Production designers and set decorators are WILDLY under-appreciated. I would love to do an experiment where different scenes from various amazing Oscar-winning movies are reproduced on a sound stage with the same director, cinematographer, and actors, but without the amazing sets or maybe with just a kinda bad set and prove to everyone how god damn important they are.
With the Oscar weekend here, I thought I’d show you some of my favorite movie set interiors. May we all appreciate them for just one second before we turn our attention to who Snookie is wearing to the Oscars, because the answer is undoubtedly “not enough.”
The Royal Tenenbaums; Production Design by David Wasco
Oh Wes Anderson, you quirky mother who I love and yet am annoyed by. These sets are exciting, provocative, and just so weird.
500 Days of Summer; Production design by Laura Fox, set decoration by Jennifer Lukehart
I couldn’t find photos of her apartment which I remember thinking, “Ooh that is VERY cute,” but it was refreshing to see actual style and some hipness in the apartments of these young LA-ers. Indie movies normally don’t allocate the budget to this kind of stuff, so the production designer probably worked her ass off to decorate them with so much personality.
Argo; Production design Sharon Seymour, Set Decoration Jan Pascale
One of my favorite movies this year. This set in particular didn’t blow me away, no, but the whole production design put us smack in the middle of 1979, the year of my birth. It told the story in such a detailed way.
American Psycho; Production Design by Gideon Ponte, Set Decoration by Jeanne Develle
Not my favorite movie and not my favorite set, but it undoubtedly did it’s job in the film. All I want to do is layer some mother loving textiles at least on that cold, hard sofa. I mean, can we get a bloody book for the coffee table? But, that’s exactly the point because this guy was PSYCHO. Which goes to show you NEVER trust a man with an apartment without accessories. He will kill you with a knife and drip you dry.
Amelie; Production design by Aline Bonetto, Set decoration by Marie-Laure Valla, Art Directed by Volker Shaffer
Remember when this movie swept the year in movies? I remember seeing it in Ireland when I was doing my post college European tour, and when I got back months later it still hadn’t come to the states, and therefore I felt very cool. The sets were just so feminine and quirky and full of personality.
Atonement; Production design by Sarah Greenwood, Set Decoration by Katie Spencer
God, this film should have won an award for the best first half of a movie, with a quick turn to a bad second half. Although that library scene was amazing — am I right ladies? Eh? Eh? You know what I’m talking about. Beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, with a little bit of weird lovemaking on the side.
Down with Love; Production Design by Andrew Laws, Set Decoration by Don Diers
I remember not liking this movie, but LOVING the sets, and I still do. That sunken living room with the hot pink circular sectional? Get out of town. Look at that Lucite bar cart? Those hot pink womb chairs? It’s very fun, indeed.
James Bond; Production Design by Peter Lamont
This one is for all you dudes out there — and by “dudes” I mean guys that love extremely well pulled together apartments with gold silk pillows. It’s not exactly a straight man’s bachelor pad, but it’s a well designed space.
It’s Complicated; Production Design by John Hutman, Set Decoration by Beth Rubino
Let’s stereotype for a moment, shall we? When I ask people during a style diagnostic what movie they would want to live in sooo many women say, “It’s Complicated.” Sure, maybe it’s that we all want to be Meryl Streep or maybe it’s just a really warm, pulled together, yet casual house full of antiques and personality. It’s not my style, but it’s undoubtedly a house that I would want to go home to. You know that fridge is full of delicious food and the DVR is just piled up with episodes of ‘The Americans” and back to back Nicolas Sparks films. The production designer created a space that feels like what we all want to create for our potential families — somewhere super warm, inviting, casual, yet absolutely high end. It’s the kind of unpretentious wealth that many of us secretly fantasize about.
Marie Antoinette (speaking of wealth) Production Design by KK Barrett, Set Decoration by Veronique Melery
This bedroom is what I like to call a ‘Two weeks ’til he files for divorce” kinda room. I’m sure you get why. Oh the decadence, the lushness, the total absolute indulgence of one Marie Antoinette. The sets were sooo beautiful. While I’m sure they were fairly accurate, I loved how they felt slightly edgy and updated, too. Brian would absolutely die if I forced him to sleep in that bed.
Clockwork Orange; Production Design by John Barry
Oh, hell yes. I just went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA and felt totally underwhelmed with my artistic career. I mean, this dude was a total genius and such a visionary. And that set above is crazy exciting and totally weird.
Lastly, a movie that I still haven’t seen and yet I reference it enough to make people think I was in it:
A Single Man: Production Design by Dan Bishop
Again, with the circular sectional. Just stop (and by “stop” I mean NEVER STOP). The whole film (or should I say the stills and clips I’ve seen) was amazingly designed and decorated and created an undoubtedly beautiful 1960’s Angeleno world that we all fantasize about. It also doesn’t hurt that it takes place in a Lautner House.
There you are my friends, some of the best designed and decorated film sets of all time. Next time you watch a movie, please take note. It’s their job to help the story along, not to distract from it so we often don’t notice the sets. MANY people think these are actual spaces that exist and I promise you, THEY RARELY ARE. Sure, they might be shot in a house, but virtually every effing detail has been designed, coordinated, and obsessed over by a team of people that never get credit.
So production designers, art directors, and set decorators, during this weekend where the films that you slaved over will get a massive amount of attention and you’ll get virtually none, know that I love you very much and am inspired constantly by what you do.