Tag Archives: Production Design

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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Murder and Movie Sets

Last weekend we had a couple over for dinner and as my friend was coming in she pressed a bag into my hand. “I think you’ll like this. I wonder if you have seen it. Hitchcock. The film is great, but I think you will get a kick out of the set decoration.”


I assumed I had seen it, but I was thrilled at the gesture. This is the kind of hostess gift that could inspire a dinner party all on its own. But after the guests were gone and the dishes were rinsed (I only rinse at night; the washing comes the next day) I opened the bag – I love presents – and was delighted to find Dial M for Murder.

I hadn’t seen it and neither had Mr. Blandings, so we popped it in the DVD player the following night. Hitchcock is such a delight. He was a thinking man’s director as you have to pay attention and the nuances of his films are so engaging. Like a skilled dance partner, he leads you through the story but does not feel the need to push or drag.

The film takes place in the London flat of Margot and Tony Wendice played by Grace Kelly and Ray Millard. The set is heaven. An Anglophile’s dream. The walls and trim are a creamy yellow or a yellowy cream depending on how you choose to describe it. The woodwork is detailed and lovely. Chinese ceramics add interest in lamps and objets.


No surprise I adored the chintz sofa with the contrasting red welt. Oh my. And the linen velvet armchair might be reason alone to off your spouse if you thought it might end up it the possession of a lover.
Hitchcock was so conscious of detail. Kelly wore bright colors at the beginning of the film at his direction; her wardrobe transitioned to progressively more somber tones as the story unfolds.
The curtains and shutters play a major role in the plot and are beautifully crafted under the skillful eye of set decorator George James Hopkins. Hopkins had an impressive career. He was set decorator for sixty-six movies including Casablanca, Auntie Mame, My Fair Lady, Wait Until Dark and Hello, Dolly!

So my friend was right and I adored the movie and the sets. I hope they will come back and not just because they bring charming gifts. The dinner went well as we had a fun crew and the food was fabulous as Mr. Blandings cooked. Mr. Blandings always cooks. We are trying to avoid the sort of review Tony tosses to Margot, “I’m so glad we don’t have to go…; she’s such a filthy cook.”

Images courtesy of Grace Kelly Online.

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Brideshead Revisited

The March issue of Vanity Fair is promoting the new big screen production of Brideshead Revisited. I am horrible at playing those games and answering those questionnaires that ask you your favorites. Psychologically, unlike aesthetically, I am not black and white; I live in the land of grey.

Emma Thompson as the matriarch Lady Marchmain.

So, rather than the one-word association game I’m supposed to be playing, I’m often working in paragraphs, and everyone else has moved on. I’m particularly conflicted on favorite book. But, one of my top ten, no, top five, would be Brideshead Revisited. It’s a book of love affairs, mostly those of Charles Ryder, and the best is his love affair with the house.


Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder.

The author Evelyn Waugh clearly had fallen in love with a house or two in his day. The home, Brideshead, is, without question, a character in the novel.


Hayley Atwell as Julia Flyte.

Some folks are a little worked up that anyone is taking on this project. A television mini-series that aired in 1981 is, apparently, beloved. I was oblivious, in 1981, to Brideshead Revisited, and almost anything other than Tony Ward, but that’s another story.


Ben Wishaw as Sebastian Flyte.

In case you have not read the book, one of the main characters is Sebastian Flyte, a college-aged man (boy) who carries a teddy bear named Aloysius with him almost everywhere he goes. Before you comment on what kind of nut case has a teddy bear in college, I need to confess, I took my childhood bear with me to college and slept with him almost every night. Sadly, his name is not so clever (it is Bear) a point which vexes me to this day. I was quite a theatrical child; I think I could have done better. In Sebastian’s honor, I named the first pet I adopted as an adult after him. A yellow and white pound cat, he was not nearly as Flytey as his namesake.


The mini-series location was Castle Howard, pictured top. The movie, it has been reported, is being filmed at Chatsworth House, above, which is, as you can see, beyond beyond. Jennifer Dwyer did a great post on the house and it’s owner a while back. I already know I love the story and I can’t imagine I would be disappointed by the settings, but I plan to rent the mini-series to see how they all stack up. Besides, it’s a great excuse to snuggle up with Mr. Blandings. And Bear.

All images of the actors, Vanity Fair.
Post-script: Joni, of Cote de Texas is correct.  Chatsworth House was an original location for the movie, but it was actually filmed at Castle Howard as well.  Thanks for the heads-up.
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How To Murder Your Wife

Mr. Blandings and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary last week. Thank you, but no congratulations necessary; we are just getting started. In a funny twist of fate, a very stylish friend loaned me the movie “How to Murder Your Wife.” The movie was made in 1965, coincidentally, the year Mr. Blandings and I were born. My friend, who would scoff at being termed “stylish,” though she is, thought I might enjoy Jack Lemmon’s apartment in the film.

Whoa. I have been searching the internet for a week, and have contacted our local paper’s movie critic, whom I adore, but to no avail. I cannot find one image other than the movie poster. I do know the film was shot on location in New York, but have no idea if the interiors were a set or not. Richard Sylbert was the production designer and his career is legendary. Think Rosemary’s Baby, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Manchurian Candidate, and, my favorite film of all time, The Graduate. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, do I give you advice? Well, do I give you advice often? I insist you rent/buy this movie. Insist. I will do my best to describe it with some visual aids, but you really must see it for yourself. (As a disclaimer, I refer here only to the sets. The movie itself is a mass of un-p.c. tongue-in-cheek, women are the death of us kind of stuff. It’s amusing, if you can manage to not over-think it.)

Lemmon’s character is a chic, single, swinging cartoonist who lives in a townhouse in Manhattan. (When we see him in his first adventure he is wearing a turtleneck and dark suit, the jacket of which has red lining.) His little slice of heaven is surrounded by new construction which he tries to ignore. The film begins with his butler, Charles, giving a tour of the place.

Lantern by Charles Edwards.

The entry is the only room on street level, a classic dream of black and white marble floors. Climbing the staircase with the iron railing you can’t help notice the fantastic lantern over-head. Entering the main floor of the townhouse, you are greeted with ebony-stained wood floors, a subtle Empire vignette in the hallway. Zebra rug, leather sofas, big, bold black and white painting over the fireplace.

Miles Redd via Patricia Grey – she has done a fabulous week of zebra.


Billy Baldwin via Patricia Grey, by way of Style Court.

Outside is a terrace that would make Dorothy Draper swoon. Trellis and iron, striped canopies; perfection.

The butler’s pantry is two long walls of ivory lacquered cabinets trimmed in black.

Two walls of cabinets like the box, top. Unbelievable. Boxes, West Elm.

Just to the right is the entry to the master, the doors of which could be by Fornasetti himself.

Screen image courtesy of Fornesetti.com.
If you think bathrooms today are loaded with innovation, you will realize how little progress has been made when you see the bath. Travertine floor and ceiling, sliding doors encasing the sunken marble tub/shower with temperature control and multiple jets.

The bed itself is some kind of brass extravaganza. A mis-step in my book, but when a thing like this show up in a spot like this it makes me question my own taste and not the tastemaker’s. Barcelona chair in the most amazing buttery-camel leather and the most hilarious rickety TV stand and TV that will remind you of your grandmother’s. Pickings must have been slim in this area.

The butler’s room is quintessential English “man” room. Simple, classic, phone by the bed to be on the ever-ready.

OK, he’s a cartoonist, remember? The third floor is his studio. Two levels with soaring vaulted ceilings.

The movie itself is a delight if you like old screwball comedies. Verna Lisi plays the wife in question. The only issue Mr. Blandings had with the plot is why Jack Lemmon wants to get rid of her; she’s gorgeous, wants to fool around all the time, is an amazing cook and speaks no English. “So she’s the perfect wife?” I coyly asked. “No, darling, I have the perfect wife.” I can’t wait for the next fifteen years.

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Ministry of Magic by KWID

As it was 100+ degrees in Kansas City this week, I took the two oldest boys to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A good film, but I spent a lot of time studying the sets. Is it my imagination, or was the Ministry of Magic the latest Kelly Wearstler commission?

Passageways and room upon room of this fabulous, shiny, black tile, white grout, arched doorways. The doors were black again, heavy moulding with a large antiqued brass knob in the center. Walls and walls of mirrors. Heavy gilded accents. Wizards are so chic.
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