set design

How Inventing Anna Built Some Very Real-Seeming Fake New York Magazine Offices

Note logos of the verticals on the wall. Graphic: Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

The Netflix series Inventing Anna is in large part about the reporting process of the article on which it is based — Jessica Pressler’s 2018 piece about Anna Sorokin, a.k.a. Delvey, a woman who pretended to be a German heiress and scammed many wealthy New Yorkers in the process. In the series, the reporter is named Vivian, and the magazine is called Manhattan, but her offices very much resemble New York’s own, down to the graphic design of the covers hanging on the walls in the background. Vulture itself is a New York vertical, though on the show we’re referred to as “Scavenger,” an exciting brush with fame for us! After recovering from the surreal experience of seeing a place that looks very much, but not exactly like, the location in which I’m currently writing this article, I called up Inventing Anna’s set designer, Henry Dunn, to discuss how the show constructed its own version of our magazine.

A Genuine Office Experience

Instead of using a soundstage, Inventing Anna rented out a floor of an office building from Durst in midtown on 44th Street. “It was a great deal for Durst, because they wanted a short-term contract,” Dunn said. Using an actual office space gave production one large connected area to film within, and allowed them to use the actual views outside the windows as background for scenes. (When it was dark outside, they placed LED sheets in the windows behind the shades to imply that employees had closed their blinds to see their laptops.) The team spent two and a half months renovating the floor to resemble an actual magazine office. “We did have to put down a carpet, which cost a fortune,” Dunn said. “And we constantly had to rotate the plants to the sunlit areas to keep them alive.”

Inspired by New York

The show is set back before New York was acquired by our new papa, Vox Media, and the office in the series is based on our old home in Soho rather than our current space in the Financial District. The show’s producers toured that old space and took elements for their iteration: As New York did, the Manhattan offices have a big red wall with the magazine’s logo (in a near-identical font) written across it. There are also subdivisions of the Manhattan offices based on the divisions of New York itself — Grub Street is Street Feed, the Strategist is the Aesthetic, etc. Unlike the real New York, however, the fictional Manhattan is glamorized for TV. “The show is about a seductive world that Anna is trying to push,” Dunn said, “so if there was something that looked realistically grimy at a magazine office, we glitzed it up.”

The Cover Stars

Like a typical magazine office, the Manhattan space is filled with posters of Manhattan covers, all of which closely resemble actual New York covers in both form and content. “We tried to boil down the essence of what makes the look of New York what it is,” Dunn said. “And the types of stories that are covered.” Dustin Neiderman, the show’s lead graphic designer, created mock-ups of the Manhattan magazine covers, and then the design team held meetings to figure out which would make sense to display in the space. Dunn provided Vulture with mock-ups of 63 different covers the Inventing Anna team put together, and highlights include a Trump cover with schmuck over his face (sounds like us), a post-Hamilton check-in with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a profile of “The Comedian With a Pearl Earring” that includes a teaser for an article about “Streaming Services in a Race for Content.” (Meta!)

Graphic: Dustin Neiderman and Adi Slepack.
Graphic: Dustin Neiderman and Adi Slepack.
Graphic: Dustin Neiderman and Adi Slepack.
Graphic: Dustin Neiderman and Adi Slepack.

Desk Design

Inventing Anna’s set decorator, George DeTitta Jr., gave each section of the fake offices its own character. “Every desk had articles that every fictitious character was working on,” Dunn said, and the set was designed so the actors could fill add their own notebooks or use the computers at their desk to believably act out mundane office life. (There was even food available, inspired by Inventing Anna’s own craft services options and the snacks available on tours Dunn took of Durst office spaces while scouting a place to shoot.) Vivian and her collaborators — a group of older writers who are stuck in a corner of the office called “Scriberia” — have desks full of notes on the stories they’re supposed to be writing in each scene, though the term isn’t used in the same way it was in real life. “I was told later that what we called ‘Scriberia’ in the script, where we send people who are almost out to pasture, was actually a nice place in New York, but we didn’t know that,” Dunn said. (The actual term “Scriberia” was more about the fact that the writers there were out of the way and got a lot of space to themselves.) “We gave them no windows, and a dingier look, which worked well for the story.”

How Inventing Anna Built Fake New York Magazine Offices