Judy Becker’s Top Ten Films (That Most Influenced Her Work as a Production Designer) | Filmmaker Magazine


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Blade Runner

I came to production design as somebody who has always liked movies.  I also beloved artwork, design, architecture and images, so discovering that I could have a career that combined all my loves was one of the biggest moments of my life.  

I have a realism-based strategy to filmmaking — a lot of the worlds I create are fictional, however within the context of the movie my goal is to make them really feel actual, grounded, worn, authentic. If a director wants a stylized or surreal strategy I would want to find a way to soiled it up and add imperfections to make it really feel actual.  Believability and realism in the context of the story are the issues I care about most, and my objective is for the design to be a part of a cohesive complete, not a stand-out component.

The teamwork and collaboration of filmmaking is considered one of my favorite aspects of my work — which is a bit counter-intuitive since in the rest of my life I’m a bit of a loner, and a pretty independent considering and non-conforming person.

People sometimes compliment me by telling me they beloved my work, however the most effective praise is once they say they beloved the film.

My First Loves: Blade Runner, 1982, directed by Ridley Scott, production design by Lawrence G. Paul; and Se7en, 1995, directed by David Fincher, production design by Arthur Max. 

When these movies first got here out I was not a production designer, however I suppose what attracted me (and many other designers) to them was the utter believability of the mythic worlds they took place in, one futuristic and high-tech, the other its dirty opposite. Both influenced numerous of different films and TV exhibits, and I am completely convinced Blade Runner even influenced the re-design of Times Square in the 1990s.

2. My True Love: Taxi Driver, 1976, directed by Martin Scorsese, production design by Charles Rosen.

The worlds that Scorsese depicts in Taxi Driver, most of them shot on location in New York City, feel actual and real, but recent and eye-opening at the same time.  The use of color is virtuosic. Everything created for the movie fits completely inside the current world of New York in the mid 1970s yet adds so much to the storytelling — for example, the red white and blue marketing campaign workplace. I remember discovering out that the final shootout scene was shot on location, with special scaffolding constructed for the overhead camera, and I was in awe — it exhibits how much the filmmakers appreciated what capturing on location gives to the story. 

I’ve seen this movie numerous instances, and every time I discover one thing new.  If I might have designed any movie in historical past, it will be Taxi Driver.

3.  Less is More: The Last Picture Show, 1971, directed by  Peter Bogdanovich, production design by Polly Platt.

The Last Picture Show is made with a minimalism that is  sensible for the place and era of the story, acceptable for the characters and completely carried out. Nothing within the film appears misplaced, and there is nothing I would need to add.  

The first time I designed a film (Sublet, 1992, directed by Chus Gutierrez) my two crew members and I went via enormous effort to get a fridge up six flights of stairs in order that the tenement kitchen we were filming in would be full. As soon as the DP walked in he told us to lose it, permanently.  I discovered then that no one misses what isn’t there — they solely discover if one thing there’s incorrect.

 4. Dirty Realism: The Last Detail, 1973, directed by Hal Ashby, manufacturing design by Michael Haller.

I first noticed The Last Picture Show and The Last Detail nicely earlier than I even really knew what production design was.  But they should have inhabited me strongly as a result of after I rewatched them after turning into a production designer I realized what main influences they were. From the primary film I designed I had a knack for making a realistic trying mess, and I additionally really enjoyed it — maybe because at residence I’m a bit OCD about order.  

I suppose The Last Detail is an under-appreciated work of genius.  Shot primarily on location, the eye to element creates a robust sense of time and place essential to the trajectory of the story.  I bear in mind rewatching it and the awe I felt on the litter on the bottom in the Penn Station scenes — these particulars make such a distinction, but these days we’ve virtually no time to dress them in.  

Shortly after I rewatched The Last Detail I designed Garden State (2004, directed by Zach Braff).  I had never done something with a lot comedy before, and I was nervous about making the scripted sight gags work, but I realized the answer was to floor them sufficient in actuality that they seemed organic.  The toilet wallpaper has a powerful sample but doesn’t call consideration to itself, so when Zach stands in front of a mirror in an identical shirt the gag is shocking.

5. Hot and Cold: Hardcore, 1979.  Directed by Paul Schrader, production design by Paul Sylbert.

 Hardcore was one of many first films the place I realized how a lot might be carried out with the colour palette by method of telling a narrative, and yet nonetheless stay grounded in actuality. George C. Scott moves from his icy chilly, white and blue residence in Minnesota to the lurid pink sizzling world of Los Angeles, looking for his missing daughter in the porn industry. The colors are so natural to the worlds that nothing appears contrived or “designed”.  

I always concentrate on designing and figuring out the color palette at the very starting of a project — it’s necessary as a end result of it’s something the costume designer and director of images will weigh in on as nicely as, after all, the director.

Sometimes the director comes to the project with an already impressed view of the use of color, and such was the case after I designed Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. The mini-series goes backwards from the killing of Versace in South Beach at its top — 1980s hedonistic partying among the AIDS crisis mirrored by crumbling pastel colored Art Deco buildings and the color pink in particular. As the collection moves backwards in time with every succeeding episode the palette modifications according to the character of the characters and what was taking place on display screen till at its most reductive degree we see Andrew Cunanan alone in a beige room signifying the nothingness of his world and his non-existent sense of self. 

6.  Location, Location: In Cold Blood, 1967. Directed by Richard Brooks, manufacturing design by Robert F. Boyle.

One of the challenges inherent in production design is that after spending considerable time and money trying to make a set look real, little is left over for the really artistic a part of design.  Any way I can discover to assist a set feel actual I will use — for instance as many actual, as opposed to faux, supplies as possible.  I once had a building coordinator inform me that using actual supplies “wasn’t actually designing,” and this couldn’t be farther from what I imagine.

Of course shooting on location helps enormously. In Cold Blood was made in the new 1960s world of taking pictures on location, and is notable for the extremes to which the filmmakers went. Based on the real-life Clutter family murders, Brooks wanted to shoot in as lots of the real-life areas as possible, and even tried to get permission to shoot the execution scene at the actual gallows the place Perry and Dick had been hung (permission denied). I found this film absolutely terrifying, and I think much of that is as a end result of of its virtually verité strategy.

7.  Unlikely Sources:  Walkabout, 1971.  Directed by Nicholas Roeg, production design by Brian Eatwell.

When I began prepping Brokeback Mountain (2005, directed by Ang Lee) two references instantly got here to mind: Richard Avedon’s In the American West, which was then out of print, and Walkabout. The first time I saw Walkabout I found the ending so unhappy and depressing I was never in a place to put it out of my mind.  And that’s what I thought of once I first read the script for Brokeback Mountain — the bliss that Jack and Ennis present in nature versus the dreary actuality of civilization. That might have been the first time I thought of contrasting worlds and how to create them visually once I was designing a film. 

8. Relax and Think of : Boogie Nights, 1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, production design by  Bob Ziembicki.

The first period movie I designed was Brokeback Mountain.  Ang’s objective was that no viewer of the film would be able to discover any anachronisms for both time or place.  This sort of ultra interval constancy was essential to the telling of such a daring story set within the early 1960s.

But exact period accuracy doesn’t all the time matter.  One of my favourite movies is Boogie Nights (1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) which begins out in 1977. When I first saw the movie within the theater I was just making an attempt to start my production design career, and I was (and nonetheless am) awestruck by the greatness of the filmmaking. The steady, nearly three-minute-long opening shot begins broad on a busy nighttime road in the San Fernando Valley and continues into the club, introducing us to the main characters and ending on Mark Wahlberg. After plenty of experience doing interval films and reveals, and knowing how hard and costly it is to do a period streetscape, I rewatched the film and realized that most of the signage and neon in the opening shot (possibly my favourite movie opening ever) was up to date for 1997 – however it didn’t matter!  You felt you have been there and that was all that mattered.  A big lesson. 

9. The Real and the Unreal: Salesman, 1969, directed by Albert and David Maysles.

Soon after Brokeback Mountain I designed Infamous, directed by the late Douglas McGrath. I was diligent about ensuring everything was correct for the interval and the characters. As part of my analysis I watched Salesman, which had been made around the same time Infamous takes place. Every mid-century design cliché Ang and I had studiously avoided on Brokeback Mountain was in almost every actual home within the documentary — the Sputnik clock, the Googie-style formica kitchen table, a budget vinyl coated chairs.  That’s when I realized that typically actuality doesn’t look real on display — and that data became part of my design arsenal.

10. Perfection: Rosemary’s Baby, 1968, directed by Roman Polanski, production design by Richard Sylbert.

This movie takes what could be seen as an insane story and makes it absolutely plausible. A huge a part of which are the pitch-perfect units, places, set dressing and color palette (and cast!). The Woodhouses’s starter apartment appears young and contemporary to today; the annoying, seemingly benign, old world neighbors, the Castavets, might live subsequent to me right now (hopefully not!). Almost no aspect of the film is tweaked for horror; in fact the other is finished — every little thing seems boringly mundane. And that’s what makes it so scary — you probably can imagine this truly occurring in your, the viewer’s, world.

The above is an expanded model of an article Becker wrote for the AMPAS website.


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