Daybreak: Interview with series production designer Laurel Bergman

DAYBREAK -- Photo credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix -- Acquired via Netflix Media Center
DAYBREAK -- Photo credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix -- Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

Laurel Bergman, the production designer on the post-apocalyptic Netflix series, Daybreak, talks to us about why the show is Mad Max meets John Hughes.

Daybreak is a new Netflix series based on graphic novels by Brian Ralph. It follows Josh (Colin Ford, Under the Dome), a 17-year-old outcast who is attempting to track down his girlfriend Sam (Sophie Simnett, Poldark).

In the process, he’ll unite with a group of other misfits as they fight their way through a post-apocalyptic Glendale, California, and face off against the “ghoulies.” Matthew Broderick also stars as the character Burr.

If you love zombie shows, especially those with a comedic twist like Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead, don’t miss out on Daybreak. It has also been favorably compared to some classic coming-of-age films, such as those created by legendary ’80s director, John Hughes.

We chatted with the series’ production designer, Laurel Bergman, about what to expect from the show and the process of creating Daybreak’s unique visual language. Her previous credits include other hit projects like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Godzilla, and The Revenant.

1428 Elm: I’m looking forward to Daybreak. I’m a fan of both post-apocalyptic media and teen dramas. Those are interesting genres to combine! Was that something that interested you in the show?

Laurel Bergman: Oh, for sure! It’s a whole potpourri of everything you can ever imagine.

1428 Elm: What do you think makes Daybreak stand out from other zombie shows?

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LB: Daybreak embraces as ghoulies, not zombies, to start with. In the genre of zombie movies, zombies always tend to play the line of the absurd, which, don’t get me wrong, that’s a theme throughout Daybreak, but somehow there’s lots of empathy for the injured souls.

They’re constantly repeating the last thought they ever had before they turned. So we’re challenged with our pop culture references and wondering if these ghoulies might be laughing at themselves. Perhaps, putting the word meta in metaphorical.

What’s great about Daybreak is these kids are going to be alright. They’re going to be okay in the world, and it has a real aspirational aspect to it.

1428 Elm: Were you a fan of the graphic novel before you got involved?

LB: I was introduced to the graphic novel when I started the project. I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with some of the best filmmakers in the world. Through these experiences, you get a good read on when a project’s going to be good or not. Daybreak had that feeling. I knew it would do well.

1428 Elm: What was it about the graphic novel that made you believe it would make a good television adaptation?

LB: I thought the character Josh was really easy to get with. You could understand him. I think the age of the graphic novel is ripe in general. Much of the cinema has roots in this artform. It seems to be getting a lot of attention, especially those stories that, for a long time, have been coming out of Japan.

Daybreak, the series was paired with very edgy writing. It pushes the boundaries of storytelling in just about every way imaginable, bloody fight scenes, next-level profanity, cannibalism, boondock warriors, serious makeout sessions, and a “why so serious?” attitude.

DAYBREAK — Photo credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix — Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

1428 Elm: Were you guys influenced by any other teen dramas or zombie media specifically?

LB: Daybreak will thrill pop culture aficionados with its references to everything from Mad Max to ’80s John Hughes’ films. Every episode has countless little Easter eggs.

I think fans of pop culture who value being in the know will love it. There are a lot of meta pop culture references, nods to major TV shows, movies, and music. Everyone will find something to be excited about.

1428 Elm: Can you talk a little about the look and style of the show? What kind of mood did you want to establish when designing it?

LB: The general feeling was fun and boundary-less survival in the apocalypse. Daybreak’s visual language is just so powerful. It takes inspiration from various styles and genres. It creates a post-apocalyptic world of its own. I tried to design sets and find locations that had an edge and peeked into the absurd and challenged our expectations. We’re in the apocalypse, after all.

It needed to convey a complicated, dangerous, but fun feeling. We used a lot of sand, tumbleweeds, pops of bright colors, cars, buildings, anything you see on the street frozen in time. It sounds easier than it is. There’s an art to replicating disaster.

1428 Elm: Does creating a post-apocalyptic world give you more freedom, since you’re not limited by every day normal?

LB: Everything we do in cinema has careful thought and planning. Ironically when the background goes away but enhances the theme, we’ve done our job well. I love studying how things decay or create disarray.

It’s studying the art and design of nature. It’s challenging to get these patterns correct. But I enjoy a good destroyed rotting fresco or remnants of grand architecture. I love that stuff.

DAYBREAK — Photo credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix — Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

1428 Elm: You also worked on another Netflix series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, I was very impressed with the production design on that show. Would you say that it was more difficult or just different?

LB: They were literally and figuratively similar, both in scope and ambition. The sets in both series were fun and whimsical. A Series of Unfortunate Events, which was designed by the legend Bo Welch, allowed for more creative stage work while Daybreak was more rooted in reality.

But the energy behind both projects had a child-like curiosity and contrasting concepts that allowed for less traditional scenery. Every set piece has fun and intuitive energy. It’s silly and serious all at the same time.

As a designer, to think outside the box creatively in combination with the audience’s enthusiasm for such unique scenery generates such a fantastic feeling. I do need to give a special shoutout to Barry Chusid who brought the project to me.

1428 Elm: When you first got started on Daybreak, what was your process for figuring out how you want the show to look?

LB: You read the script, and then you translate it into a visual language. Then you create worlds around that language. That’s basically it. We are cinematic storytellers, so everything gets translated into a visual dialogue.

1428 Elm: What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

LB: The way I describe Daybreak is “without adult supervision.” It’s part coming-of-age and part epic romance between Sam and Josh. It’s as if Ferris Bueller and Mad Max had a baby.

No matter what viewers think it is, they’re going to find something to connect with. They’re guaranteed to be surprised by the tone, design, language, and approach. It was really fun to work on.

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1428 Elm: Awesome! Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing it! It’s releasing just in time for Halloween too. Did you have any closing thoughts you wanted to add?

LB: Not at the moment, except thank you to Aaron E. Coleite, Jeff Fierson, and Brad Payton.

1428 Elm: Thank you so much for chatting with us. I hope the show performs great for you guys!

LB: Thank you, I appreciate it.

The first season of Daybreak will be available to binge-watch this Thursday exclusively on Netflix.