Documentarian

There may be a misconception that the production designer is responsible for putting up walls. From Boyle’s point of view that’s not the case at all. They are responsible for the psychology and the philosophy that goes into the telling of the story. Above all, like all film makers they’re truth-tellers. And that’s what in Boyle’s mind an artist’s responsibility is- to tell the truth.

Film was so new at the time and these guys were inventing the art form, they were inventing cinematic production design, cinematic art direction. You know before computers came around everything was hand-made, hand-done. They used matte paintings, photographic blow-ups, they used models, miniatures. Boyle says if Hitchcock was around today he would be using computers to do his films, no question. You know the Birds is now being remade with George Clooney and Naomi Watts playing the Rod Taylor and the Tippi Hedren characters and they’re remaking it in Bodega Bay on location. I think what’s going to be interesting is if you can draw a comparison to the CGI that they’re going to be using and how the audience’s gut visceral reaction is to this new film compared to the Hitchcock version which was a mixture of real birds, mechanical birds, the rotoscope process…

AS: What are some of the other things a production designer specifically will get from your films?
DR: What they will get from the film is a sense of inspiration towards their career, their life, something to aspire to, a sort of an integrity to aspire to- a life lived. What you feel from this film is, wow, these guys in their late age are still working! Bummy worked until he was 91 and passed away just as he was finishing designing Letters from Iwo Jima the Clint Eastwood film and before that he did Flags of Our Fathers so what you get from this and what I think the film makers get from this is an inspiration really.

AS: After talking to all these guys did anything stand out as something that they have in common? You were talking about a humility or a sensitivity toward environment…
DR: Well this is something interesting that Henry Bumstead once said. There’s a great book called Henry Bumstead: Hollywood Art Director, and I think in that book he said that 80% of the art directors during the 30’s came out of the USC School of Architecture. So the big, big names—

AS: Boyle did…

DR: Robert Boyle, Henry Bumstead, Albert Nozaki, and Boris Leven. So you’re looking at a period of time where during the Depression that all these architectural students come out and there’s no work in architecture. I’d encourage you to reread the Vincent LeBrutto book By Design and in there Bob Boyle tells a story of how he was visiting a movie set. There was no work in architecture and he looked around and he said, and I’m paraphrasing, Someone’s got to build these sets -maybe I should do that. So he went home that night and drew what he thought set designs should look like. The next morning he brought them to the attention of Hans Dreier who was the supervising art director of Paramount Studios, another hero of these men, and was hired on the spot.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us