Old Sport

Over the weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a panel discussion with all of the nominated teams of production designers and set decorators for this year’s Academy Awards at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. This is the second year I’ve attended, and both times I’ve come away completely astonished and inspired by the nominees. The amount of research, time, and care these people put into their work is something to be admired. I also make a point to force myself go up to my favorites to introduce myself and say congratulations afterwards, and although I found myself shaking from nerves, I’m glad I did it.


My favorite of the nominees is The Great Gatsby. I thought the sets and the visual effects were stunning, and couldn’t have done a better job of bringing the audience into the world of Jay Gatsby.


I was able to meet Catherine Martin and Bev Dunn, who were both incredibly sweet, as well as say hello and congrats to Gene Serdena, the set decorator for Her.


These are some of what I found to be the most fascinating points that were discussed…

  • Originally, there were only to be a few orchids in the scene of Gatsby when Jay and Daisy meet again, but Baz Lerman insisted on hundreds more which proved a challenge to find at the last minute. But Bev worked her magic, bringing in hundreds and hundreds of faux orchids, and it allowed Leo to ad-lib the line ‘Do you think it’s too much?’. So perfect.


  • Each prop used in Gravity had to be modeled, then input into the computer, then simulated on screen to achieve the perfect look. Each prop you see actually existed and was carefully selected. There are also many hidden layers to create back stories for the other astronauts living on the space station, whom we never see, including hints towards where they are from, who their families are, etc. In addition, all the glass on the helmets were added in post production.


  • The designers of Her steered away from all blues in their sets, and red became a recurring theme.


  • 12 Years a Slave was filmed throughout June, July, and August in Louisiana. The sweat is real. 


  • Most of the scenes of American Hustle were filmed in Worcester, Massachusetts in order to make it seem like they were in New York in the 70’s.


  • Because of the large scale of sets in Gatsby, period pieces were found and then duplicated 10 fold by the prop department to create the look of the 20’s.

great gatsby movie set design - jay gatsby mansion ballroom

  • Every weekend during filming of 12 years, the designers would travel hours out of town, and even out of state, to rummage through old barns to find the perfect pieces.


  • Many of the pieces of furniture used in American Hustle are now in the production designer’s home because she loved them so much.


  • The teeth used for Wolfsheim’s tie-pin and cuff links in Gatsby aren’t real, but it isn’t because the designers didn’t want them to be real. Real teeth were actually acquired and made into accessories, however upon seeing the finished products, the designers decided the teeth didn’t look enough like teeth, so dozens of fake teeth were made.


Hooray for the win for Gatsby!!!


I can’t wait for next year!



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