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