the original women’s liberation movement. What was that like? That’s what the show is about, and it gives you a great chance to contrast that with what we live with now. How far has the women’s liberation movement come? How far has it not come? So, we went off on different ideas about those discussions and how to make the show interesting. So many of the images that were buried in that first script were so thorough and complete and authentic, we needed to latch onto those and make time in the filming schedule to really show the close-up of hands on an old electric typewriter, banging out the words, and cut to someone who’s really handling film… all those things can be cliche, but how else do you get into that nitty gritty of these guys daily work?
DEADLINE: It’s interesting seeing these boards, where now you’re more likely to see indesign documents when creating a magazine. It’s very different, but still familiar looking.
SAGE: Exactly. I’m old enough to have seen that whole transition and I dug up old tech textbooks to learn these old techniques. How do you layout pay stubs? What was that whole process, back in the early ’70s when you had to physically do that? How did you manipulate the X-Acto knife? There were some great hands on manuals for students that were going into that work and there were a lot of tricks to it. There was a lot of knowhow and it’s kind of a lost skill at this point. They were very good at doing these original pieces of art that were perfect, and that’s to be admired. That was something I was really excited about doing for the show, since that falls under my department.
DEADLINE: What was the research process like?
SAGE: So one of my favorite research materials is the Sears catalog. When I first got the job, I found the 1971 Sears catalog on eBay and it’s such a record of daily life, what they were selling people. I remember a lot of it from when I was young, like what my parents were buying for the house. It’s sort of the highlights, and you could get many more choices than what Sears had, but these were the popular ones.
For colors, you’ve got the burnt oranges and the avocado greens, and you’ve got all these browns and I realized that’s the palette of the show. Obviously we had a lot more colors than just that, but that to me became the core of the show and those colors were the building blocks. Then we had those vivid, bright, odd combinations of ice blue and burnt orange and those wonderful colors that were in appliances. I wanted to twist it down a little bit because to me, the ’70s are where we’re really seeing a sense of a hangover from the exuberance of the ’60s. All those colors really were coming out of the ’60s and, by the ’70s, everything started to have this dinge of desperation, and that felt right for the show as well. We really embraced aging stuff down and browning it down even further so it felt like it had a layer of age in it.