Grand Lake native nominated for Emmy Award
Brandi Kalish recognized for work on popular HBO show, ‘Silicon Valley’
From the minute she arrived in L.A. as an intern focused on set decoration for Whetstone Design, Grand Lake native Brandi (Walborn) Kalish knew she’d found her place.
“From the minute I got here, I knew I was supposed to be here,” said Kalish, a 1996 graduate of Alpena High School who went on to study art design at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Wash.
That was back in 2000. She started out learning the set decorating craft by working on stage sets for top tier musicians the likes of Korn, Backstreet Boys and Eminem. Her career has been on a steady uphill trajectory ever since as she moved on to set decorating for music videos and then commercials, before breaking into television.
Since then, Kalish has made her mark as a set decorator for “American Idol” on Fox, “Teen Wolf” on MTV and “Wilfred” on FX, among numerous other television projects.
Today, however, she’s proudest of her most recent crowning achievement – an Emmy nomination as set decorator for the popular HBO series, “Silicon Valley.”
“It’s really exciting,” Kalish said. “It’s the wildest thing. I’ve worked really, really hard. ‘Silicon Valley’ was so creatively challenging. We did some mega sets. My crew is so wonderful, and it’s such an honor to be a part of this.”
The nomination is for Outstanding Production Design for a narrative program of a half hour or less for HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley,’ Season 5. The particular episode being recognized is “Tech Evangelist, Artificial Emotional Intelligence.”
Kalish received the nod as set decorator, along with Richard Toyon as production designer and Jaclyn Hauser as art director. Her show will go up against NBC’s “Will & Grace,” Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” and “Glow,” HBO’s “Barry” and FX Network’s “Atlanta.”
Though Kalish relishes the thought of actually winning the award, she’s also happy just being nominated.
“I’m super grateful to be nominated and be able to go to the Emmys,” she said, adding that she’s been invited to multiple Emmy-related events, which she jokingly plans to use as an excuse to buy a new wardrobe of dresses.
Because the Emmys have gotten so big over the years, she said the televised show has been broken into three nights. Her award nomination falls into the creative Emmys category and will be announced on either Sept. 8 or 9 at the Microsoft Theater DTLA, with an air date of Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. on FXX. The well-known Emmy awards for actors and actresses will air Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Kalish isn’t a stranger to hard work. She credits her first job experiences working summers at Grand Lake’s Fireside Inn and at her dad’s business, Alpena Wilbert Burial Vault Co., with instilling the solid work ethic she carried to L.A.
“I worked at Fireside every summer in high school,” she said. “The work ethic comes from there – having to chop wood and make beds properly. I ended up working at my dad’s business, too. Work ethic was just such a big thing in the film industry.”
On the artistic side, Kalish said she comes by it naturally from various family members, including her mother who’s always been crafty. Art classes she took in Alpena also helped to influence her ultimate career path.
“I took all the art classes offered at Alpena High School. My junior and senior year, I took graphic design at Alpena Community College. My teacher, Mr. Jones, was amazing,” she said. “That was the beginning of it. That’s what inspired me.”
Upon graduation from AHS, Kalish headed off to Cornish College of the Arts. She also studied for a brief time at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids.
She’s now been hard at it in L.A. for the past 18 years and finds every day different from the one before.
“A typical day consists of me working with my wonderful crew,” Kalish said. “I go through the scripts and study the characters and the set or locations. I work with the production designer and other crew members to create and design the look whether it’s a location or a standing build.”
Once she has broken down the characters and the type of set needed, the serious research begins.
“We will go to the prop houses and vendors and start to piece together the bones of the set,” she said. “My process is to start with the big stuff first.”
For the start-up company in “Silicon Valley,” Pied Piper, that meant the desks as well as furniture pieces for the lobby and the kitchen. It isn’t just about the big pieces though; it’s also about a myriad of smaller details, too.
“In Pied Piper, we had over 60 desks,” Kalish said. “We sit at every single desk. We pretend we are that person. Does this person sitting at this desk have a PC and what kind of notebooks do they use and what kind of pens? We study what kind of food they eat, what kind of liquids they drink.”
Because “Silicon Valley” is watched by legions of tech savvy viewers, she said nailing the tech details is paramount. To help make that happen, she and her crew visited actual tech companies of varying sizes ranging from small start-ups to the industry biggie, DropBox.
“I took thousands of photos and tons of notes. I would look under the desks to see what kind they use,” she said. “Once I got back to Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, Calif., where they film, I started to break it all down. That’s just for one set of the show. It’s definitely 12 to 14 hour days.”
On the homefront, Kalish credits her husband, Joshua Bartos, along with sons Odell Kalish, Eliah and Liam Bartos, all teenagers, with giving her plenty of support.
“We are all one big mixed family,” Kalish said. “I give a lot of credit to my wonderful parents and to my awesome husband.”
Kalish is the only child of Brian and Ruth Walborn. Her proud mom plans to travel to California to be there for her daughter’s significant accomplishment. Mother and daughter will attend an Emmy event sponsored by the Set Decorators Society of America, for which Kalish serves on the board of directors. Kalish’s husband will accompany her to the actual creative Emmy awards ceremony as well as several of the other gala events.
While her name is on the Emmy award nomination as set decorator, Kalish wanted to be sure and also give credit to her crew: Tom Bartlett, lead man; Bruce Seymour, on-set dresser; Jordan K. Paul. technology gang boss; Emily Shafer and Julia Moquin, buyers; Chase Helzer, set decoration coordinator; Terra Espinosa, gang boss; Brahm Harper, Nick Rake, Colin Bartlett, Brian Potter and Ricky Bartlett, set dressers.
More information about Kalish’s career is available at her website, brandikalish.com.