Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mad Men Adieu

Mark your calendars as Sunday, April 13th is the beginning of the end -- Mad Men season finale that is.  AMC is dividing the final season in half, airing the first seven episodes next month with the latter airing at a later date (possibly 2015).

Here is a sneak peek from Season Seven. Judging by the looks of things, they have either landed a huge airline account or the cast is accompanying Don Draper to rehab. (Actually these are press photos). Stay tuned for my interview with one of the principals which I will post at a later date. I didn't dare ask anything about the finale as I don't want to know (nor would any secrets be divulged!) I did hear we may be looking at a Sopranos style ending. It's been a great ride and sad to see it end.

Photo Credits: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Check into the Grand Budapest Hotel

March signals spring break, travel and renewal. So if you a packed suitcase is not in your future this month, check in to the colorful,  lavish, and just a tad wacky world of director Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.

Set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, the story weaves the tale of the fastidious concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes)  and a caper revolving around the death of the wealthy Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). Production designer Adam Stockhausen (12 Years a Slave) designed the interiors, a concoction of bold colors and Jugendstil style influenced by photocroms from the 20s and 30s.

For more on the film's production design, take a grand tour of the Grand Budapest Hotel in my Architectural Digest piece.

Photo Credit: Martin Scali/Fox Searchlight

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Period Set: 12 Years a Slave

Film designers tell me one of their favorite genres is the period film. Authenticity and creating a believable setting that takes the viewer back in time is of utmost importance. For the Academy Award nominated film 12 Years a Slave, production designer Adam Stockhausen (credits include Moonrise Kingdom and the upcoming Grand Budapest Hotel) faced the task of designing the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor) who portrays a free black man from Saratoga Springs, NY and is kidnapped and sold into bondage in 1841 Louisiana.

The various sets ranged from Solomon's home and the brick cell that makes up his hellish existence to the beauty and grandeur of two contrasting Louisiana plantations ( Michael Fassbender's Epps and  and Ford played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Adam took time during his busy Oscar season to share with me the design process that earned him and set decorator Alice Baker an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction.

Cinema Style: What type of research did you do for the sets? Was there any particular design influence in the way of books, films and designs of the period?

AS:  We did loads of photo research as well as looking at etchings, paintings, and maps of the time. Photography really exploded just a few years after the film takes place, so with care taken for period mistakes, we looked through the Historic New Orleans collection for incredible views of the levee wharf as well as plantation life. As for books, the two most important were Back of the Big House by John Michael Vlach and a collection of paintings by Marie Adrien Persac. These really covered the extremes... from the postcard beauty of the plantation estates to the real-deal anthropology and architecture of the working farm machinery.

CS:  What were some of the most important considerations of the time period that were considered "must haves" for your designs?

AS: The overwhelming consideration  was for our time and place to feel and be real. We didn't want scenery. That mean finishing outbuildings inside and out and completing the sets so we could see in any direction. We absolutely didn't want a feeling of museum neatness or historical distance. Anything that grounded us and made Solomon's life feel real and immediate was welcome. 

CS:  What sort of color palette did you use?

AS:  We started with the incredible green of the landscape in Louisiana-- and the sun-bleached whites and creams of the plantation architecture. For the New York sequences, we tried to use deeper, more saturated colors as a counterpoint. With that framework in place,  the tricky part was getting separation between the plantations. Solomon spends his years at several and they had to remain distinct. We tried to heighten the lush deep greens at Ford's and the blasted/desaturated brown and grays at Epp's.

CS:  Where did you find the set items?

AS:  We found pieces all over - attics, barns, museums, antique stores. There was no prop warehouse where we could load up on perfect antiques. Michael Martin and Alice Baker (propmaster and set decorator) assembled everything one piece at a time. They would head out on long drives on the weekends through Louisiana and Mississippi searching and would come back with the most amazing artifacts. 

 You can view the Oscar telecast this Sunday, March 2nd at 7/eastern. You can also see my piece on the other nominees in Architectural Digest's And the Oscar Goes To.

A special thanks to Carla McDonald and her feature on Cinema Style in The Salonniere.

Happy Oscar weekend!

Photo Credits: Fox Searchlight

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar's Greenroom

If you think scoring a ticket to the Academy Awards is hard, try getting an invite to the Greenroom where the elite meet, greet and hang out before they utter the words "And the Oscar goes to..."

Becoming as big a tradition as the red carpet, Architectural Digest celebrates its 11th year (if memory serves me correct) as host of what is known as the AD Greenroom. Touted by the Hollywood Reporter as "one of the most high-profile design gigs in the industry," luminaries ranging from Carleton Varney, Waldo Fernandez and Madeline Stuart to this year's designer, acclaimed architect David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group have designed the famed celebrity retreat.

No stranger to set design, Rockwell created the sets for the Oscar telecast in 2009 and 2010 and this year enlists the help of Academy Award winning actress Susan Sarandon. Careful not to upstage the celestial guests, Rockwell mixes neutral toned contemporary and vintage furniture in a study of casual elegance.  Fusing technology into the hospitality mix,  the room's focal point is an animated wall installation filled with 86 electronic devices (think tablets, televisions and Smartphones).

For those of us who are comprise the population of mere mortals, here is a sneak of this year's Greenroom  along with some of my favorites from the past years:

Rockwell's  designs for the 2014  AD Green Room feature a media mosaic sponsored by Samsung, displaying images from 42 socially conscious feature film nominees from the past.

Rockwell and Sarandon selecting images from
the Academy's vast collection for the room's artwork

Inspired by the legendary Old Hollywood decorator William Haines, Waldo Fernandez created a library of hand painted book jackets from the Academy's archives.

Los Angeles designer Madeline Stuart credits the popular Streamline Moderne style (popular on screen and off in the 1930s) for last year's glamorous Greenroom.

The always colorful Carleton Varney, President of Dorothy Draper and Co., channels his mentor's penchant for Hollywood Regency in the 2008 Greenroom.

Read here for more on the history of the AD Greenroom. And if you'd like to learn more on Carleton Varney, see my cover story for Array Magazine. Happy Oscar Week!

Photo Credits: Architectural Digest/Roger Davies, Hollywood Reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hustle Style

Since February is Oscar month (the awards are March 2nd at 7 eastern to be exact), I thought it would be a good time to take an in-depth look a few of the nominees for Best Art Direction.

I recently caught up with American Hustle production designer Judy Becker who literally channelled her earlier life in 70s Manhattan for the film's period style sets. Together with set decorator Heather Loeffler, they designed 140 sets including Sydney's (Amy Adams) single Manhattan pad (built on a soundstage), and Irving's (Christian Bale) house (period ranch in Medford, Mass) and office. The designs (along with the costumes and hairstyles) are a wonderful look back in time, proving the old adage that everything old is new again. 
Wonder if there will be a rush on shag carpet and brass and glass coffee tables?

Cinema Style:  What type of research did you do for the sets? 

JB: We researched every source imaginable.  Books of documentary photography from the time were important, as were movies made on location in the places the movie took place, and of course, internet images. One of our best sources for the interiors was a cache of "Interior Design" magazines from 1976-78, a treasure trove of both commercial and domestic ideas.  It was a consumer oriented magazine, so it was very inspiring in terms of both architectural details and the furniture styles and lines popular at the time.  The advertisements were particularly useful.  I also drew on my own memories of growing up in the New York suburbs and of having lived in Manhattan since I moved there for college in 1982 - the city at that time was still similar to the time period of our movie, and really only started drastically changing in the late 1990s.

Recreation of Plaza Hotel suite of the 70s

CS: Was there any particular design influence in the way of books, films and designs of the period:

JB:  My approach was and is always story and character driven, so finding the source material that informed the wonderful characters and story of American Hustle was crucial. It was very clear that the world of "American Hustle" was a stylish, glamorous world, the world of the late 1970s, Studio 54, a bit hedonistic, and a time of enormous freedom and the ability to recreate oneself.  It was not the gritty, graffiti -ridden New York City so often portrayed in movies set in the 1970s, nor was it the classic designer mid-century world.  To that effect, a movie I found enormously useful in conveying the Manhattan much of the movie takes place in was "The King of Comedy" - it shows midtown Manhattan shortly after our time period, and the glamorous modern architecture which I remember from my past and which still exists today.  It was a great way of showing that not all of of New York looked like Times Square.

Metallic foil pattern wallpaper and corresponding spread
make a bold statement in  Roz's (Jennifer Lawrence) bedroom
CS: What were some of the iconic designs of the time period that were considered “must haves” for your designs?

JB: We definitely wanted to incorporate some of the popular furniture collections, such as the Pace Collection with its use of Lucite and Chrome, and the more Brutalist furniture of Paul Evans as seen in his Directional line.  The textures of these pieces became an important part of our palette, and although they were extremely popular at the time, they have almost never been used in a movie set in this period.  Another must have was foil printed wallpaper - again, extremely popular but something that needed to be used very specifically - and we had the perfect character sets to use it in, primarily Rosalyn's house on Long Island, as well as the Disco Bathroom.

Irving and Roslyn's ranch house

CS: Irving's office was a step back in time. Can you elaborate?

JB: It was designed to look like a classic mid century upscale architect designed office.  I have seen so many of these office buildings in midtown Manhattan with their use of travertine and custom sculptural walls, but I have never seen one in a movie. I did a lot of research on these type of wall reliefs and designed one to be used on both sides.  My construction shop fabricated it out of plaster and resin and then it was scenic painted to look like bronze with patina. The desk was really special - I saw an ad for a similar desk in an old Interior Design magazine.  We searched everywhere for a similar one to no avail; we ended up fabricating it using a burled wood veneer. We also used some Brutalist Paul Evans style furniture in this office - a cabinet, side table, and lamp.

CS: What about the color palette for Sydney's apartment?

JB: Sydney's apartment was built on our sound stage in Woburn, MA.  The decor and color palette was meant to relate to yet contrast with Rosalyn and Irving's house.  We used a beige grasscloth wallpaper on all her walls, and the floors were made of vintage wood parquet tiles, sourced through a Boston salvage house and exactly accurate for the type of post war white brick building we were emulating.  Sydney had some more recognizable designer furniture, including the Cessna chairs and vintage parsons table. We custom fabricated yellow quilted bedroom walls and matching bedspread.

For more on this and other Oscar nominated films, see my piece on And the Oscar Goes To... in Architectural Digest.

Photo Credits courtesy of Sony Pictures

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Beatles on Film

To somewhat paraphrase Sgt. Pepper, it was fifty years ago today that the Beatles streamed into our consciousness. While their contributions to music are incomparable, here is a retrospective on their small impact to the world of film:

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Film director Richard Lester's "mockumentary" of four musicians trying to make their way through throngs of screaming females to a television appearance in London was actually more of a documentary.  Considered a rock and roll classic, there is lots of running, screaming, pratfalls and slapstick against the musical black and white backdrop of early Beatle's classics such as "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Tell Me Why" to "If I Fell" and "I Should Have Known Better." Filmed on location in London, it's a true snapshot in time of the beginning days of Beatlemania.

Help! (1965)

Another crazy caper style film by Lester finds the Beatles chased through the Alps to the Bahamas (primarily because the Fab Four was in need of a vacay) by mad scientists in amazing technicolor. See it for the soundtrack and the Bahamas before the invasion of hotel chains.

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Inspired by LSD aficionado Ken Kesey's Merry Prankster's acid fueled bus trip from California to New York, the Beatles charter a bus for their own "magical mystery tour" through the English countryside.

Yellow Submarine  (1968)

Perhaps the first psychedelic cartoon of the period, the animated film featured Beatles tunes but not the original stars voices. Still now sure why "we all live in a yellow submarine"....

Let It Be (1969)

Known for its iconic performance of "Get Back" on Apple Studio's rooftop, Let It Be was the documentary of the making of the Beatles album of the same name and sadly, their last release as a group.

Other notable Beatle appearances on film  included John Lennon's turn as a soldier in How I Won the War (1967), Ringo Starr in the controversial Candy (1968), The Magic Christian (1969) and Caveman (1981) where he met his second wife actress Barbara Bach.

Viva la Beatles.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fleming, Ian Fleming

Maybe it's the fact I was just "across the pond" last week, but nothing says London to me like Bond, James Bond. So while we wait for the next 007 installment, the BBC came out with a wonderful film Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.

Starring Dominic Cooper (of Mamma Mia and Captain Phillips fame) as  author of twelve novels of possibly the most iconic spy ever known, the four-part mini-series details the  life of the black sheep turned failed London stockbroker turned Naval Intelligence officer (with a codename 17F, his work outsmarting the Nazis was a great training ground for Bond).  For Bond fanatics (that would be me), it's all here - the shaken, not stirred martinis, the womanizing, the original Miss Moneypenny, the fast quips and the blatant sexisms (to be fair, it was the forties). Moviegoers will recognize all sorts of references-- the future M, gadget pens, a penchant for Baccarat and all sort of espionage gimmicks culled from adventures  spent  behind enemy lines playing the Nazis against the Russians while all the time reporting back to the British. As Cooper notes, "Fleming's creativity was put to good use. All of his schemes and ideas (during his time as a Naval intelligence officer), they were so far-fetched, but then you find out some of them actually worked during the war!" Ironically the only thing he failed at was a "license to kill."

The first and original James Bond, actor Sean Connery with Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming with wife Ann O'Neill

Fleming writing his novels at his Caribbean home "Goldeneye"

Period London street sets above and below

Dapper and debonair: Dominic Cooper as Fleming 

Cooper/Fleming with Lara Pulver/Ann O'Neill

Needless to say, the mini-series is filled with great costumes and period WWII set designs. Check it out on the BBC Wednesday nights 10/9 central.

Film credits: Vermes Cata @ BBC