Nelson Coates

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Nelson Coates is an American production designer for film, television, and theater. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1994 for his production design of the miniseries The Stand,[1] for which he designed all 225 sets.[2] In 2012 he was nominated for an ADG Excellence in Production Design Award (Best Contemporary Feature Design) for his work on Robert ZemeckisFlight, starring Denzel Washington. Coates has twice been elected president of the Art Directors Guild and is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.[3] He was named Abilene Christian University's Outstanding Young Alumnus of the Year in 1996 and was a recipient of the ACU Department of Journalism/Mass Communications’ Gutenberg Award. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Laguna College of Art and Design.

Coates’ recent film work includes the two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, produced simultaneously over the course of 120 shooting days in ten cities and three countries.[4] The dual productions required more than 160 sets and locations.[5] Christian Grey's lavish penthouse depicted in the films was not a location, but a stage set.[6] Coates also completed production on the 2018 releases On the Basis of Sex and Crazy Rich Asians.


The son of two Abilene Christian University professors of education, Drs. Ed and Jane Coates, Nelson Coates became interested in the arts from a young age, creating costumes and scenery for school and community productions. He learned to create sculptures from natural fibers with the help of a book his parents gave him when he was 14.[7] He began acting in regional theater at the age of 6. He continued to perform in regional theater and sang with various vocal groups. During high school, he became involved in gymnastics, a skill set he used years later when planning escape routes for Wesley Snipes' character in Murder at 1600.[8] Coates went on to attend the college where his parents taught, changing majors from pre-med to mass communications and graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in journalism/mass communications with an emphasis in design. While in college he was also a part of the men's social club of Galaxy. [8] Coates has acted in and designed for numerous theaters throughout the United States. While in college, Coates was a part of the acting company of the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, where he met Morgan Freeman. Coates later designed Kiss the Girls and Thick as Thieves, both of which star Freeman.


After graduating from college, Coates moved to the DallasFort Worth metroplex, where he exhibited his sculptures,[7] acted in regional theater and television,[9] and began his career in theatrical and feature film design.[10][11][12][13]

The Stand is Coates' only television miniseries to date. In addition to designing all sets for the project, he took responsibility for other aspects of creating a realistic Nebraska setting for the Utah-based production. Faced with prices of $40 per stalk for New York-made fake corn, Coates opted instead to grow 3,250 corn stalks as a cost-cutting measure; when a winter storm hit Utah, the reproduction of a cornfield became complicated by the fact that the harsh weather did not allow the corn crop to grow taller than 4 feet.[2] Three grade of artificial corn were created to augment the real corn, which was featured in close-up shots of the stalks or silks. The entire cornfield and house for the Mother Abigail character portrayed by Ruby Dee was created indoors in the former Osmond Stages in Provo, Utah. For the dream sequences, the fields elevated and changed angles, and the main house distorted and changed shape to strengthen the dream-like quality. His designs for The Stand garnered Coates an Emmy Award nomination.

Coates’ other notable credits include Big Miracle, the first studio feature to film entirely in Alaska; The Proposal, for which Coates this time made a Boston-area home stand in for Alaska; Antwone Fisher, Denzel Washington's directing debut and one of AFI’s Top 10 Films of the Year; The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus; and the Miley Cyrus music video "When I Look at You." [14]

Selected filmography[edit]



  • Friday Night Dinner (2012, pilot)
  • Boston's Finest (2010, TV movie)
  • October Road (2007, six episodes)
  • Jonny Zero (2005, pilot)
  • John Doe (2002, pilot)
  • Crazy Love (1995, pilot)
  • The Stand (1994, eight-hour miniseries over four episodes)
  • The Emancipation of Lizzie Stern (1991, TV movie)
  • Cast a Deadly Spell (1991, TV movie)
  • Gerbert (1989, TV series)
  • Mother's Day (1989, TV movie)
  • For Jenny with Love (1989, TV movie)


  1. ^ Awards and nominations for Nelson Coates, Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  2. ^ a b Michael Booth. "5 Points a star: Hollywood action invades Denver neighborhood," The Denver Post, August 27, 1994, page A1.
  3. ^ David Robb, December 16, 2016. "Art Directors Guild Re-Elects Nelson Coates As President In Rerun Election Ordered By Feds". Deadline. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Kelsey Kloss, February 10, 2017. "That Time I Designed... Christian Grey's Penthouse For "Fifty Shades Darker". Elle Decor. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  5. ^ Elizabeth Stamp, February 8, 2017. "Christian Grey's Bachelor Pad Gets a New Look in Fifty Shades Darker". Architectural Digest. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  6. ^ Paula Benson, February 10, 2017. "Fifty Shades Darker furniture and decor (Part 1): Set decorator Cal Loucks reveals Christian Grey's taste – in exclusive detail". Film and Furniture. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Ana Puga. "Metro profile: Nelson Coates," The Dallas Morning News, November 26, 1986, page 14A.
  8. ^ a b "Movie Minds: Nelson Coates" (cover story), ACU Today, Fall 1998. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  9. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Fantasticks': a charmed life: It's not as good as last year's, but the music is a lot better" (review), The Dallas Morning News, December 6, 1989, page 1C: "Nelson Coates is a bit bland but fine as Matt, who, after all, is a bit bland around the stereotypes. [He] does a forceful job with "I Can See It," Matt's declaration of wanderlust."
  10. ^ Jerome Weeks, theater critic. "Land ho-ho! Clever 'Rough Crossing' requires a smoother production," The Dallas Morning News, December 3, 1988, page 5C: For his part, designer Nelson Coates has produced two of Stage West's more elegant and elaborate sets — a white deco ship's deck and a large ballroom used for rehearsals.
  11. ^ Jerome Weeks. "A reunion haunted in quiet sorrow: "A Shayna Maidel' carries solemnity to a tedious end" (review), The Dallas Morning News, May 10, 1989, page 5C: "A Shayna Maidel continues the welcome revival of production values at the Dallas Rep this season — Nelson Coates' stage design is another smart apartment set..."
  12. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Postcards' is slow going: Poor pacing and characterization hurt musical" (review), The Dallas Morning News, October 23, 1989, page 5C: "...designers Nelson Coates and Robert Kruger have created an idealized trendy restaurant..."
  13. ^ Jerome Weeks. "'Mrs. California': the Donna Reed syndrome" (review), The Dallas Morning News, March 17, 1990, page 3C: Designer Nelson Coates, who is responsible for the down-home realism of Theatre Three's Traveling Lady, has created another fine set, this time a TV sound stage of chrome appliances and obsessively sharp angles.
  14. ^ Sara Rimer, July 29, 2009. "When Hollywood Moved In". The New York Times. Retrieved January 25, 2018.

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