Covert operation: Graphic designer slips hometown references into TV show props
HOLLYWOOD, Calif — Watchers of the TV show “Dexter” on Showtime only have to look for the clues to find a connection to the Worthington area:
A large truck with the words “Okabena Feed & Seed” emblazoned on the side of the trailer box.
Prescription bottles that come from the Ahlf Drug pharmacy.
A yellow page ad for Rickbiel Hardware Store — misspelling intentional.
Those are just the more prominent local references that have been slipped into the production thanks to graphic designer Kevin Egeland, a 1981 graduate of Worthington High School and son of Jan and the late David Egeland. Kevin recently finished up work on the final season of “Dexter,” an acclaimed series that focuses on Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C. Hall), a blood spatter pattern analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department in Florida, who also leads a secret life as a serial killer.
Kevin has been the show's graphic designer for seven seasons, working behind the scenes on the show that has garnered multiple Emmy awards and other accolades during its run.
Trodding the boards As a student performing in plays at Worthington High School, Kevin got a kick out of eliciting a response from the audience, and he began to consider a possible career on the stage.
“I think I enjoyed doing theater with (teacher) Ellen Copperud, taking her classes and doing plays with her, and she was very encouraging,” recalled Kevin during a recent telephone interview from his office in California. “It was really fun to go up there and play make-believe and get reactions from audiences. I liked comedy, because every once in a while I could make people laugh.”
One of his more comedic turns was in the musical production his senior year at WHS, “My Fair Lady,” in which he played Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s inebreiated father.
“That wasn’t method acting back then,” he assured with a chuckle.
Fully intending to become a theater star, Kevin headed to Mankato State University, where he took all the theater and art classes he could fit into his schedule. He also did summer theater productions in northern Minnesota.
“I was notorious in summer theater for avoiding technical work, because I was an actor,” he said with proper theatrical aplomb. “We were all supposed to put time in the shop, but I had to study my lines. I was going to be on the stage and couldn’t be bothered with all this technical nonsense. I had a bad reputation for that, and they would let me get away with it for some reason.”
But back on campus, Kevin decided it behooved him to get a grasp on the technical side of theater, even though he never intended to engage in it.
“At Mankato, I decided to focus on technical theater for a year,” he explained. “If I was going to have to be around those technical people, I figured I should try to understand them.”
In the production side of theater, Kevin discovered the connection between his two loves: theater and art.
“So I never went back to acting,” he said.
Career path Kevin admits that while his schedule at MSU was packed with theatrical offerings, he neglected the general requirements.
“One day, my adviser came in and said, ‘You have no intention of finishing up your generals, do you?’” related Kevin about the conversation, which concluded with the prof encouraging him to get his career started. “So I took my stuff and went up to Minneapolis, and the first day up there I got a job with Theater in the Round Players as a set designer. That didn’t pay anything, but then I found someone who needed a carpenter at Mixed Blood Theater.”
Lodging was found with fellow 1981 WHS classmate and theater buff Joseph Goodrich (who now is a playwright and author living in New York City). Kevin eventually became employed at the renowned Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, where he worked, on and off, for eight years.
“I designed some of their tour shows,” Kevin said, recalling that the theater company later asked him back to consult on a production of “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” based on a Dr. Seuss book. “It’s a secret as to how those hats magically appear on the kids’ heads, you see. I can’t explain that over the phone. They had to fly me in so I could teach them how to do hat magic.”
By that time, Kevin had already migrated to California.
“I had a friend who owned a business, a set construction company, up in St. Paul called Scenic Dimensions,” Kevin explained. “They got me hooked up with a movie, ‘Overnight Delivery,’ with Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd, to be a set designer for the film. It’s not the same as in theater. The set designer is actually a draftsman, and you draw up the set as dictated by the designer. So that was my first out-of-theater job. I met a lot of people from Los Angeles on that job, and after that film I took a little vacation out there and met some people.”
During that short stay, Kevin was asked to interview for a job - art director for three low-budget science fiction movies, which would be shot one right after another.
“I never went back,” Kevin said. “I stayed in L.A., have been here ever since. I started doing film, then moved into television.”
Kevin’s resume lists 19 features films upon which he has worked as a graphic artist, art director, set designer or production designer, including “Jeepers Creepers,” “The New Swiss Family Robinson,” “A Simple Plan” and most recently “Atlas Shrugged.” The list of TV programs is just as long.
“I’ve worked on ‘Castle,’ ‘CSI: New York,’ filled in here and here on ‘Criminal Minds,’ ‘Franklin and Bash’ - all kinds of things,” Kevin listed. “I don’t remember what I all do anymore.”
Hometown hints While he occasionally finds time for other projects, most of Kevin’s recent creative efforts have been focused on “Dexter,” and when he needs to come up with a name to put on any of the props, he often injects a bit of his hometown.
“It starts out innocent enough,” he explained. “I make everything that is a printed prop, a sign or a poster, a document, police files and ID badges, even graphics on police cars, computer screens, anything interacting with a computer computer screen - there’s a fake series of things that I have to create. With that often comes a lot of names, so I’m coming up with names, and so classmates from Worthington appear, relatives. There are a lot of my classmates who have been doctors and police lieutenants, workers at the courthouse, on all the shows I’ve worked with, and there have been products and names of companies, too.”
The most prominent item, in Kevin’s recollection, was the semi truck from Okabena Feed & Seed.
“In the season where we had the Trinity Killer with John Lithgow, he buys his hammer at Rickbiel’s Hardware, but we had to swap the i and the e, so it’s spelled wrong, for legal purposes. It was an ad in the yellow pages, and he looked it up (in the scene). I think we focus on some prescription labels this season, and a couple of them are from Ahlf Drug.”
Just about every name Kevin uses on a prop has to be OK’d by the production’s legal department, and not all of them make the cut.
“I almost had the Glenn K. Evensen Federal Building,” said Kevin, referring to a former WHS band director, now deceased. “I’ve been trying to get Glenn in there for the longest time, but somehow the writer or producer always wants a friend’s name in there instead. I know I’ve sent Glenn K. through legal many times. ... Where there’s a shot of the Miami Tribune newspaper, I know Beth Rickers wrote one of the stories on the front page. You’re really stretching yourself, working for both the Daily Globe and the Miami Tribune.”
Just a few days ago, “Dexter” had its final day of shooting on the lot at Sunset Gallery Studios, formerly the Columbia Pictures studio where many iconic films were shot.
“So the writers are all gone now, the hallways are emptying out, and they’re packing things up on all the stages,” shared Kevin. “The TV series ‘Scandal’ will soon be stealing our stages. But an exciting thing is that we’ve been assembling a lot of the props and different things used on the show, and they are going to the Smithsonian. So we’re putting all that together. A lot of these objects are things that I’ve made, so they’re going to be next to Archie Bunker’s Chair and the Enterprise. My work is actually going to be next to the Enterprise.”
Kevin knows he had a good gig in “Dexter” and admits to a bit of melancholy at seeing it come to an end.
“It’s going to be odd, but that’s the nature of what I do,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate I could come back here year after year.”
For the short-term, Kevin will lend a hand on an NBC sitcom.
“I’m going to ‘Parks and Recreation’ for a couple weeks,” he said. “They wanted me to help them out with graphics for two to three weeks. A friend of mine is art directing the show. It may turn into something more. It will be a little more lighthearted than what I’ve been doing.”
And perhaps a few Worthington names might turn up on yet another TV show.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.