Art Director NYC | Breaking Bad Style Set

drug den set NYC

I don’t have a “before” shot of this unfortunately, but it was a blank room. After running around the whole facility looking for a space, this one stood out to me for its grunge appeal and the fact that it was a corner. Before we put in the set, the corner of this room was blank except for a refrigerator. We moved that, and I toured the entire facility in search of appropriate props. I had had a vision of filling the corner with cardboard boxes in order to make the (actually very large) space seem more cramped and add texture to the background, as well as add a history to the set.


Recently, I was hired by Director Ryan Halazs for an upcoming music video with Carl Man.

Based on the script and treatment, I immediately had a strong vision of what the bad guy’s drug den should look like. I started sketching out ideas for lighting positioning and composition, and luckily the location we chose (Art Factory in Patterson, NJ) had plenty of resources for building the set.

kingpin den set design nyc

I had brought clamp lights to the set along with a $100 bill for detail’s sake. It may not be apparent in the video, but the lead bad guy snorts a line of fake cocaine with the bill. Even if the details are not obvious, they are my favorite part of set design.

set dressing nyc

I should add that right before this shoot, I’d been on a “Breaking Bad” binge, watching 4 seasons in two weeks. I admired the atmosphere of that series so much, I hoped to channel some of that in this set.

prop weed

prop master for drug dealer scene

The shoot was a one day, 12-hour affair. The lovely ladies at Art Factory were my assistants for the day, and did an awesome job at creating these prop cocaine bricks on the fly. Within hours, we had created enough bricks from scratch to really make this scene over-the-top!

prop marijuana nyc

prop heroine bags

Heroine baggies. One thing I would have done different is bought a piece of linoleum or blank rubber and carved an actual stamp for this. We tried a few different printing techniques before just using marker and blotting it with our fingers to get rid of the ink wells at the edges of the letters.

Prop cocaine bricks

From the get-go I imagined there to be backlighting of some sort to separate the actors from the background. Lighting the boxes using a clamplight from below worked perfectly.

drug dealer props nyc

The “cocaine bricks” were light as feathers, so I turned the scale dial to make them heavier.

prop cocaine bricks 2

Wrapped with love. Pile of fake cocaine bricks. It took a while to get them to look like they had enough weight to sit like bricks and not the light prop material they were made of.

drug dealer set

I have always felt that environments have their own personality, their own character. So it was important for me to enter this with a history of the space in mind, like how an actor imagines a history for the character they play.

I imagined that the space used to be someone’s office. Either the office was abandoned, or these drug dealers took it over from the original owners and set it up as their headquarters.

They threw any additional boxes and supplies out of the way, piling them into this corner. But the crooks were not professionals by any means. They had stumbled upon fortune accidentally and really didn’t know how to run the biz. They spent their days using up their own product, chillin’ getting high in the office with on and off girlfriends and prostitutes. Broken things would be fixed with duct tape if at all. Issues would be solved like so: “Dude, the door handle broke.” “I’m not fixing it.” “Me neither.” “Dude, the chair is broken.” “And?”

You’ll see some office supplies also sitting on surfaces or on the floor- those were all brought in from the facility’s prop house.

drug dealer movies

Chains mean DANGER!

detailed set dressing for film

A broken mirror in the prop house just happened to have this lipstick heart already drawn on it. I pulled out the broken piece, made adjustments with a paper towel, and arranged the lines. It was perfect for the romance-tragedy premise of the music video.

fake cocaine lines for film

Broken makeup mirror with cocaine lines. Evidence of the many lady friends these gangsters had.

fake cocaine brick for film nyc

Fake cocaine lines for our music video. Mirror courtesy one of the kind ladies at Art Factory.

detailed set design for film

There is a romance in the music video, so I placed one king of hearts and one queen of hearts facing up. Aside from these, only an ace is visible, and is rolled into a straw (seen above).

kingpin den set

I had objects sticking out of the boxes for additional texture. The clock was symbolic, although I didn’t get into symbolism too much until we got to dressing the table.

drug dealers set props

drug paraphenalia props


The poster in the background is of a real mobster. I threw him in the back so that there wouldn’t be a face in the set that would conflict with the actors’.

breaking bad style set

set dressing like breaking bad

The foreground chair is actually too broken to sit on, but I loved how dingy it looked. I wanted it to look a little lived in, like a messy guy’s room, so I threw a sweatshirt over one chair on the right.

Art Direction New York

After reading the script and speaking with the director, I wanted the scene to be a bit over-the-top, and I believe that we achieved that.

It was important to me to make all of the elements have an appearance of being thrown together. Even though some props took a long time to place in a “random” way, I was happy with the results, and look forward to the next video.

Special thanks again to the staff at Art Factory!

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