behind the scenes

Girls’ Production Designer Matt Munn on 12 Random Props From Season Two

After Booth Jonathan trapped Marnie in a TV chamber, we called up Girls production designer Matt Munn to find out how the hell he made that thing. With season two coming to an end this Sunday, we spoke to him about twelve of his less oddball (but still interesting!) props, like that picture of a sleeping woman above Joshua’s bed. Why was she there?

“One Man’s Trash” was shot at actor Billy Morrissette’s real home in Brooklyn, but most of the artwork you see on the walls were props. “Richard Shepherd [the director] wanted to hang a picture of a sleeping woman above the bed because there were various theories about what this episode was about,” Munn says, “and one of them is that maybe it’s a dream Hannah’s having. So this was sort of a subtle nod to that idea.”
The first time we meet Hannah’s editor David (John Cameron Mitchell), she tells him how important his old magazine Pumpt was to her. The next time we meet him, we get to see blowups of past covers. “I based the design off of No Depression, an alt-country bi-montly publication I used to subscribe to growing up in the South,” Munn says. “It had articles like ‘What’s Wilco Up to These Days?’ and cover stories on Johnny Cash and stuff like that. So we based the design of Pumpt magazine off of No Depression. We also thought it would be funny to have David on one of the covers, because he would be the kind of guy who would put himself on the cover of his own magazine.”
The freezer door was very cluttered in season one, but with the arrival of Elijah, it cleaned up. There’s still the “Fuck” pad — which it turns out doesn’t have hidden messages from the crew members written on it — and the Michigan magnet (a nod to Hannah’s home state). “And when Elijah moved in, we put up the gym schedule for the Crunch gym on Christopher Street,” Munn says. “Elijah goes to the Crunch in the West Village.”
According to the script, there was a portrait of Oscar Wilde hanging in Sandy’s apartment. Munn decided to use this one for its extra layer of hipster appeal: The message on it, “I Am Indeed on Morrissey’s Side,” is a reference to “Cemetry Gates,” a Smiths song. “It feels like the type of Oscar Wilde poster that would be on a wall in Williamsburg.”    
Here’s another nod to Wilde — a framed Wilde quote (“A thing is not necessarily true just because a person dies for it”). “We felt like it spoke to Sandy’s politics,” Munn says. The “Hi” print to the left is by season-one art PA Shane Ingersoll. “We used some of his artwork in Café Grumpy early on too,” Munn says. “There was a series of paintings of buildings burning down and then a picture of them rebuilt. One of them became Hannah’s screensaver on her phone. When I can, I like to give a shout-out to people I think are doing cool stuff.”
Rather than get the clearance to show a real copy of the Bette Midler record, the art department re-created it using Getty images. But the prop may be gone by next season. “In season one, there was also an old Rolling Stone cover on the wall with the cast of Seinfeld on it, which was just a callout to great TV comedies,” Munn says. “That one we kind of phased out in season two, and I think we may be phasing out Bette Midler in season three.”
Ray’s prized possession is a signed autograph of Andy Kaufman, but as we learned in episode nine, Ray also has a life-size cutout of his idol. “I just love Andy Kaufman in his wrestling days, and I found the images, and it seemed that much more interesting to me to use the cutout,” Munn says. Also, randomly: “Lena has this new idea that Ray is interested in any celebrity or comedian who people think he looks like. So anytime anybody says, ‘Oh, you look like so-and-so,’ that person becomes a hero of his. He’s attacted to celebrities who vaguely look like him.”
Marnie’s interview was shot at the Gladstone Gallery, which represents Dunham’s mom, Laurie Simmons, in real life (Simmons plays the interviewer in the scene). Dunham’s original request was to have a piece of her father Carroll Dunham’s work in the background. “But then when we got there, we started looking at some of the other artwork they had, and Lena was a big fan of Lari Pittman,” Munn said. “And that’s a Lari Pittman piece that the gallery had.” Sorry, Dad!
As Jemima Kirke has stressed, this Thomas John–as–Thinking Man painting was not done by her hand. One of Munn’s scenics painted it, using only a picture of O’Dowd — who was “busy doing other things and living across the Atlantic Ocean” — as reference. “Later on in the season, it does get completed, and it’s hanging in the apartment. But I don’t think you ever get to see it,” Munn says. “Jenni Konner is convinced that the painting looks more like me than Chris O’Dowd.”
The portrait of Shoshanna that was randomly for sale in episode three was, in fact, painted by Kirke. “It was scripted that at the stoop sale there was a painting of Shoshanna hanging there, unexplained,” Munn says. “It came from the fact that Lena wanted to get one of Jemima’s paintings on the show, and I think Lena just knew that Jemima had painted a picture of Zosia.”
This is supposed to be a Booth Jonathan original, so naturally it’s deranged. “We had this idea that his artwork went through a phase where it was all about meat and carcasses and death, and this was a piece from that phase,” Munn said. “We actually did a few different pieces of art for him. There was this, and we also found some old seventeenth-century diagrams for bloodletting, and we converted those into paintings — rough expressionist paintings of bloodletting diagrams.”
That’s not a random old-timey sea captain at the top left of this frame; it’s Jim Sten, a member of Munn’s art department, painted to look like an old-timey sea captain. “I just thought it would be funny to paint a picture of him that way,” Munn says. “So I got some old references from the 1800s and had a scenic do one. Jim hung it over his desk in his office.”
Girls’ Production Designer on 12 Random Props