Desert Rats: PD Filippo Savoia Informs on the Glamour of this Palm Springs Drama

Production Designer Filippo Savoia. Photo Credit: Kathy Hudgins

Palm Springs in the 70s is an exciting city, seemingly disconnected from much of the rest of the world. In Desert Rats, it’s also a place of breathtaking real estate and lurking danger. This TV series is an exciting concoction of complex duplicitous characters, luxury homes, and startling vistas. Production designer Filippo Savoia is essential to the look of Desert Rats, whose locations stand out as a character in themselves. Palm Springs is undeniably attractive but always holds its lethal power at bay, strategizing for the moment when it might need to remind you of its capabilities. From the fantastic homes to the iconic automobiles, Desert Rats establishes a feel and tone that sets it apart from any superficial attempts at a retro aesthetic. The look of this production declares authenticity with every shot.

Filippo confesses that his ideas are not always met with enthusiasm. Noting that one of the producers on Desert Rats expressed concern that his designs were too extravagant to be achieved within the strict deadlines of the production, he took even greater delight when the same producer showered him with compliments when everything fell into place as he planned. It’s worth noting that there is sound reasoning behind said producer’s concerns as Desert Rats boasts luxury real estate settings and a very specific visual style regarding its look. In one scene where real estate agent Bobby Jo Gentry is showing a mansion to deep pocketed clients, the modernized retro look is a product of Filippo’s detailed design and color approach. Savoia explains, “The story took place specifically in Palm Springs in the early 1970s, hence the location was almost the main character of the story. The design of the whole show was inspired by the colors and history of Palm Springs, bright locations, outfits, and picture cars. There is an amazing 1960s Cadillac Eldorado I chose for the show that is such a great color and has incredible style, every little decision like this says to the audience who this is.”

Actually shooting in Palm Springs offered benefits and challenges. The show’s locations manager was connected to nearly every mansion owner in the area, allowing access to spectacular residences, but furnishing and dressing these palatial homes was far more challenging. Savoia had frequent and urgent shipments from his buyers in LA who scoured prop houses for the perfect accoutrements. He recalls, “We were often travelling back and forth from Los Angeles to Palm Springs at least three/four times a week. This was also done during a massive heat wave. Time was a precious commodity and we had to be careful to ensure nobody was overcome by the heat, but it’s these moments where you really feel that you are doing something because you’re passionate about storytelling. It’s not about glamour or praise, it’s about making something new and exciting and doing it with people who are equally driven and whom you admire. I can’t get enough of that feeling in my life. I’ve wanted to do it since I was very young so when the situation is challenging, I remember that this is where I’ve always wanted to be.” Filippo’s work with Director Juan Pablo Arias Munoz (Pumpkinhole, Hombre), DP Joel Schaeffer (Oscar Nominated Star Trek Beyond, Furious 7) and the entire crew of Desert Rats testifies that this notion is thriving in today’s Hollywood.

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Kelly King

An LA based writer with more than a decade as a staff writer for NYC based Drumhead magazine, Kelly is also a contributor to a number of outlets.