Monday, March 12, 2012

Tyler Perry Style

I have been a huge fan of Tyler Perry (and who doesn't love Medea) for years so I was delighted to recently interview his long time set decorator (12 movies and counting) Lance Totten.

San Francisco via an Atlanta soundstage becomes the setting for Tyler Perry's new romantic drama Good Deeds. Mogul/director/actor/screenwriter/producer/and even songwriter Tyler Perry stars as businessman Wesley Deeds, a wealthy entrepreneur who lives a very controlled and predictable life as the head of the family owned Deeds Corporation. His life changes when he meets a down on her luck single mother (Thandie Newton) which gives him the courage to live the life he has always wanted.

Jamie Kennedy, Gabrielle Union, Tyler Perry, Eddie Cibrian and Rebecca  Romijn

Thandie Newton
"Production designer Ina Mayhew and I agreed that it was important to sell the fact that Wesley Deeds was wealthy, but in an outside-of-the-box way," notes Totten about the design process. "His environment had to be high-end but in a very sophisticated way, not at all flashy or new money." The designers came up with designs of a "sleek organic nature" to denote a Northern California setting.

Totten and his buyers (Mary Stacy and Rachel Goodman) discussed the idea of weaving Deeds' desire to travel as a major character point for the interiors. Since he had to stay home and run the family business, wanderlust would no doubt set in so they incorporated antique globes and framed vintage posters and maps into the design mix. "The original paintings in Deeds' apartment (all by local Georgia painter Bill Turner who they discovered at the Arts Festival in Piedmont Park) had sort of a haunting loneliness to them that reminded me of that wanderlust Deeds was feeling,"says Totten.

For Deeds master bedroom, Mayhew added a double-sided fireplace to divide the rooms while keeping a feeling of openness. A capiz shell light fixture from Z Gallerie and a contemporary bed setting take front and center in this contemporary room. "The bed was one that TP (Tyler Perry) responded to in my initial presentation photos: a leather designer piece from Roche-Bobois. It was actually very simple, and like all Italian contemporary stuff, very low to the floor," details Totten. "Mr. Perry likes the style of Italian furniture, but because he's 6'5", I've learned over the years that he doesn't like being low to the ground, so we had a wooden platform built to raise it up... because that particular bed wasn't really as funky as what we wanted to do, we had the giant headboard made and screwed to the wall behind it. It's just plywood, batting, and the right color of faux suede."

The offices of the Deeds corporation represented a huge challenge for the designers. Atlanta had plenty of empty office space but needed a San Francisco skyline which meant giant trans-light backdrops outside the windows. Perry wanted an open floor plan both aesthetically and for practical purposes (in order to maneuver cameras) so everything was built on a soundstage. The majority of the furniture was rented (which included some cook Knoll accent chairs) and Herman Miller threw in three chairs for product placement. A credenza was rented from Room and Board and Totten loved it so much that he had it reproduced. "As is often the case with Tyler Perry, we could not find a desk that was high-end enough for him that we could also afford, so we custom built one as scenery," says Totten. " If you think about it, decorating a set for a billionaire character who's been created by a real-life billionaire can be rather daunting!"

The majority of films naturally have to be made with a budget in mind. "It's not like we have the time or money to create interiors as if they were actually for Tyler Perry the person, but you've still got to sell the illusion," explains Totten. "Having said that, I still spent over $10,000 at Masterpiece Lighting on the sconces and hanging pendant fixtures throughout the offices. That's not including table or floor lamps which came from all over. We'll mix a $400 lamp from Bungalow with a thrift-store vintage one or a $40 lamp from Home Goods and it all just works somehow."

The work of artist Anthony Liggins was used for the office interiors

Good Deeds is currently playing in theaters and Medea sits this one out.

Photo Credits: Lance Totten, Quantrell Colbert-c 2011 Very Perry Films