'Hot Set' premiere recap

Abra's set in progress, courtesy Syfy

On the heels of the success of Syfy's Face Off, Hot Set brings the world of set design into our living rooms. A "hot set" is one that is perfectly dressed and camera-ready. The format is similar but instead of live models, two teams design an elaborate movie set in just three days with a $15,000 budget.

The host is Ben Mankiewicz and he's got some impressive lineage. Ben's Grandpa Herman wrote the Oscar-Winning, Citizen Kane. The three judges are seasoned veterans of the big screen as well: Lilly Kilvert (The Last Samurai); Curt Beech (The Social Network); and, Barry Robison (The Chronicles of Narnia) lend their expertise.

Two production designers are the contestants are part of a team. Their set is judged on creativity, technique and presentation. Prize money is a cool $10K - not too shabby for three days work! Tonight's designers are Abra Brayman and Craig Pavilionis. They're competitive but the main drama comes from the on-screen fighting we see between Abra and her art-director-husband, Neil.

Ben reads tonight's challenge:

"Exterior: Forbidden Landscape-Day. As Lieutenant Murphy takes in his situation, he sees evidence of disaster all around him, and realizes with horror that he may never make it home again."

They are shown the critical element of a downed astronaut, clad in an orange spacesuit.

Curt wants something "recognizably alien" and emphasizes the importance of a "layered set" with a foreground, mid-ground and background. Lilly wants to sense isolation and Barry encourages them to think outside the box. The designers are given 5 minutes to take pictures and familiarize themselves with the set and astronaut concept.

Day one

Shopping for set pieces and beginning their designs is the crux of the first day. Abra doesn't present her vision too clearly to her construction team, while Craig is Mr. Confident. Abra's concept is that of a desolate and charred world where an alien skeleton is discovered. Craig says he's not just building a set but wants it to be alive.

We get to witness Abra hitting the shrub store and Craig buying some rocks and then run back to the set to start building. Craig is far ahead and Abra seems misguided and pressured by time constraints. To the viewer, the looks like a hopeless situation. It's kind of a mess, but isn't that how Face Off always plays out too?

Day Two

The most fun was when Nick from team Abra hits the "Dapper Cadaver" and picks up some bones and a charred body. Craig sends team-member Joey to rent some spaceship parts. Both pick up some pretty cool pieces. It's not your typical shopping trip.

Judge Lilly then does the walk-through and critiques the designer's work. She seems concerned and unimpressed by Abra's design due to her lack of clarity. She loves Craig's idea of the astronaut landing not on a landscape, but a living creature and encourages him to add movement and more foreground. He takes her advice and adds leverage rigs to create movement and gets a giant rock for the front of his design. Abra lacks the confidence that her vision will be accomplished. Relax Abra, it'll be okay!

Day Three

Finishing touches, effects testing, and lots of directions are barked out on the final day of the competition. Abra's confidence builds and satisfied Craig states that the "crescendo of effects will sell the impending doom." Fancy!

When time is up, Ben comes out and says that they have 30 minutes to shoot their scenes. The actor playing Lt. Murphy is directed by Abra and Craig and two pretty effective scenes are produced. After the judges watch the short, they more closely inspect the sets. Lilly doesn't like Abra's monochromatic (very red) look and Barry says that Craig's walls are flat. Poor Craig and his flat walls! They do think his concept is strong though but the "living" character he was trying to convey just had trouble coming across.

Final Decision

This first episode didn't have a clear forerunner throughout the show. Abra's lack of clarity and confidence in her design led the viewer to think that Confident Craig would be the clear winner with his interesting design idea. Well, it turns out that the judges favored Abra and made her the winner of the challenge and the recipient of the $10k.

Did you agrees with Curt, Barry and Lilly? We'd love to hear what you thought of this first episode of Hot Set. What did you love and/or hate about it? The format is familiar to that of Face Off which makes it easy to follow. Will you keep watching? If so, check it out again next Tuesday at 10pm ET on the Syfy channel.