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The Original 2022 Comedy Series Script The man against the beewhich features co-creator Rowan Atkinson of black viper and Mister Bean fame, called for the destruction of a work by Jackson Pollock. There’s really no way to talk about this nine-episode series without spoilers, but knowing that housekeeper Trevor (played by Atkinson) – doing his best imitation of the legendary physical comics Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin – void by inadvertently collecting a priceless art collection while trying to kill a bee, in no way diminishes the joy of observing it.

So why, when an errant hammer embeds itself in a canvas, does the painting look more like Broadway Boogie Woogie that autumn rhythm? It was difficult to get cooperation from the Pollock-Krasner estate, which still owns the copyright to the late Abstract Expressionist’s work, said show director David Kerr. So Kerr suggested using a Mondrian, since the Dutch artist associated with De Stijl died in 1944, placing his work just inside the public domain.

“We made several copies of our prop painting, especially because of the way its canvas is damaged by the hammer,” Kerr told Artnet News. With only four “Mondrian” reproductions to play, created for the show by the artist Humphrey Bangham, the scene could be shot a limited number of times. “You only have a few chances to capture the action perfectly,” Kerr said.

It was not, however, the only recognizable copy of the work of a famous artist. Carly Reddin, the show’s production designer, found the dozens of artistic recreations Bangham made for the show all compelling. “It’s amazing how he can turn to so many different styles,” she said. “Some people think they’re the real deal and not fakes.”

A still of The man against the bee. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

The “Mondrian” worked out well in the end because – spoiler alert, again – it meant Trevor could mend the tear with black duct tape. This ensured that the patch still looked like the original, “maintaining its integrity,” Reddin said.

Throughout all nine episodes, which are now streaming on Netflix and usually lasting around 12 minutes each (except for the 20-minute overture), Trevor ruins the entire collection of the wealthy couple he’s keeping house for, as well as their very valuable house and cars.

At first, the producers were looking for a real “boldly modernist” home to film in, one that would feel like “a trophy home commissioned by a wealthy couple as the physical embodiment of their exquisite taste,” Kerr said.

The stage manager scoured the country for something in the stadium architecture of Mies Van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, but the show needed a big house, both to highlight the wealth of owners Nina (Jing Lusi) and Christian (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and to provide enough space for a large crew.

“The kind of physical comedy we were doing needed space and scale,” Kerr said. And while the script evolved, Kerr knew he needed specific features for certain scenes: a glass wall leading to the garden, a glass-fronted bookcase, and a three-car garage.

The actual locations proved too small or inaccessible during the pandemic, so the filmmakers built a home interior in the studio, based on Reddin’s designs. One influence, Kerr said, was the Malibu Mansion designed by Scott Mitchell, who appeared in the 2016 Tom Ford film nocturnal animals.

The next task was to dress up the sets, keeping an eye on what they say about the characters of Nina and Christian, who both want to be seen as connoisseurs of art and architecture. Some of the art collection the filmmakers have created to communicate this are instantly recognizable, including paintings intended to be by Piet Mondrian and Ellsworth Kelly, and an object that could be either an ancient Cycladic head or a sculpture of ‘Amadeo Modigliani.

A still of The man against the bee. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

Others are more difficult to anchor. An exterior sculpture appears to be the work of Constantin Brâncuși or Henry Moore; a kind of Cy Twombly hangs on a wall; and an apparent mobile by Alexander Calder is actually a piece by Wassily Kandinsky. “I paid £80,000 for it,” Christian told Trevor at one point in the series. “It turned out to be a Kandinsky. It’s worth a lot of money.

As for Pollock become Mondrian, the authorizations guided this cinematographic decision. The mobile was originally supposed to be a Calder, but “again, copyright was an issue,” Kerr said. So it became a Kandinsky, and the designers worked backwards to determine its form from the function they needed for the shoot. Thus, elements of the room resemble household objects, such as a yellow pot lid, which Trevor uses to repair it.

Beyond aesthetic considerations, each piece is a premium item. “Christian always comes back to the monetary value of any item and likes to tell people how wise his investments have been,” Kerr said. “Unlike some art collectors, who focus on a specific artist, style or period, Christian’s collection is eclectic, spanning medieval manuscripts and modernism.”

An illuminated manuscript (“worth millions”, again by Christian) resembles an Ethiopian Bible, and other works evoke 17th-century Dutch imagery (perhaps Frans Hals?), and there may be a James Ensor. Many abstract works echo Stuart Davis or others.

Still producing The man against the bee. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

Christian identifies an obvious Degas look-alike as a Sickert – although the photo looks nothing like a work by Walter Sickert – and tells a guest he bought it for £300,000, suspecting it was of a Degas, and had it insured for £15 million (the values ​​are not converted into dollars since they are imaginary).

The whole collection nets £4m in insurance money – sorry, spoiler again – which seems a little low, while the general damage to the house from a fire Trevor starts at the end amount to £3 million. Another £2m for a wrecked Jaguar completes the payout at £9m.

Other design decisions were made based on comedy logistics. A statuette that, again, spoiler, Trevor beheads, and which the collectors’ dog Cupcake nibbles on, was originally one of two dismembered ancient sculptures.

But a Greek figure with a phallus that is knocked down felt too similar to one losing its head, so it was dropped for the “Modigliani”. The latter, inspired by the Italian artist’s sculptures but not a direct copy, required “a head that would amusingly roll from side to side when it hit the ground – and was the right size to hold in our dog’s mouth,” Kerr said.

Still producing The man against the bee. Photo: Ana Cristina Blumenkron/Netflix, © 2022.

“It took us a long time to define the final design of the ‘Modigliani’ statue, deciding whether it should represent a woman or a man, how big the belly should be, how wide the legs should be, etc.” Reddin said. The head had to be big enough for Cupcake to carry, but small enough for the sculpture to stand on its own. The prop was made from something like a sponge, according to Reddin.

“We sent a prototype to Cupcake owners, so they could practice the action,” she said. “Similarly, we made prototypes of the library manuscript, so Cupcake could practice tearing it up.”

This illuminated manuscript, which Cupcake mutilates, contains copies of pages from real manuscripts, including one with a self-referential beehive image, according to Kerr. “We tested the prop pages to make sure they had a weight that the dog could manage to mangle with its paws and mouth,” he said.

This previously mentioned outdoor sculpture was actually inspired by Moore and by Barbara Hepworth, according to Kerr. And it’s been placed with a hinge on its pedestal to make it easier to tip over and drop onto the E-Type Jaguar – another spoiler, sorry.

So how was it for the creators of the series to see such realistic renditions of important artworks suffer so much abuse? Neither Kerr nor Reddin seemed fazed.

The “art” needed to be realistic enough for audiences to suspend disbelief and invest in the “risk surrounding their potential destruction,” Kerr said. “But as a director, I didn’t feel valuable to them. They were very simply props. My concern was to make sure they could be damaged in the very specific way that would best support the comedy.

Still producing The man against the bee. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

The destroyed “art” – and one final spoiler here: those quotes are doubly significant – did not affect Reddin at all, as she knew of their ultimate fate.

“It was very important that the props and paintings looked expensive and were part of a large art collection to fully invest in the story,” she said, “but these artifacts were made inexpensively, so it didn’t hurt me when they were destroyed.”

In the end, the whole thing was burned. “I think the paints and props went well! Reddin said.

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