Mark Friedberg’s beautifully gritty design was the dark soul of Todd Phillip’s Joker movie. The film is an unconventional, uncompromising blockbuster that has surpassed the one billion dollar mark in the box office. Not all of Mark Friedberg’s movies have made over one billion dollars, however. His heart’s in the indie world and he’s designed a long list of indie classics from Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited to the more recent Selma and If Beale Street Could Talk. And for Darren Aronofsky he created the giant biblical ark seen in the big budget epic Noah. Below is some deep insight into this design genius’ process.
AS: How do you go about creating the specific universe of a movie like Joker?
MF: The way I design is I want to understand the world before I make it. I’m not making a world and then trying to understand it. I’m not making sets and hoping they go together. I like to work from concept. There was this sense of the city being an oppressive force bearing down on Arthur [Fleck, the Joker] that was in the script. But there were also strong references to Taxi Driver and that era of filmmaking and to living in New York City at that time. It took a while with Todd [Phillips, director] and I driving around to figure out what our Gotham was, what was Arthur’s Gotham really. Everything in the visual world of the story both advances the plot but also cues us emotionally, in the way the score helps us understand what to feel and the costumes help us better understand the character.