INTERVIEW: Production Designer P. Erik Carlson And The Journey From MEMENTO To QUEENS

Queens is a musical drama on ABC starring platinum-selling artist Brandy Norwood about an all-female rap group trying to rekindle their magic decades after being superstars. P. Erik Carlson is the production designer bringing the world of Queens to life.

In Queens, the “Nasty Bitches” were a group of musicians that dominated the 90s hip hop scene. The four women became legends in the world of music. However, Brianna (Eve J. Cooper), Naomi (Brandy), Jill (Naturi Naughton), and Valeria (Nadine Velazquez) are now in their forties and aren’t the tight-knit group they once were. So can the former superstars of music, once known as Professor Sex, Jill Da Thrill, Xplicit Lyrics, and Butter Pecan, find success again?

PopAxiom spoke with Erik about his career, starting with two beloved projects and on through to Queens on ABC.

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Erik moved out to LA and landed two jobs thanks to some timely connections. The first was the Judd Apatow cult hit Freaks and Geeks. The second Christopher Nolan’s breakout film, Memento. “At the time, I thought every movie I was going to work on would be like Memento. Every project would be as unique and special as that. It’s one of the only scripts I sent home to my brother to read because when I read it, my mind was blown. I got spoiled thinking everything would be a Christopher Nolan movie.”

“Nolan’s preparation was amazing,” he says about the iconic filmmaker. “He, along with his brother, had visualized everything in Memento. So if you had a question about how the timeline worked, he’d already thought of it.”

Creating Memento required attention to detail. “We took the script and put it into continuity order so that we could prepare. Then, whenever we had an issue with scenes not matching, Nolan instantly had an answer. He had it all assembled in his head.”

“I had a great experience with Guy Pearce too,” he says about the film’s star. “I was blown away by him. We designed all the tattoos and printed them out in various sizes to see what would fit him. He walked into the art department, took off his shirt, took a sharpie, and said, ‘Start drawing on my body.’ He was there for the next few days working out each of the tattoos.”


Erik’s journey into production design started with a completely different goal. “I went to architecture school in Colorado. I was taking systems and analysis where you size plumbing systems and memorize zoning laws and code. Then, in my senior year, I took a film class to fill credits. The film class teacher asked if I had any interest in film production.”

“This idea of creating a world for every project seemed fantastical,” he thought at the time. “There’s this job that stretches across all these different things.”

Erik was a “ski bum” for a short while, “building log cabins in Colorado. By that point, though, I’d made up my mind that I was going to move out to Los Angeles and see if I could find my way into this business.”

“When I got to LA,” he continues, “I had no idea what I was doing. I went to job boards at colleges to see if anyone needed anything. I started out that way. I lucked out and landed a job as a PA with an amazing designer, Tom Walsh, who became my mentor. I worked with him off and on for 10 or 12 years.”

Meeting Tom was a chance meeting. “Luck plays a part, there’s no doubt, but preparation makes it possible to seize those lucky opportunities that come around.”

The lucky or unlucky effect is persistent in the business. “Every show or movie has situations where things don’t work out, but problem-solving is a big part of this business. What do you do with the pieces that you’re given?”

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About Queens

“I’d like to try and read scripts through before thinking about what the production might do, but it’s impossible,” he shares. “Once I’m three or four scenes in, and there’s a new set or new concert, I stop and start making notes. I think I internalize a script better if I break it down as I go. It helps it sink into me.

Queens is a larger-than-life type of show with many challenges for any production designer. So what concerned Erik when going into the production? “The concerts. We do several concerts, arena-sized concerts.”

“I’ve done sort of small concerts, underground concerts, clubs, but nothing like we do on Queens,” he adds. “I’ve grown an appreciation for the people who put these things on for a living.”

“When I read the first few scripts,” he continues, “that was out of my comfort zone, but that’s also why I like working on Queens. It’s a world I didn’t grow up in, so it’s exciting to me to dig in and understand.”

Choosing projects like Queens that take him out of his comfort zone is something Erik seeks out. “I sort of always choose the project that scares me the most. I like getting thrust out of my comfort zone and into a new situation. Some of the choices are certainly about working with people I’ve worked with before. But a lot of it is not getting honed in on one thing. As a designer, you’re always adapting to the next project, and I like that.”

Wrapping Up

From where does Erik draw his inspiration? “Travel. My wife and I love to travel. Unfortunately, though, it’s also annoying to her,” he laughs. “The first thing I do when we go to a new hotel room is take photos. I think that goes back a little to Desperate Housewives.

The ABC hit series with Terri Hatcher, and Eva Longoria featured a lot of hotels and waiting rooms. “So, whenever I go into a waiting room, I take pictures of everything.”

“I might see a texture on a wall, and I take a picture,” he continues, noting that he takes “photos of everything. You never know what script will need some sort of detail. I’m sure my family’s annoyed by it.”

Erik loves creating worlds. Who would he like to create with next? “There are so many good directors and writers out there. I thought it would be fun to work with people like Seth Rogan. It would be fun to reunite after 20+ years and create with people like that from Freaks and Geeks. It’s really about wanting to work with fun, collaborative, creative people.”

Is Queens on your watch list?

Thanks to P. Erik Carlson and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.