Roman Polanski said that “good cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theatre”, and this is especially true if the decor is right. Interior design in films is an integral part of the narrative. When it’s good, it creates an additional psychological layer. After all, what is American Psycho without its sterile styling or The Great Gatsby without its opulent interiors? With this in mind, we bring you an inside scoop on movie sets and production design of the Academy nominated movies in the Best Achievement in Production Design for the 94th ceremony. Grab your popcorn, sit back, relax and enjoy.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021)
Directed and written for the screen by Joel Coen, with Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Alex Hassell
Production Design by Stefan Dechant and Set Decoration by Nancy Haigh
In this Shakespearean adaptation, a Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power. Takes time in the 19-20s century by presenting black and white cinematography to give it a more classic impression. This film is a historical film in collaboration with thriller and crime elements.
Stefan Dechant has spent over three decades in the film business, working as an illustrator (Forrest Gump), concept artist (Minority Report), storyboarder (The Polar Express), and art director (True Grit). Dechant’s talents as a production designer for Joel Coen’s first solo directorial feature, The Tragedy of Macbeth, were suggested by that final credit, 2010 Western directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The main goal was not to create a naturalistic “Macbeth”, so for Dechant, this meant creating enormous interior sets with no adornment and exteriors that were frequently shrouded in mist and fog. Nonetheless, as Dechant noted in our talk about the film, the problems of incorporating psychology into the production design were tremendous.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth. With Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya.
Production Design by Patrice Vermette and Set Decoration by Richard Roberts and Zsuzsanna Sipos
The story opens in the year 10191 with the arrival of an aristocratic family (Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac) on the desert planet of Arrakis. Not only must they govern over the Fremen, but they must also mine Arrakis’ valuable natural resource, a gleaming substance known as spice. The storyline concentrates on the conflict between good and evil, but it also touches on more difficult subjects such as colonialism and ecology.
On the Atreides’ home planet of Caladan, a Frank Lloyd Wright-like gridded window illuminates Paul as he trains. The palace was meant to evoke a medieval fortress built into the mountainside. The way Dune mixes historical allusions into a relatively logical totality is a big part of its appeal. The medieval parts of Herbert’s novel are unmistakable, according to Vermette, but rather than drawing inspiration from Gothic cathedrals and crypts, he went to old Japanese buildings. Canada’s architecture, in particular, connotes a civilization gently slipping into obsolescence, with its devastated, autumnal surrounds based by coastal Canada.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, story by Kim Morgan with Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Toni Collette.
Production Design by Tamara Deverell and Set Decoration by Shane Vieau
Nightmare Alley is a modern-day take on classic film noir. It was critical for Guillermo del Toro, the film’s director, to produce a fiery interpretation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, which shows the sordid underbelly of Hollywood and the American Dream. The film features Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a down-and-out circus entrepreneur who swindles the affluent with his crafty methods, with allusions to Old Hollywood. He encounters Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychotherapist who assists him but ultimately captures him.
Approximately 80% of the interiors in the film were constructed in a studio, including Lilith Ritter’s office (Cate Blanchett). The architecture in the film helped identify each character, such as Blanchett’s golden-hued office with angelic light since her character occasionally performs heroic acts. Other instances are Cooper’s shady backstage area, which is packed with black furnishings, and Grindle’s evil-looking office, which is nearly totally dark.
THE POWER OF THE DOG (2021)
Directed by Jane Campion, story by Thomas Savage and Jane Campion. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons.
Production Design by Grant Major and Set Decoration by Amber Richards, Gareth Edwards and Tony Rush
Based on Thomas Savage’s 1968 novel, the film version omits many details, leaving much to the actors—Jesse Plemons as rancher George Burbank, Kirsten Dunst as his new bride Rose Gordon, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son Peter Gordon, and Benedict Cumberbatch as George’s mysterious brother Phil Burbank, who oscillates between angry and downright sinister throughout the first few acts. The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s first film since 2009’s Bright Star, is set on a cattle ranch in Montana but was shot in New Zealand. Even though the film is set in the 1920s, the style had to be from a generation earlier, when the stately mansion in the film was created.
Grant Major was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s estate, Sagamore Hill in New York, which was erected in the 1880s. Their mansion was built by individuals from the eastern United States who traveled to Montana with the intention of colonizing the area with their sophistication. Because that notion was misguided, the mansion had deteriorated by 1920. The exteriors were shot in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, while the interiors were built on a set in Wellington.
WEST SIDE STORY (2021)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, a screenplay by Tony Kushner, based on the stage play by Arthur Laurents. With Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose.
Production Design by Adam Stockhausen and Set Decoration by Rena De Angelo
West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg, starts with a famous whistle and an overhead picture of a damaged portion of New York, bathed in harsh blue and steel colors, simulating a war zone. A massive wrecking ball looms overhead, poised to demolish tenements on the Upper West Side‘s San Juan Hill to make way for the Lincoln Center. As the Sharks and Jets compete for street domination, Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) find true love, and the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim soundtrack is once again brought to life, Spielberg’s unique take on the Shakespearean drama stays the same at its core.