While standing sets have never been a big part of SUPERNATURAL, the show has had a few locations that have been used frequently over the years. Bobby’s house, of course, was one such location, before it was destroyed. In season 8, the show introduced the Men of Letters bunker, which has served as a home base for the Winchester brothers since its introduction. Originally just noted as a “concrete bunker” by the writers, the SUPERNATURAL design team created a stunning set, with two rooms serving as the focal point. Those two rooms, according to SUPERNATURAL Art Director John Marcynuk, are known as the “command center” (the room with the lit map table) and “the vault” (the room that serves as a research library).
“We got the call about a month before it played [on air]. Maybe a month and a half. We had a very limited amount of time,” explained Marcynuk during a recent tour of the set at SUPERNATURAL’s Vancouver soundstages.
“Originally when they wrote this into the script, it was for an episode it never played in. It was in the episode ‘As Time Goes By’. They were supposed to come in at the end [of that episode] and [the writers] rewrote it. [Then Sam and Dean actually came in] at the beginning of ‘Everybody Hates Hitler’. What’s funny is that actually wasn’t the first time we shot it. We shot it for the very next episode [‘Trial and Error’] because there was some sort of actor availability issues. We flipped the episodes.”
Related: Ackles & Padalecki discuss Dean’s bond with Amara & the nature of the Darkness
“When we originally built it, it was just these two rooms [research library and control room]. But now you’ve seen other stuff. It’s kind of ever changing.” Since the inception of the set we have seen bedrooms for Sam and Dean added, as well as a kitchen, a “dungeon”, a shooting range and a garage (which, unlike the other rooms, was actually filmed on location). But while new rooms have been added, the original set itself hasn’t really changed. “The set’s three years old. It’s Supernatural’s Enterprise.”
Marcynuk is from Toronto. He said that there’s a water filtration plant on the east side of Toronto and part of the inspiration for some of the details of the bunker came from that site. It’s built into a hillside as well.
In terms of the overall build and design process for sets, Marcynuk said that the show is on an 8 day prep, an 8 day shoot schedule. “We get the scripts maybe 2-3 weeks before, so we have a general idea of what we think we’ll do before the director comes up. And then we can hit the ground running really quickly.”
Take a look through our photos below, along with some trivia provided by Marcynuk.
Will they ever film a character touching a book and opening a secret wall that leads to a passage? “We designed it for such. We have space behind [some of the] bookshelves if they wanted to put in a secret panel. We’ve prepared for that [even though they haven’t written it yet].”
Sorry, SUPERNATURAL fans, but not all of the books are real.
The telescope at the back of “the vault” hasn’t really been featured that much in SUPERNATURAL as anything more than background. “It’s actually based on a real telescope from the 1950s. When we were looking for telescopes, you can’t find one [that really plays well on screen]. They don’t make these anymore. The [smaller top part] is a real telescope [but the set department thought it was underwhelming]. So we found a photo from the ’50s and we made [the bottom bigger part].” Thought it worked well because often telescopes have the smaller aiming telescope, as well as the larger magnifier part.
The mini-fridge was “added by Sam and Dean. They brought in the beer.”
“The symbols, which you rarely see, [all have meaning]”. One is spell-based, one is God-based, one is geography-based, etc.
The “Command Center”
The whole command center has a southwest feel — “A bit of an indigenous people feel”. The map on the wall is “not really of the United States. It’s really a map of all the reservations in the United States. So there’s this kind of First People’s symbology hidden in here.”
According to Marcynuk, “Sam’s room and Dean’s room is the same set. We just redress it.” Dean’s bedroom had appeared a few times early in the bunker’s existence and they built it on the soundstage, but it wasn’t connected to the main bunker set in any way. “We then, just because of schedule, we had to pick it up and take it to a warehouse for ‘Remember the Titans’. Then we moved it back and connected it to the set [via a corridor].”
The day we went to visit the kitchen, you could see curtains hanging from ceiling, which is how they light the sets. “Usually they put lights up top and [then the curtains below the lights] gives an even cast.”
They shot part of episode 10.03, which Jensen directed, in the corridor. The door marked “Electrical” is the door Dean actually broke to get through to his brother. The sets are usually designed for expansion, including things like the hallways. “You never know what they’re going to write.”
Favorite Sets and the Nature of Swing Sets on SUPERNATURAL
Marcynuk said that one of his favorite sets was “Crowley’s lair [in season 6 or 7] with the two iron columns. It played into a few seasons [and] led us into the Leviathan storyline. That was a nice one.”
“We mainly had non-standing sets. It was only three years ago we built this. Even Bobby’s sets, we reused Bobby’s sets for about three or four houses. Bobby’s set and Chuck’s set were the same set.” They changed three walls, but if you really looked closely, they’re the same set. That also wasn’t the first — or last — time they’ve changed around sets. Sets are reused constantly on the show. For example, the Men of Letters dungeon set has also been used as a storage room and was the shooting gallery from ‘Slumber Party’.
Has it ever pained him to take apart a set? “Not yet. It’s nice to do new stuff. It’s nice to be constantly reworking things and there’s sets [even now] that I just want to see go. Because we’ve used them. For us, it’s old….I think part of the charm of our show is that it’s never gotten bogged down in one place for too long. Bobby’s is gone, Rufus’ cabin is gone, Harvelle’s Roadhouse burned down. We’ve had them for a short amount of time and then they’re done. I think it’s better to keep your characters on the run.”
SUPERNATURAL has been notorious for having quirky motel rooms throughout its long run. “Some of them were awful. But that was part of our show, to make them different each time. And I don’t know what the final tally is, [but] we’ve done over 100.” Marcynuk thinks they’ve only filmed in 4 or 5 real motel rooms in the entire series. Some are up on the North Shore and one is at the city center downtown.
The Set for the 200th Episode
How much fun to make sets that looked like they were done by teens? “Not a lot of fun. Because we had to dumb down our design, like multiple times.” When they first built the Impala, they sent some sketches and had models made and it was “too beautiful” and they thought it wasn’t what kids would do. Had to dumb it down even further. Had to keep changing it to be even simpler, to the point where duck tape was holding on the season 1 search lights. Here’s a piece of trivia for you — those search lights are no longer on the car. They took them off the show because they were in the way. But they thought that if the kids were just working on the books they would have the search lights, so they put them back on. Some of the toy versions of the cars will have the search lights and some won’t (see the search lights on the car from a screenshot below).