Before he started building the show’s recycled radios and scrap computers, stage master Jonathan Norman took the “Silo” class. That level of training was necessary for Apple TV+’s sci-fi series about a post-apocalyptic future where the remnants of humanity live inside the titular huge building. They can’t leave because the air outside is poisonous, meaning that generation after generation, the inhabitants assemble their world from whatever was carried in when the first inhabitants arrived.
It took a tremendous amount of planning to decide how this environment would look and function, especially after centuries of wear and tear. (In the series, which is based on the novels by Hugh Howey, it is suggested that people have been trapped inside for around 300 years). in the Silo,” Norman said. “So, for example, trees are missing, so the card would be rare. Anything plastic would be recycled or reused for generations, so with anything plastic we would create layers of imperfections. The glass would have been hand blown, so everything we used, glass-wise, would have different textures and impurities. For everything we made, we used that concept of how it was going to be made (in show business).”
And Norman’s team, which is currently busy producing the second season of the series, has to make almost everything. Very few items can be purchased, because the characters cannot believably acquire mass-produced goods. According to Norman, it takes a village the size of a silo to make it: “We have a workshop with probably 40 people, ranging from 3D mold makers to metal workers to graphic designers.”
Sometimes, the fruits of this labor are evident. Rudimentary computers are a significant part of the plot, as Sheriff Juliette Nichols (played by Rebecca Ferguson) realizes that sinister forces are spying on everyone at all times. The clunky desktops that make up the Silo’s surveillance network are constantly in sight, and the technical limitations of the machines need to be made clear.
Since they’re made from salvaged parts, they also need to look convincingly homemade. “It’s steel and a flat plate and a simple loudspeaker,” Norman said. “It’s as practical as possible. It’s designed to be as simple as possible to really tell the viewer that this is a controlled environment.”
That level of detail isn’t limited to props. Something as simple as duct tape, which becomes important in the season 1 finale, was carefully pieced together. Norman explained: “It wasn’t just about buying a roll of tape. We had about 30 different designs with prints that we had to get approved. We printed the fingerprints. We attached them to a lathe. We bought some metal strips, ran it through and made the tape ourselves. We did it because this is the process that would be done in the Silo.
Norman argued that even if viewers don’t consciously notice that the duct tape looks hand-made, the prop still has a subliminal impact. “No one has ever seen a tape with these weird imperfections, because it doesn’t exist,” he said. “And because it doesn’t exist in the real world, when you see it on our show, it helps immerse you in our world. It’s another little thing that adds to your awareness that we’ve created a Silo.
As a series, “Silo” really feels remarkably down-to-earth. Though it uses digital effects, it’s still the rare sci-fi spectacle that seems to happen in a tangible, real place. The walls, stairs and apartments are tactile, not added later with CGI. The objects are designed to be handled and their practicality adds a crackle of life to the narrative.
Norman explained that all of the props were created with this quality in mind: To give them the proper weight, the sheriff’s badges were cast in brass and the Silo coin was cast in pewter. In each copy of the Silo Covenant – a code of conduct for residents – the first 20 pages were filled with actual rules and regulations, written in consultation with Howey himself. An antique Pez dispenser, which is one of the few factory-made items in the show, has been distressed in a way that suggests it has been passed down through generations. (“Silo” has a whole “distressing team” just to deal with how a piece of plastic like this might degrade over time.)
All this is done to increase the authenticity of the fictional world. “It’s crazy, really,” Norman said. “We did all this to make the Silo a real place. You could create a ‘Silo’ museum with the amount of props we have.”