Planning a TV wedding is a lot like planning a real wedding — you work with venues, florists, dress designers, and tailors. Only you have no more than three weeks (typically just one or two) to get the whole thing done. Can you imagine?
“I’m not a wedding planner, but we always joke that I could be after how many weddings we’ve done,” says Nicole Cramer, set decorator for Grey’s Anatomy since the show’s fifth season. (She worked as a shopper on Cristina Yang’s season-three wedding to Preston Burke, under then-set decorator Karen Bruck.)
It helps that Cramer is one of a team of people, from the production designer to the props master, working with TV money. (The set budget for April Kepner’s wedding, which didn’t have a reception, was about $20,000; the set budget for Miranda Bailey’s, which did have a reception, was roughly double that.) Still: three weeks, max, to pull together a wedding. That’s impressive.
Also under extreme deadline is Mimi Melgaard, the show’s costumer designer since its third season. “Everyone’s always shocked when they find out we’ve put a wedding together in 10 days,” she says. “We’re kind of used to it.”
Here, Cramer and Melgaard tell the stories behind eight Grey’s Anatomy weddings, all of which began with a vision from show creator Shonda Rhimes. (Think of her as the bride.)
April Kepner and Matthew Taylor: “Get Up, Stand Up” (Season 10, Episode 12)
The location: Windy Hill Ranch at El Campeon Farms. “We knew it was going to be a barn wedding to reflect on April’s past,” Cramer says. “We got that note right off the bat.” (April was raised on a farm in Ohio.) “Of all the weddings, this one was probably the least stressful because the venue was pretty already. Of course, what you’re seeing out the barn doors, the mountain and the lake, are a green screen.”
The details: “We plan the wedding around the character. So April has little signs made — ‘Happily ever after starts here.’ We were like, 'April would do this, for sure.’”
“[Same with] the butterflies, which were scripted. And I think the 'Mint to Be’ favors were also scripted. Somebody must have seen that on a wedding planning blog.”
The flowers: “We got the fabrics from the bridesmaids’ dresses [in advance] and that helped us choose the flowers. With the orange, we kind of went off April’s red hair.’” As with most of the Grey’s weddings, the flowers were fresh-cut (Cramer often sends cast and crew home with arrangements); in this case, she worked with a local florist called AOO Floral. “Everyone thinks flowers are so expensive, but they really do make the wedding beautiful, they bring in the color — that’s where you don’t want to cut corners.”
The lighting: “We always do a lot of twinkle lights, they make everything look magical,” Cramer says. “We also made a couple of Xs and Os out of twinkle lights, and we did a heart shape out of them. I don’t think we saw that [on the show]. Sometimes things that we want to make it into the shots don’t make it in. We were nervous that the chandeliers weren’t going to get in, because Shonda had requested big, beautiful chandeliers, and we really loved them.” Thankfully, they made the cut.
The dress: "Once I heard Shonda describing the barn feeling, I knew exactly what I wanted, so I was going to have it made,” Melgaard says. “But when I was getting some pictures for inspiration, to get the dress approved before I had it made, I found the exact dress that I saw in my mind online, with this designer Peter Langnerout of Rome. They sent me a sample overnight that didn’t fit [Sarah Drew, who plays April], but we at least saw it in person. We sent Sarah’s measurements and Peter made it with very few changes [to the original]. The process is usually four or five months for real brides, and he did it lickety-split. He was amazing and his workmanship is amazing.”
Miranda Bailey and Ben Warren: “Things We Said Today” (Season 9, Episode 10)
The location: Calamigos Ranch. “I think this wedding was my favorite because it was the hardest,“ Cramer says. "A huge labor of love. Just picture that room completely empty. We only had one week, two at most, to get that wedding together, and so much detail went into it. We tried to make it very sparkly and romantic and beautiful.
The details: "I loved the table settings. We had fresh lavender in the napkin rings. We worked really closely with the florist, Sandy Rose — we have a wonderful relationship with them and they help us execute our vision beautifully by adding little touches, like glitter to the pine cones. And then we had twinkle lights in mercury vases; we bought all the mercury glass they had downtown.”
The dress: “Bailey is that perfect mix of a soft, feminine person who has a strong job,” Melgaard says. “That’s why she always wears shirts that have something like a floral pattern — I think in her mind, she’s more of a feminine person. But she’s the boss. Like all successful women, she has to change gears and be focused. So I wanted a really feminine dress for her. We started with a dress and altered it a lot — I added the bling around the sweetheart neckline. I added the belt.”
“On TV, I can buy a very expensive, custom-made dress from Italy or a dress from downtown Los Angeles, and it doesn’t matter as long as it works on the body. Chandra [Wilson, who plays Bailey] looks so good in things that hug her figure, which is amazing, that I just went for it.”
The surprise dress: “That was an interesting episode because it went into Richard dancing with his wife, Adele, who’d just died. We had to get a dress for her too. We tried to get something that felt vintage-y since their wedding was supposed to be decades ago.”
The location: Descanso Gardens. “There’s a round stage with a big ring that’s already built into it at the top,” Cramer says, “so we just attached the pink-and-white plastic streamers to the top of that and draped them over the stage. And then we did a pink carpet. We called it the pink wedding. Very girly and sweet. Those were the notes that we got.“
The cake: "We found somebody local in Los Angeles to make the little cake topper to match Callie and Arizona and their dresses. Shonda actually has that cake topper in her office now.”
“Shonda also wanted a candy bar. We bought the jars at a Muscatels and then picked all the pink and white candies that looked good at a candy shop. We made such a great candy bar but you never see it!”
The dresses: ”[We wanted] to make the girls look different so it doesn’t look like two big, white dresses,“ Melgaard says. "I knew I wanted to do a more traditional one on Callie because she’s from a more traditional family, her family’s Catholic. That’s why I put the veil on her. I altered her dress quite a bit. I changed the neckline, but I still felt like it was missing something, so I had some custom sparkly sleeves made.
"Arizona’s dress was really pretty, with all these torn pieces of chiffon. We tried on a whole bunch of dresses to find the right one. We knew we didn’t want it to be white because Callie was in white, and that color with Jessica’s skin just worked perfectly. It wasn’t too full but it was romantic.”
Izzie Stevens and Alex Karev: “What a Difference a Day Makes” (Season 5, Episode 22)
The location: “We looked at so many churches,” Cramer remembers. "I think this one was the grandest and most beautiful. It had the stained glass and the mezzanine on the top, so we were able to drape flowers from the mezzanine.”
The theme: “Her wedding was the fairytale wedding — over the top, with candles, romantic. That was Shonda’s notes: that Izzie was living vicariously through Meredith by planning the best, most beautiful wedding she could. And there was a note [to use] lots of candles and flowers and tulle and twinkle lights.”
The dress: “That one was interesting because it was supposed to be Meredith’s dress for her wedding to Derek, and then Izzie gets sick,” Melgaard says. “So we knew all along it had to be something that looks good on Izzie — it’s definitely an Izzie dress. It’s Kenneth Pool for Amsale and they did some alterations for us, like lowered the waistline and changed her neckline a bit. Shonda and I wanted her to feel like a princess — you know, it’s a princess wedding, she could be dying. So it’s a big, beautiful dress with sparkles.”
The theme: “Amelia’s is definitely more eccentric,” Cramer says. “We used fresh wild flowers — Shonda wanted the wedding to be intimate and romantic, with candles, wild flowers, and a harp musician.”
The dress: “I had to have three dresses for this one,” Melgaard says. “[Caterina Scorsone, who plays Amelia] was secretly pregnant, so I had to choose a loose silhouette, because nobody [from the show] knew she was pregnant besides Shonda and me.”
“Then there was the dress that got rained on. And then we came back three months later and continued shooting, so I had to have a third in a much bigger size as well. Amelia is so strong, but she has broken parts, so we tried on a lot of dresses to find something that wasn’t too girly, wasn’t too precious, but that was also beautiful and honored the day for her.”
Cristina Yang and Preston Burke: “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” (Season 3 finale)
The theme: “The instruction I got was ‘Shonda’s dream wedding,” says Karen Bruck, the set decorator on this wedding. “That kinda freaked me out. I said, 'Oh my god, how am I going to live up to that?’” So they gave me the color scheme that she loved, which was the green and the dark brown — see, it affected me, that I remember so many years later. And lots of flowers. We had to make it a little over the top so it was definitely not Cristina’s personality. Nothing about it was her personality.“
The dress: "That dress was so over the top for Cristina, with the bling and the necklace,” Melgaard says. “Everything about it was so not her, and she was so trying to be that person for Burke. On paper, if you saw a picture of her, you’d be like, 'Oh, she looks so beautiful, it’s so perfect for her.’ And then you cut back and it’s like, 'But that’s not her at all.’ And I’m sure that there are brides who can relate to that in real life — being dressed up and propped up and having to walk through and have a wedding with 200 people, and you only want to talk to four.”
The rip: “There was a stunt dress we used for Meredith to cut. We took the zipper out and inserted a piece of silk fabric that was attached by Velcro and she cut into that, and that piece of silk was easily replaceable for each take we needed to shoot. We still have both dresses — we save everything in storage. We have a bridal room with all of the bridal dresses and bridesmaids.”
Cristina Yang and Owen Hunt: “With You I’m Born Again” (Season 7, Episode 1)
This was “a home wedding, sweet and sophisticated,” Cramer says, so the décor was simple and the dress was vintage. “She already had a wedding that was so unlike her, so I wanted this one to feel like her,” Melgaard says. “Shonda and Sandra Oh [who played Cristina Yang] both loved it.”
Richard Webber and Catherine Avery: “You’re My Home” (Season 11 finale)
The location: “The reception took place at Meredith and Derek’s house, which we called the 'The Dream House,’” Cramer says. “It was the last time we ever filmed on that set.”
The dress: “That one I made,” Melgaard says. “I wanted that color, so I just made it here in-house. I have a wonderful full-time seamstress. I brought her the drawing, and all of a sudden, she made it, including the jacket. We did a fitting with Debbie [Allen, who plays Catherine] and it was perfect.”
The (missing cake): “We had a real, three-tier wedding cake by Cake and Art in Los Angeles, and we cut into it as if they had already cut the cake,” Cramer says. “I can’t remember if we see that in the episode. I’m pretty sure the crew enjoyed it at the end of the night.”