Meet four from Maryland making 'House of Cards,' 'Veep' come to life

And next week, they might be getting Emmys for their work behind the scenes

August 09, 2014|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

When Emmy Award nominations were announced last month, two Maryland-made series were front and center in the news.

HBO’s “Veep” and the Netflix drama “House of Cards” made the short list for best comedy and drama, respectively, with a pack of other nominations for writers, directors and stars. Almost all the coverage — mine included — was about Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

But there were other nominations announced at the same time in the creative arts category — nominations that didn’t get nearly as much attention.

Yet they tell a more important story, at least in a local sense. They show what a talented, experienced and largely unheralded production community Maryland has, with some of the most accomplished people in film and TV calling this area home.

We talked to four Maryland residents working on “House of Cards” and “Veep” who are nominated for the creative arts Emmys that will be handed out this Saturday in Los Angeles. The Emmy Awards telecast will be broadcast live Aug. 25 on NBC.

Tiffany Zappulla, set decorator, “House of Cards”

“This is not TV,” Tiffany Zappulla, the set decorator on “House of Cards,” says of the political thriller set in Washington. “We do make a movie every 20 days. And any single chapter if you put it on the big screen would hold its own against any cinematic production.”

Zappulla, a Baltimore native and graduate of Garrison Forest School, has worked on prestigious productions before. She was also set decorator for the second season of “Veep,” which won an Art Directors Guild award for an episode set in Finland that was largely filmed at the Engineer’s Club in Baltimore.

But this is her first Emmy nomination, and she says it’s exciting.

“It really is, and part of that is the fact that this is truly, certainly from my standpoint, a Maryland-made nomination,” she says. “I’m a native Marylander. My crew is primarily all native to Maryland. My vendors, my local craftsmen are all Maryland. I’m really proud to say that, and I think people don’t always recognize the level and scope of the talent here in the state.”

Zappulla, who started out in residential and commercial interior design, is one of three people named in the nomination for outstanding art direction in a contemporary or fantasy series (single camera). The other two are production designer Steve Arnold and art director Halina Gebarowicz.

Their work on “House of Cards” is up against very tough competition: “Game of Thrones,” “True Detective,” “True Blood” and “Justified.” She’s confident, though, about winning.

“We will be bringing the Emmy home,” she says. “My crew is very cute. I have a little Foamcore Emmy that they made for me as a placeholder until the real one gets here.”

One reason for that confidence is that their entry includes the fifth hour of Season 2. That chapter, as everyone on the series calls episodes, features Frank Underwood (Spacey) at the site of a Civil War re-enactment, Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) in the belly of a data center surrounded by giant servers, and delegates from China and the U.S. at a summit — three very distinct sets.

“We joked that one of the chapters that we submitted was really three separate miniseries that we somehow managed to condense into an hour,” she says. “We thought this was the episode that said, ‘We can do it all.’ “

“House of Cards” has one of the richest and deepest textures of any series ever on television. It feels, in that respect, more like a feature film than most television. The production design, art direction and set decoration are crucial to that result.

From the spiders in Zoe Barnes’ place in Season 1, to the “grease marks on Freddy’s apartment wall” in Season 2, Zappulla says her team is nothing if not “detail-oriented.”

“All of those things really do make it realistic,” she says. “We refer to them as layers. You can have a beautiful space, but until you add those layers and make it authentic, it’s just a movie set.”

Halina Gebarowicz, art director, “House of Cards”

Gebarowicz, who was born in England, came to the U.S. in 1994 and to Maryland in 2003. She has lived in Fells Point and Columbia and now calls Clarksville home.

She was working in film production in Virginia in 2002 when she got a call from Vince Peranio, the production designer at the time on HBO’s “The Wire.”

She joined the series three episodes into its run.

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