Julie & Julia – Production Design

As all married people do, Mr. Blandings and I have a short hand. “Dude,” is one, but we have another that comes up fairly often. There are people, well-known people, with whom I become convinced that I would be friends if only our paths were to cross. The first time I described this I said, “If we sat next to each other on a plane I think we would be friends,” and that is the measure, now, to describe my connection to someone. Someone famous or at least famous-y.

I feel quite sure, and have for along time, that if Nora Ephron and I sat next to each other on a plane we would hit it off. Which was why I was quite excited at the prospect of the new Ephron movie, Julie & Julia.

I have a sort of perverse connection to You’ve Got Mail and one of the things I really enjoy about all Ephron films are the sets. I’m a girl who likes a good set. I had the pleasure of seeing Julie & Julia this week and was delighted once again.

One of the things that intrigues me about movies is the process. I checked in with Mark Ricker, who was the Production Designer on Julie & Julia, and he explained how the sets evolved. “(The Production Designer) is one of the first people hired once a film gets the green light. Typically the relationship with the director grows out of conversation, research, shared ideas, art, references, etc. Nora is very involved. (She) is very good at knowing spacial relationships, camera angles in her head and other devices.”

Julia and Paul Child’s apartment in Paris is delicious. “Julia’s apartment was pretty much an instant sell. Julie’s took more steps as Nora had been to the real apartment herself, and so was influenced by what she saw there, which ultimately wasn’t very camera friendly. We wanted to show the history built between she and her husband Eric. They read a lot. They love science fiction, so we had some posters and tons of paperbacks and travel books. Both are from Texas so we had a few Texas touches throughout. Basically, we just built a layer of accumulation in an apartment without a specific design style, but cozy nevertheless.”

I asked Mark if he ever develops a crush on something they have gathered for a set. Let’s face it, he’s a designer. “Production Design,” says Mark, “is a combination of the best of visual fields: Architecture, Interior Design & Decorative Arts, History, Film making, Storytelling, Photography, Landscape Design, Travel..” As for the crushes? “It always happens. Shopping for the set dressing on a film is a combination of buying with characters in mind, but through the filter of personal taste. It is inevitable that certain pieces become fodder for crushes, and I always end up with a trinket or two.”
Mark was extremely helpful; for the full interview, and details of what he stuffed in his duffel, click here. The other critical piece of setting the stage is Set Decoration. Next Friday I’ll post an interview with the Set Decorator from Julie & Julia, Susan Bode, whom Mark deemed “a genius at coming up with the details.” The movie opens August 7th.
All images courtesy of Sony Pictures; photography by Jonathan Wenk.
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53 thoughts on “Julie & Julia – Production Design

  1. I'm looking forward to seeing this movie. J'adore production design… I was in film school to be a Production Designer… but hubby and wanting kids came first. Now I just lust over sets and locations!

  2. This is so great you wrote on this subject! I have often watched movies and became so engrossed in the set design I didn't even hear dialogue. Vanity Fair is one… beautiful. Just beautiful. And most recently, Harry Potter. There is a potions professor and I love his room with all of the apothecary jars and dark grey and brown colors. There is an attic at the top of Hogwarts that has a pile of old black blickensdorfer typewriters (I have one on my mantel) and old antique silver laying around, crystal chandeliers which I have such a fondness for. The cabinets with their little viles of "memories" swirling around are beautiful too. I have no idea what was being talked about in those scenes and my husband has sworn off sitting me with in future movies that might be have interesting sets. LOL!

    loved your post.
    Alexis Ceule


  3. this is great to see!
    i'm a huge nora ephron fan too–and cannot wait for this movie.
    so excited to finally have one i want to see.
    thanks as always for sharing!

  4. Saw it Monday night courtesy of Whole Foods…it was so wonderful. Thankfully we ate well beforehand or I may have needed to feast afterwords.
    Wonderful post.

  5. I know exactly what you mean about sitting next to someone on a plane – I have that feeling about people from afar sometimes. I am reading Julie and Julia right now. I LOVE Nora Ephron and all she writes or directs, and am extremely jealous of you at this moment!! Can't wait for your post about the set – thanks so much for sharing.

  6. you got a sneak peak -lucky you – just started Julie's book and remember reading about the blog in the nyt and thinking how could someone do that, especially after work each night – looking forward to the film – thanks for the fun pics and interview (enjoyed my life in france last summer)

  7. I'm a huge Nora Ephron fan-love all of her movies and books! I adore her wit and realness. Anxious to see this movie- and to read your interview. Lucky, lucky you~ getting to preview. The kitchen sets with all of the tools of the trade are full of goodness.

  8. Loved seeing the behind the scenes, can't wait to read more. Nora would be lucky to sit next to you on a plane…for sure friends by take off!

  9. I must see this movie! What a great interview… headed off to read more and for details of what he stuffed in his duffel…

  10. Very interesting the way set design works. I am hoping to see this movie myself and am thinking I'll take my Mom as a girl's day out.

  11. Please share how you got to see Julie and Julia early and meet the Set Designer and Set Decorator. I love those kinds of details. I can't wait to see the movie–my two favorite actresses!
    I love Nora Efron, too. Have you seen the YouTube of her at the AFI tribute to Meryl Streep. I have watched that many times for the sheer pleasure of her wit.

  12. I can't wait to see this! My niece who is 13 and a budding chef, was invited to a preview screening about two weeks ago in Baltimore. Lucky girl! She loved the movie.

  13. Well you know I loved this post! Great piece — Bravo!
    check my blog first week of August as I will be featuring my cover article from American Airlines magazine Celebrated Living on the film and cuisine in the cinema. Bon Appetit!


  14. What fun! I married in 1975 and soon began my descent into food, cooking, equipment, reading, reading, reading. Julia Child was my Super Hero. Julie & Julia was an hysterical read. I am looking forward to the movie. But spill the beans: did the scene in the book when Julia and her husband took a stick of Land of the Lakes Butter to Julia's kitchen at the Smithsonian to honor the Cooking Goddess make it to the film? The image of that makes me laugh every time I think of it. Great post and information. And, yes, I think you an Nora would it if off. On a long internationally flight, you might even end up best friends!

  15. I got Julia's book 30 years ago as a wedding present and can't wait to see the movie… I'm sure to go walking down memory lane…

    I still can't cook…but I loved your post! I do think Nora and Mrs B would hit it off!

  16. Thanks so much for the post! I am anxiously awaiting this movie! Adore Ephron's writing, both books and movies. (Revisiting Fountainhead from "Wallflower at the Orgy" is my alltime favorite!) While I'm waiting for the movie to open here I am reading "My Life in France" by JC and of course "Julie and Julia". Thanks for the link to the production designer.

  17. Oh goodie!! Another set groupie!!! the best part of movies, no? I cannot wait for this one! And for your next interview. A treat!

  18. I have a list, of airplane friends, if only I had the chance. Many writers, Bill Bryson being at the top, but also Diane Keaton, certainly as I want to move into her house, from that movie, oh what was it called? I loved that house.

  19. I do think you will enjoy the film. I am half-way through the Julie/Julia Project myself. HBD, I don't want to spoil anything, but I don't think you will be disappointed.

    I did not actually meet these folks, but conducted the interviews via email. As for how it came about, I asked. Following the interviews Sony offered me tickets to a screening, which I gleefully accepted.

    And, Chloe, try as I might, I can't cook either. But this made me wish I could.

  20. I am so excited to see this movie. It should be very good. I am pretty particular about what I will pay to see at the theaters nowadays.

  21. I just finished the book and am very much looking forward to seeing the movie. Thanks for the pictures.

  22. such a dream job. This was what Kelly Wearstler was doing originally-production design. I've always assumed this was why she was able to capture the hollywood regency feel with such aplomb.

  23. Mr. EEE's sister served jury duty with Nora Ephron and they took their lunch breaks together – she said she was very down to earth and delightful… Did you read the New Yorker article on her? EEE

  24. Nora Ephron fans might enjoy the great profile in the July 6 issue of the NYer. (After reading that article, I can see that you and she would be BFF. Actually with her food interests, she and Mr. B would get on—you'd be great couples friends w/Nora and Nick Pileggi. (Nora and Nick—how cool is that—Myrna Loy/Mrs. B connection.)Set design (especially for literary movies!) sounds like the most fun career possible. Missed my calling.

  25. EEE and Nell – on the hunt for the NYer now. Another reason I need a subscription.

    And Emily – I knew it. She had to be.

  26. What a wonderful post. I am a set-aholic and half the time miss the whole film looking at the sets or the clothes or something unrelated to the actual story. I love to cook and lived in Paris and feel a connection to Julia Child ever since childhood when I heard my mother speak of her (my mom is a great cook too).

    This movie looks so fun and delightful and I wholly agree that Nora Ephron would be a fast friend – so witty and self-deprecating and observant. I bought her book "I Feel Bad About My Neck" for my Mom who laughed all of Christmas day as she read it.

    Can't wait to see the film. And since seeing "Doubt" and "Night at the Museum", I am smitten with Amy Adams!

  27. Oh this is spooky Mrs. B – I've just walked in from a quick trip to the movies & they had a long trailer for J&J. I never even realized there was a Mr. Julia, so I'm looking forward to getting to know more about him through the film.

    One of our sons is a Film Editor & is great mates with a Set Designer. He brought over one night for dinner & I felt very edgey, her eyes were darting every which way. With all the renovation dust & stuff, I'm convinced she thought she'd walked onto a old set of the Addams Family!
    Millie ^_^

  28. At the end of the ski season, we always host a dinner for the ski coaches and one of the items on the menu would be appreciated by Julie and Julia – with Julia Child's "roquefort balls" – Everything that has ever been served from her repertoire has not only incredible taste but it is made with real vigor. Just shows that we really can do anything we set our mind to – no matter the size or limitations. What a fascinating article on the design of the set.
    I look forward to seeing this movie.

  29. I have wonderful memories of my mother cooking away in the kitchen with her Julia Child cookbook propped open to a well worn page. I just bought the book to read on a plane ride next month and can hardly wait to see the movie!

  30. I am not a big fan of most recent American movies (just the titles scare me away)but I never miss the real good ones and Meryl Streep is always perfect in any role. I could watch her forever (same for Bette Davis). This post makes me so eager to see the movie…and being a set designer? what a dream!

  31. How lucky you were to have a conversation with Mark. Did you know him or seek him out? I always wondered what it would take to get into set design. I think it would be fun, but I also hear it is a bit stressful because of the timetables… which are very rushed. I can't wait to see this film… it isn't out here in California yet. I'm currently reading "My French Life" by Julia Child and it's really giving me a great appreciation for her. What a woman…smart, witty, industrial and strong!

  32. can't wait to see the movie and your interview with Mark feels like I'm "in the know". I love that Julie's apartment wasn't very "camera friendly" and how they made it so…wouldn't it be nice to have someone like Mark around when we needed a change in our own homes?

  33. Great post – thanks for sharing this. Set designer is one of my dream jobs. (im sure its not as fun as it looks though)

    I can't wait to see this movie. What is your review?

  34. The short-hand slang of couples. There's an entire topic. I too love a good set and sometimes put on Gosford Park just to watch the images go by. . . and to hear the zingers uttered by Maggie Smith's character. My phrase to describe these movies is "high production values." Sometimes that is my answer to when my husband asks me what I want to watch on any given night. "Something with high production values."

  35. I am so looking forward to seeing this movie! And yes, there is nothing better than a great set. Sets you want to move into.

  36. Can't wait for this one, just he casting is great. I used to love watching her on TV ("You simply whack away at the chicken…"), but Mrs. E.'s grandparents knew and dined with them frequently. I heard a wonderful story about Julia musing about writing a cookbook… "Sure, sure… in the meantime may I have just a bit more …."

  37. Thank you for sharing this interview! I've had a major secret crush on production design for ages, and if I could be 20 again, I would head straight to art school to major in PD and let nothing deter me. Like Alexis above, I have missed entire movie scenes/dialogue because I was mesmerized by the sets and costumes; I can't remember whole parts of 'The Duchess' (major sumptuousness). I can't wait to see this film, my mom and I already have a 'date'! Los Angeles Times Food Section had a great article today on Nora's own home kitchen in NYC. Thanks again Patricia, I LOVE your blog and read daily!

  38. Production Design! I finally know what I want to do when I grow up! Thanks for the lightbulb, Mrs. Blandings, your blog is brilliant!

  39. Mark's mom! I was overwhelmed with how generous he was with his time and his feedback. You clearly did a fine job.

  40. Hi Patricia!

    How exciting that you got to interview the set designers! We are featuring your two posts on Julie and Julia in our weekly newsletter- comes out tomorrow. If you aren't signed up to get it, I can email you a copy of it if you'd like!

    Emily @ Material Girls

  41. I would LOVE to know where the wall light in the kitchen and the 4 state prints above the bed are from, in Julie's apartment. Please leave me a comment if you have any idea, I've been digging around trying to find some information with no luck!

    Thanks so much!

  42. We've seen J&J twice now, and both times when the oval mirror in Julie's apartment appears, I'm obsessed with how perfect it would be over our fireplace! There's a blank space there now, and I've been haunting antique shops off and on, looking for just that one. Nothing else will do!

    I was delighted to find your entry on the production design and read more about the sets. Thank you!

  43. Can you send me Mark Ricker's contact information? I'm trying to do some research about Julie Child and was curious where get found the archival material/interior shots of her home, etc.

    Thank you kindly,

  44. I've been looking to get in touch with her myself concerning a certain typewriter that was used in Finding Forrester to no avail.

    It turns out I actually emailed one of the commenters here as she was able to get in touch with Susan Bode-Tyson.

    Any help with this (hopefully a comment on a post this long ago actually shows up) would be greatly appreciated.

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