Transcript: Designing Movies | Aug 05, 1988

Elwy Yost appears in the studio. He’s in his fifties, mostly bald with some dark hair on the sides, and he has a moustache. He wears glasses, a black suit jacket, a white shirt, and a plain red tie. He hosts the program sitting on a chair against a black background with a red film reel. The reel reads “Talking Film” several times, alternately in white and orange. He holds some memory notes on his lap.

Elwy says WELCOME TO
TALKING FILM,
A SERIES OF HALF
HOUR
PROGRAMS WHICH EXPLORE
MOTION PICTURES ENTIRELY
THROUGH THE WORDS
OF THE PEOPLE
WHO MAKE THEM.
ON THIS PROGRAM, WE'LL BE
LOOKING AT THE DESIGNING
OF MOTION PICTURES.
IN OTHER WORDS, THE LOOK OF
A FILM FROM THE FIRST FRAME
RIGHT THROUGH TO
THE LAST FRAME,
THE SETS, THE COSTUMES,
AND THE COLOUR.
YOU'LL BE MEETING ONE
OF HOLLYWOOD'S FOREMOST
PRODUCTION DESIGNERS, RICHARD
SYLBERT, WHOSE CREDITS INCLUDE,
"CHINATOWN," "WHO'S
AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?"
AND "CARNAL KNOWLEDGE."
HE'LL BE TALKING ABOUT THE
VARIOUS PEOPLE INVOLVED
IN THE DESIGN OF A FILM, AS
WELL AS THE RELATIONSHIP
OF THE PRODUCTION
DESIGNER TO THE DIRECTOR.
HERE THEN, AND FOR
THE NEXT 30 MINUTES
IS RICHARD SYLBERT,
TALKING FILM.

Richard Sylbert appears. He is in his fifties, and has short dark hair. He is wearing a light beige shirt, and a dark neckerchief. He is sitting at his crowded desk. On the desk, there are papers, a pen holder, a telephone, a big lamp, pair of glasses, and a cup of coffee. Behind Richard, there is a coat-stand, and a window with partially closed blinds overlooking the city. Richard is very expressive and tries to explain with his hands most of what he says.

Richard says A PRODUCTION DESIGNER
COULD BE CALLED THE PERSON
RESPONSIBLE FOR THE
ENTIRE LOOK OF A FILM.
MEANING THAT HE CONTROLS
EVERY VISUAL ASPECT IN,
OF COURSE, CONJUNCTION
WITH THE DIRECTOR,
WHO IS THE CAPTAIN OF THE
SHIP, AND THE CAMERAMAN.
WE HAVE ALL
DECIDED BEFOREHAND
WHAT THIS PICTURE MEANS.
THE CAMERAMAN WILL
CONTRIBUTE WITH LIGHT,
WHAT YOU CONTRIBUTE
WITH FORMS, SHAPES,
PROPS, COLOURS,
AND SO ON.

A caption appears on screen. It reads “Richard Sylbert.”

Richard continues ALL MAKE THIS IDEA
STRONGER AND STRONGER.
AN ART DIRECTOR
CAN BE LIMITED TO
PUTTING UP THE BEDROOM,
PUTTING UP THE KITCHEN,
PUTTING UP THE LIVING ROOM
WITHOUT ANY SENSE OF THE WHOLE.
ART DIRECTORS WORK FOR
PRODUCTION DESIGNERS,
WHEN A PICTURE IS LARGE
ENOUGH TO HAVE TWO PEOPLE,
AND IT OFTEN IS NOW.
MORE OFTEN THAN NOT.
AN ART DIRECTOR IS ALSO A
TITLE USED FOR PEOPLE
WHO HAVEN'T GOT TO
THAT POINT, I THINK,
WHERE PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO
GIVE THEM THAT CONTROL.
A SET DESIGNER IN CALIFORNIA
IS SIMPLY A DRAFTSMAN
WHO CONTRIBUTES
CERTAIN THINGS.
SOME OF THEM ARE
VERY GOOD.
YOU SAY TO HIM, LOOK, ROUGHLY,
THIS IS WHAT I'M INTERESTED IN.
YOU WORK OUT
THE DETAILS.
AND YOU LET THEM DEVELOP
SOMETHING FOR YOU.
YOUR IDEA.
THEY DEVELOP IT TO
A CERTAIN POINT.
THEN YOU COME BACK
AND YOU SAY, YES.
BUT BASICALLY, THEY ARE DOING
THAT STEP THAT IS SERIOUSLY
IMPORTANT BECAUSE IF THEY'RE
WRONG, THE IDEA'S GONE.
SO THEY DRAW UP ON A PLAN
AND ELEVATION, YOUR IDEA.
YOU HAVE AN ILLUSTRATOR
WHO DOES SKETCHES.
IF YOU WANT CONTINUITY DONE
FOR A VERY COMPLICATED SCENE,
YOU CALL IN A
CONTINUITY MAN.
HIS SPECIALTY IS WHAT
MENZIES BEGAN EVERY SHOT,
FOR A SEQUENCE OF LET'S
SAY EIGHT OR NINE MINUTES
THAT'S TERRIBLY
COMPLICATED.
YOU CANNOT DO "KING KONG"
WITHOUT CONTINUITY.
YOU WON'T KNOW
WHERE YOU ARE.
YOU WON'T KNOW WHETHER
IT'S THE HAND YOU NEED,
THE FOOT YOU NEED, THE
WHOLE THING YOU NEED.
SO YOU MUST HAVE
CONTINUITY FOR SECTIONS.
NO PICTURE IS DONE ANYMORE
ENTIRELY IN CONTINUITY
BECAUSE NO DIRECTOR
WILL STAND FOR IT,
AND I DON'T
BLAME THEM.
THEY HAVE THEIR
OWN PERSONALITIES.
THAT'S THE BASIC
DIFFERENCE.
SET DECORATING IS THE MAN
WHO BRINGS TO EACH SET
THE BASIC FURNITURE,
AND DRESSINGS
WITH YOUR
APPROVAL ONLY.
ALL OF THAT IS
ESTABLISHED BEFOREHAND.
HIS CONTRIBUTION CAN BE HIS
SENSE OF WHAT THE SCENE MEANS
AND WHAT HE CAN
BRING TO IT.
IN OTHER WORDS, IF HE
UNDERSTANDS YOUR IDEA,
HE CAN SUDDENLY FIND AN
OBJECT THAT SAID SOMETHING.
IT'S NOT JUST A CHAIR.
IT'S NOT JUST A
COFFEE CUP.
IT'S NOT JUST A BED.
IT BELONGS TO THIS
PARTICULAR FILM.
EVERY FILM MUST LOOK ENTIRELY
DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER
BECAUSE IT IS AN ENTIRELY
DIFFERENT STORY.

Elwy says THAT'S RIGHT.

Richard says IT HAS NO RESEMBLANCE
TO ANYTHING ELSE
YOU'VE DONE BEFORE.
YOU MIGHT AS WELL
THROW AWAY EVERYTHING.
I NEVER KEPT A DRAWING OR
A SKETCH FOR 36 PICTURES
OVER 20 YEARS.
HAD NO INTEREST IN IT
BECAUSE I COULDN'T ANSWER
MY PROBLEMS WITH IT.
THE NEXT PICTURE WAS GOING
TO BE A DIFFERENT PROBLEM.
THAT'S DRAMATIC.

A caption appears on screen. It reads “When was the term production designer first used?”

Richard continues THAT I KNOW OF, THE TITLE
OF PRODUCTION DESIGNER
BEGAN WITH WILLIAM
CAMERON MENZIES.
WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES
WAS THE GRANDFATHER
OF PRODUCTION DESIGN.
THE IDEA OF IT.
AND IT'S CHANGED,
LIKE EVERY CONCEPT.
IT'S CHANGED DRASTICALLY FROM
THE TIME HE WORKED WITH IT,
STARTING IN ABOUT
1920, TO NOW.
WHAT HE DID WAS THIS.
HE WOULD DRAW EVERY SINGLE
SHOT FOR THE DIRECTOR,
OF THE ENTIRE FILM.
AND HE WOULD DO IT FOR
PEOPLE LIKE SAM WOOD,
WHO WEREN'T ACTUALLY SURE OF
HOW THE PICTURE WOULD WORK.
BILL WAS A WONDERFUL
SKETCH ARTIST, MENZIES.
AND HE DECIDED THE ONLY WAY
HE COULD GET A PICTURE
TO LOOK THE WAY HE WANTED IT TO
LOOK WAS TO DRAW EVERY SHOT.
AND THE DIRECTOR WOULD SIMPLY
TAKE THESE STORYBOARDS,
THAT'S WHAT PRODUCTION
DESIGN BEGAN AS,
DOWN TO THE SET EVERY
MORNING, AND SAY,
OKAY, THIS IS WHAT IT'S
GOING TO LOOK LIKE.
NOW, I DIDN'T KNOW THAT
UNTIL ABOUT 1954, OR 55
WHEN I MET MENZIES.
AND HE CAME TO AMERICA
TO DIRECT IN NEW YORK,
A SMALL PILOT FILM FOR A
SERIES OF "FU MANCHU."
AND IN IT AT THAT TIME WAS
SAX ROHMER WAS ALIVE,
AND CEDRIC HARDWICKE
WAS ALIVE.
MELVILLE COOPER.
JOHN CARRADINE
PLAYED FU MANCHU.

Elwy laughs quietly.

Richard continues IT WAS A WONDERFUL CAST.
AND HE CAME TO ME AND
HE SAID, LOOK, I HEAR
YOU'RE THIS VERY GOOD
YOUNG DESIGNER,
AND I'M GOING TO DIRECT
THIS, AND I WANT YOU
TO DESIGN IT FOR ME.
WE'RE GOING TO DO IT
IN BLACK AND WHITE.
BUT I MEAN BLACK AND WHITE.
WE'RE GOING TO HAVE THREE
COLOURS: BLACK, GREY AND WHITE.

Elwy laughs quietly.

Richard smiles and continues AND I REMEMBER WE WERE
SITTING IN A HOTEL ROOM,
AND HE WAS DRAWING EVERY
SHOT ON STATIONERY.

Richard grabs a pen, stars drawing and continues THIS ONE, WE'LL
DO LIKE THAT.
WE'LL JUST TAKE
THIS, WE'LL DO THAT.
THEN HE'LL COME
DOWN HERE.
THIS WILL BE BLACK,
THIS WILL BE GREY,
AND THIS WILL BE WHITE.
SO THE NEGATIVE WON'T HAVE
ANY OTHER SHADES IN IT.

Elwy says HOW ABOUT THAT.

Richard says THAT'S PRODUCTION
DESIGNING.

Elwy says HE SAW EVERYTHING
IN TERMS OF PICTURES.

Richard says EVERYTHING WAS THE SHOT.
NOW, THAT SHOT WAS
GENERALLY STATIC.
IT WAS A SETUP.
AS IT MOVED ON, WHEN HE CAME
BACK TO DO "GONE WITH THE WIND,"
HE DID MOST OF THE SKETCHES, BUT
THERE WAS AN ARMY OF PEOPLE.
AND WHEN DOLLYING CAME, THEY
WOULD JUST MAKE LONGER SKETCHES.
PRODUCTION DESIGN IS VASTLY
CHANGED BECAUSE DIRECTORS
HAVE VASTLY CHANGED.

Elwy says HOW HAVE YOU GONE ABOUT
PRODUCTION DESIGN IN YOUR YEARS?

Richard says WELL, I BEGAN IN A
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAY,
ALTHOUGH MENZIES WAS
SORT OF MY GODFATHER.
BY THE TIME I CAME TO
FILM, IN NEW YORK CITY,
ON INDEPENDENT PICTURES,
THERE WAS ONLY PEOPLE
WHO WORK IN NEW YORK
WERE DIRECTORS WHO
HAD A PERSONALITY
THAT WAS COMPLETELY INVOLVED
WITH THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT
HOW A FILM SHOULD LOOK, AS
WELL AS EVERYTHING ELSE.
IN OTHER WORDS, YOU WEREN'T
TALKING TO A MAN WHO SAID,
MAKE ME THE SHOTS; YOU WERE
TALKING TO A MAN WHO SAID,
TELL ME, YOU AND I, CAN WE
AGREE ON WHAT THE DRAMATIC
REASON FOR THIS SCENE IS?
CAN WE AGREE ON WHAT
THIS PICTURE IS ABOUT?
THE FIRST PICTURE
THAT I DESIGNED...
WAS A SMALL FILM DONE IN A
STUDIO THAT HADN'T HAD
A PICTURE DONE IN
IT IN YEARS.
AND I HAD TO DO MY OWN SET
DECORATING, MY OWN SKETCHES,
MY OWN ELEVATIONS AND
DRAWING FOR THE CARPENTERS
AND HIRE MY OWN
CARPENTERS.
THAT PICTURE HAD A CAMERAMAN
ON IT NAMED BORIS KAUFMAN.
AND AN ACTOR IN IT
NAMED HUME CRONYN.
I WAS 23 YEARS OLD.
THE PICTURE WAS A VERY
NICE LITTLE FILM
ABOUT PUERTO RICANS IN
NEW YORK CITY.
AND IT GAVE ME AN OPPORTUNITY
TO TRY OUT CERTAIN THINGS.
I HAD NEVER DONE A
PICTURE BEFORE,
BUT EITHER HAD ANYBODY
ELSE AROUND THERE.
THE NEXT PICTURE I DID
WAS CALLED "BABY DOLL"
FOR ELIA KAZAN.

Elwy says OH, YEAH.
CARROLL BAKER.

Richard says THE REASON THAT HAPPENED
WAS THAT BORIS KAUFMAN
SHOT KAZAN'S PRIOR
FILM, "WATERFRONT"
AND SAID TO HIM, I JUST
MET THIS YOUNG DESIGNER
YOU SHOULD SEE.
AND HUME CRONYN WAS ONE OF
KAZAN'S BEST FRIENDS
AND SAID, I JUST DID A
PICTURE WITH THIS GUY.
YOU HAVE TO MEET HIM.
I WAS 24 THEN.
I REMEMBER COMING INTO HIS
OFFICE AND HE SAID TO ME,
WOULD YOU LIKE TO
READ THIS SCRIPT?
OKAY.
HE SAID, COME BACK
TOMORROW.
I WENT HOME AND I
READ THE SCRIPT.
AND THE SCRIPT WAS THE
SCRIPT FOR "BABY DOLL."
I CAME BACK THE NEXT
DAY, AND HE SAID,
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT?
I SAID, IT'S INTERESTING.
HE SAID, MAKE SOME
SKETCHES.
YOU KNOW, DRAW
SOMETHING.
HOW DO YOU FEEL
ABOUT IT?
I SAID, WELL, IT REMINDS ME
OF A DECAYED GREEK COLUMN,
WITH A TUBE OF PILE
OINTMENT NEXT TO IT.
I SAID A TUBE
OF OINTMENT.

Elwy laughs.

Richard continues AND HE SAID
PILE OINTMENT.
I SAID, YEAH,
PILE OINTMENT.
HE SAID, OKAY, I'LL
SEE YOU IN MISSISSIPPI.
NOW, THAT CONVERSATION
IS AGREEING ABOUT
WHAT THE PICTURE IS
METAPHORICALLY.
HE SAID, AT ONE POINT
SHORTLY AFTER THAT,
ANY JERK CAN DRAW
A BLACK TREE.
BUT WHAT I LEARNED
FROM THAT MOMENT ON,
WHEN I WAS 25 YEARS OLD,
IS THAT THERE WAS A WAY
OF THINKING THAT YOU COULD DO,
FOR A DIRECTOR, WHAT NO ONE ELSE
COULD DO BECAUSE HE WASN'T GOING
TO FOLLOW ANY SERIES OF SHOTS.
HE HAD IDEAS OF HIS OWN.

A caption appears. It reads “Chinatown.”

Richard continues IN "CHINATOWN," YOU BEGIN
WITH A STORY ABOUT A DROUGHT.
SO THE FIRST THING
THAT OCCURS TO YOU
IS IT BETTER NOT RAIN
DURING THIS ENTIRE FILM.

Elwy laughs.

Richard continues IT SHOULDN'T EVEN
BE CLOUDY.
AND IT CALLS TO
MIND A COLOUR.
THE COLOUR OF
BURNT GRASS.
KHAKI ALMOST.
DRY.
YOU SAY TO YOURSELF,
OKAY, LET'S BEGIN.
THE LIMITATIONS I'M GOING
TO SET FOR "CHINATOWN" ARE THIS:
IT WILL NEVER BE
ANYTHING BUT A SUNNY DAY,
AND EVERY COLOUR
WILL BE DRY GRASS,
WHETHER LIGHTER OR DARKER,
BUT THE SAME BUCKET.

Elwy laughs quietly.

Richard continues AND YOU DO IT.
YOU DON'T KID AROUND.
YOU EITHER STICK TO IT,
OR FORGET IT.
YOU EITHER MAKE THE CIRCLE,
OR YOU LOSE SOMETHING.
SO THAT EVERYTHING IN
"CHINATOWN" IS FROM
THE SAME CENTRAL COLOUR.
YOU NEVER SEE
ANYTHING ELSE.
GOES FROM WHITE
TO PEANUT BUTTER.
BUT IT'S THE
SAME FAMILY.

Elwy says YEAH.

Richard says YOU CONTRAST THAT
WITH ANY OTHER IDEAS.
VERY DARK WOODWORK WAS VERY
POPULAR IN THE THIRTIES.
THEN YOU MAKE A DECISION
ABOUT THE THIRTIES THEMSELVES.
YOU SAY, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW
ANYTHING ABOUT HOW CHIC
ART DECO IS BECAUSE
WHEN IT CAME OUT,
IT'S A COMPLETELY
DIFFERENT THING.
WE'RE NOT GOING TO PAY
ANY ATTENTION TO IT.
IT'S NOT GOING TO
BE, LOOK AT US,
WE FOUND ALL THESE
1937 OBJECTS.
THEN YOU START MAKING
DECISIONS ABOUT SHAPE.
IF A MAN IS A DETECTIVE, AND
HE'S LOOKING FOR THINGS,
YOU ARE GOING TO SPEND A LOT
OF TIME BEHIND HIS HEAD.
YOU ALWAYS DO.
AND IF HE'S GOING TO GO
PLACES THAT HE'S NEVER BEEN
BEFORE, IT'S MORE DRAMATIC
IF HE HAS TO LOOK UP,
AND MORE MENACING, THAN IF HE
HAS TO LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD.
SO IF THE RICH WOMAN HAS A
HOUSE, BETTER BE UP THERE.

Richard points upwards.

Elwy says FASCINATING.
FASCINATING.

Richard says YOU BEGIN LOOKING FOR A
LOCATION ONLY WHEN YOU KNOW
WHAT IT IS YOU WANT.
OTHERWISE, YOU COULD
NEVER STOP LOOKING.
YOU COULD LOOK
FOR 365 DAYS.
WHAT DIFFERENCE
DOES IT MAKE?
IF YOU'VE SAID TO
YOURSELF, WHAT I NEED IS,
TO STAY INSIDE THIS THING,
YOU CAN BEGIN TO SAY,
I'LL GO HERE BECAUSE I KNOW THAT
I'LL FIND SOMETHING LIKE IT.
AND YOU CONSTRUCT THIS
WHOLENESS OF COLOURS,
SHAPES, AND PLACES.
THAT'S THE FIRST THING.
YOU GO OUTSIDE FIRST BECAUSE
THAT'S YOUR FIRST PROBLEM.
YOU HAVE THE PLACE WHERE
THE RICH WOMAN LIVES,
YOU HAVE THE CLUB WHERE
THE FISHERMEN ARE,
YOU HAVE THE RANCH;
YOU HAVE GOTTEN
ALL THESE THINGS.
THEY ALL BELONG
TO YOUR IDEA.
NOW, YOU GO INSIDE.
YOU SAY, ALL RIGHT, I NEED
AN INTERIOR TO A BUNGALOW.
I NEED AN OFFICE
FOR THIS MAN.
I NEED A BEDROOM
FOR THIS WOMAN.
I NEED A LIBRARY TO FIND
A BOOK IN AT CITY HALL.
AND I NEED, SO ON.
AND YOU DO THE
SAME THING.
YOU FIT THEM INTO
YOUR IDEA.
THEY DON'T MEAN ANYTHING
OTHER THAN THAT.
IF YOU ARE DOING A MYSTERY,
YOU ARE HIDING THINGS.

Elwy says THAT'S RIGHT.

Richard says SO YOU BEGIN TO SAY, HOW LITTLE
CAN I PUT IN THIS PICTURE?
NOT HOW MUCH, HOW LITTLE.
IF I COULD JUST PUT IN
THE BARE NECESSITIES,
IT WILL ALWAYS SEEM LIKE
SOMETHING IS MISSING.

Elwy says OH.
HENCE THE MOOD
AND ATMOSPHERE.

Richard says EXACTLY.
THEN YOU GET A CAMERAMAN
LIKE JOHN ALONZO,
WHO WAS HIS FIRST
MAJOR FILM.
AND ON "ROSEMARY'S BABY"
WE GOT BILL FRAKER;
IT WAS HIS FIRST
MAJOR FILM.
AND JOHN ALONZO DELIVERS THE
SAME UNDERSTANDING TO YOU.
AND I HAPPEN TO HAVE
THIS PROBLEM BECAUSE
THESE PICTURES OVERLAPPED
BY EIGHT WEEKS.
IN OTHER WORDS, I WAS
DESIGNING, FINISHING ONE
AND STARTING THE OTHER,
WHICH WAS "SHAMPOO."
"SHAMPOO" WAS
JUST THE OPPOSITE.
"SHAMPOO" IS ABOUT MONEY,
PEOPLE WHO HAVE MONEY.
THEY WANT TO SHOW YOU
EVERYTHING THEY HAVE.
THAT'S THE ONLY
TIME THEY'RE HAPPY.
BECAUSE THEY HAVE A
HOLE IN THE BUCKET.

Elwy laughs.

Richard continues THE MORE THEY PUT IN, THE
MORE EMPTY IT BECOMES.
AND THEY KEEP SAYING
WHY AREN'T I HAPPY?
WHAT'S MISSING HERE?
YOU START LOOKING
FOR IMAGES.
AFTER ALL, IT'S
ABOUT A HAIRDRESSER.
YOU BEGIN TO REALIZE
IN BEVERLY HILLS,
BESIDES SHOWING YOU
EVERYTHING IT CAN,
THERE IS A NATURAL TENDENCY
TO DESCRIBE THEIR OWN GARDEN
OF EDEN IN LATTICEWORK,
ESPECIALLY IN
BEAUTY PARLOURS.
BUT AS YOU LOOK AROUND,
YOU BEGIN TO FIND IT
IN PEOPLE'S HOUSES: DINING
ROOMS, PORCHES, DECKS.
WHEREVER YOU GO, SOMEBODY HAS
THIS IDEA THAT THIS GARDEN
OF EDEN HAS LATTICEWORK
IN IT, WHICH IS A PERFECT
METAPHOR FOR BEVERLY HILLS.
THEN YOU SAY, WHAT ARE THEY
ALL DOING ALL THE TIME?
THEY'RE LOOKING AT
THEMSELVES IN THE MIRROR.
SO WHEREVER YOU CAN
YOU PUT A MIRROR.
PEOPLE'S OFFICES, HOMES, AND
YOU KEEP PUSHING THE PICTURE
IN THAT DIRECTION.

Elwy says SO THE PICTURE IS LIKE NO
OTHER PICTURE EVER MADE BEFORE.
IT'S DISTINCTIVE AND
HAS ITS OWN FLAVOUR.

Richard says YEAH.
AND THAT'S HOW
YOU GET THERE.
THERE'S NO OTHER WAY.
IT DOESN'T MATTER
TECHNICALLY WHAT YOU DO,
UNLESS IT'S A TOTALLY
TECHNICAL PROBLEM,
WHICH A DESIGNER CAN ONLY
SOLVE UP TO A DEGREE
BECAUSE THERE ARE
SPECIALISTS IN THOSE AREAS.
BUT DRAMA, THE IDEA THAT YOU
UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS FILM
WILL BE THAT NO OTHER
FILM COULD POSSIBLY BE.
AND THAT'S WHAT
YOU DESIGN.
THE FACT THAT YOU'RE GOING
TO PUT THE DOOR HERE
OR THE DOOR THERE IS
ALSO INTERESTING.
I SAY, AND I'VE ALWAYS SAID,
THAT IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE
DOING, YOU CAN GET SOMETHING
OUT OF ANY PROBLEM YOU HAVE.
IN "CARNAL KNOWLEDGE" THERE
ARE THREE PERIODS OF TIME.
IN 1948, TWO BOYS
ARE IN COLLEGE.
IN 1958, THEY'RE ON THE
WEST SIDE OF NEW YORK,
ONE OF THEM, THE OTHER LIVES
WHERE YOU DON'T KNOW,
BUT SOMEWHERE IN
CONNECTICUT,
AND IN 1964 THEY
ARE IN MANHATTAN.
YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE
THREE BREAKS IN TIME.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO
TRY AND WORK THAT OUT?
AND WHAT'S THE
STORY ABOUT?
IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE WHO...
FIND THEMSELVES CORNERED.
THEY CANNOT WORK
OUT THEIR LIFE.
AND YOU DECIDE WHAT HAPPENS
IF EVERY ROOM YOU BUILD,
YOU PUT THE DOOR
IN THE CORNER?
EVERY ROOM, AND EVERY
DOOR IS IN A CORNER.
WHICH MEANS, IF ANYBODY
COMES IN OR LEAVES,
THEY'RE ALREADY STUCK.
I DECIDED WITH
"CARNAL KNOWLEDGE"
TO TRY TWO
OTHER THINGS.
ONE WAS THAT IF YOU COULD DO
SOMETHING WITH DOORS,
WHAT COULD YOU
DO EMOTIONALLY?
AFTER ALL, THE IMAGE MUST
ALWAYS
YOU'RE ALWAYS
ATTEMPTING TO GET AN
EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
FROM THE AUDIENCE.
THEY DON'T KNOW THAT,
BUT YOU DO BECAUSE
YOU KNOW THE RESPONSES
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.
WHAT HAPPENS IF EVERY
WINDOW HAS OUTSIDE OF IT
ONLY ANOTHER WINDOW OR
A GROUP OF WINDOWS?
THERE'S NO WORLD,
ONLY WINDOWS.
AND EVERY SET IN "CARNAL
KNOWLEDGE" OUTSIDE
IS JUST ANOTHER
BUNCH OF WINDOWS.

Elwy laughs.

Richard continues THEIR LIVES MAY BE THE SAME
AS THOSE LIVES OVER THERE.
THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE
TRYING TO DO.
UNTIL YOU GET TO PARK AVENUE,
WHERE YOU SHOOT A WHOLE SCENE
AT NIGHT AND ALL
YOU SEE IS WINDOWS.

Elwy says THAT'S RIGHT, YES.
IN THE LATTER
PART OF THE FILM.

Richard says THE OTHER WAS TO SAY, I MEAN
SERIOUSLY THIS TIME, NOT EVEN
WHERE YOU'RE DOING A MYSTERY
AND LEAVING CERTAIN THINGS
AND TAKING OUT OTHERS, THERE
IS NOTHING ON ANY WALL,
IN ANY SET, IN "CARNAL
KNOWLEDGE" EXCEPT A SCONCE
AND A PHOTOGRAPH
OF HIS WIFE.
NOW, THE LAST SCENE IN THE
PICTURE HAS WALLPAPER.
BUT THE ENTIRE FILM, AND
NOBODY KNOWS THIS,
HAS NOTHING ON THE WALLS.

Elwy says THAT'S THE SCENE WHERE HE IS
GOING THROUGH THE OLD PHOTOS
AND THE SLIDES, ISN'T IT?

Richard says YEAH.
THERE IS NOT ONE
THING ON ANY WALL.
AND YOU DON'T MISS IT BECAUSE
THE IDEA OF IT IS MEMORY.
WHAT WERE WE
LIKE IN 48?
YOU HAVE BLANKS
IN YOUR MEMORY.
WHAT WERE WE
LIKE IN 58?
YOU HAVE MORE BLANKS
OR LESS BLANKS.
THE POINT BEING IF YOU
CLEANED IT ALL OFF AND YOU'RE
MAKING A STORY WITH
THREE PEOPLE IN IT,
IT'S WONDERFUL TO HAVE
THE REAL ARCHITECTURE
OF A MOTION PICTURE,
WHICH IS PEOPLE.
THAT'S THE REAL
ARCHITECTURE.
AND IF YOU HAVE FEW
IDEAS THAT ARE GOOD,
AND YOU KEEP IT SIMPLE,
YOU'RE WAY AHEAD
IN A PICTURE LIKE THAT.

Elwy says HOW DID YOU GET
TO MEET NICHOLS?

Richard smiles and says THAT'S A FUNNY STORY.
I GAVE UP DESIGNING
IN 1963.
I HAD DONE A PICTURE
HERE, FOR U.A.,
CALLED "HOW TO
MURDER YOUR WIFE."

Elwy says JACK LEMMON?

Richard says YEAH.
FOR GEORGE AXELROD, WHO
WAS A VERY DEAR FRIEND,
AND I HAD DONE "MANCHURIAN
CANDIDATE" WITH.
HE WAS THE PRODUCER AND WRITER
OF "MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE."
SO I CAME HERE.
AND BY THAT TIME, I SAID
TO MYSELF, IT'S ENOUGH.
IT'S ENOUGH FOR A WHILE.
AND A VERY, VERY INTERESTING
MAN NAMED CHARLES K. FELDMAN,
WHO I HAD DESIGNED MY FIRST
HOLLYWOOD PICTURE FOR,
CALLED "WALK ON THE
WILD SIDE."
IT WAS JANE FONDA'S
FIRST PICTURE
AND MY FIRST PICTURE
AS A DESIGNER.
WE CAME OUT TOGETHER.
WE WERE FRIENDS
IN NEW YORK.
HE ASKED ME IF I WOULD GO INTO
BUSINESS WITH HIM TO PRODUCE.
AND I SAID WONDERFUL.
MEANS I COULD PUT
THE PENCILS DOWN,
STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE
ASHTRAY, AND HAVE SOME FUN.
I WENT TO EUROPE AND
WE DID A FILM CALLED
"WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?"
THE FILM WAS SHOT IN
PARIS, EDITED IN LONDON.
I WAS IN LONDON, IN A CUTTING
ROOM, AND I GOT A PHONE CALL.
SOMEBODY SAID THERE'S
A Mr. MIKE NICHOLS
WANTS TO TALK TO YOU.
THIS IS NEARLY
TWO YEARS LATER.
AND I GOT ON THE PHONE.
HE SAID, I HAVE A FRIEND WHO
SAID YOU ARE THE BEST THERE IS,
AND I'M DOING A FILM THAT I
WOULD LIKE YOU TO DESIGN FOR ME.
AND I SAID, WHAT'S
THE NAME OF THE FILM?
AND HE SAID, "WHO'S
AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?"
AND I SAID, THAT'S VERY
NICE, BUT I'M SORRY,
I HAVE A PICTURE
TO FINISH.
I'M GLAD YOU
CALLED ME.
I'D LIKE TO, BUT I'M REALLY,
MY MIND IS SOMEWHERE ELSE,
AND IT WOULD BE VERY
DIFFICULT FOR ME
TO DROP EVERYTHING
AND COME BACK.
HE SAID, YOU MUST.
I SAID, I'M SORRY, I CAN'T,
I'D LIKE TO MEET YOU,
I'VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT
YOU, BUT I CAN'T.
CUT.
TWO MONTHS LATER.
SITTING IN THE SAME CUTTING
ROOM, AND THE PHONE RINGS.
AND I HEAR THE SAME VOICE,
IT'S Mr. NICHOLS WHO SAYS,
I'M NOT GOING TO DO THIS
PICTURE IF YOU DON'T COME BACK.
AND I SAID TO MYSELF,
THIS MAN MEANS IT.

Elwy says HE REALLY MEANS
BUSINESS.

Richard says I CAME BACK.
AND FOUND WHAT I HAD
BEEN LOOKING FOR,
AND PROBABLY FOUND THE
THING THAT MADE ME LEAVE.
IN OTHER WORDS, I FOUND A
MAN WHO WAS SO INTERESTING
AND SO TALENTED, IT WAS
WORTH DESIGNING AGAIN.

Elwy says SO YOU BECAME…

Richard says AND WE STARTED, AND SPENT
THE NEXT TEN YEARS TOGETHER.

Elwy says MAKING PICTURES.

Richard says AND VIRGINIA WOOLF WAS A
VERY INTERESTING PROBLEM.
VIRGINIA WOOLF WE DECIDED
TO DO IN BLACK AND WHITE
FOR ONE SIMPLE REASON:
YOU CANNOT SHOW PEOPLE
ELIZABETH TAYLOR'S LAVENDER
EYES AND EXPECT THEM TO
BELIEVE SHE'S MARTHA.

Elwy laughs.

Richard smiles and continues WE HAD NO OTHER
REASON BEHIND IT,
BUT THAT'S A VERY
IMPORTANT REASON.
IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE SHE'S
MARTHA, DON'T MAKE A PICTURE.

Elwy says THAT'S RIGHT.

Richard says THE NEXT THING WAS TO
FIGURE OUT WHO THEY REALLY
WERE AND WHAT THEY MEANT.
THE SET WAS ALL BUILT IN A
STUDIO AT WARNER BROTHERS.
VERY COMPLICATED.
IT HAS AS MANY WILD WALLS THAT
HAD EVER BEEN PUT TOGETHER
IN ANY SET EXCEPT
"ROSEMARY'S BABY," BECAUSE
YOU WERE GOING TO LIVE
IN IT FOR FOUR MONTHS.
LIKE "ROSEMARY'S BABY."
AND I EVEN
INVENTED A LOCK.
I DIDN'T INVENT IT, I FOUND
SOMETHING THAT HAD ALREADY
BEEN USED FOR OTHER PURPOSES
AND USED IT FOR SCENERY.
WHICH WAS TO AVOID
THE BUSINESS OF NAILS
TEARING UP A SET THAT WAS
CONSTANTLY COMING APART
AND COMING TOGETHER AGAIN.
IT WAS A LOCK.
AND IN DOING VIRGINIA WOOLF,
WE HAD MADE CERTAIN DECISIONS.
THESE PEOPLE WE KNEW
ONE THING ABOUT.
THEY WERE PACK RATS.
THEY HAD SAVED EVERYTHING
FROM EVERY SABBATICAL
THEY HAD EVER HAD
IN THEIR LIFE.
THEY'D BEEN MARRIED
FOR 20 YEARS,
AND THEY LIVED
IN THIS DUMP.
THEY WERE PIGS.
THEY WERE VERY BRIGHT.
THEY HAD A LOT OF BOOKS,
A LOT OF GIFTS,
A LOT OF ARTWORK.
A LOT OF THINGS THEY
THOUGHT WERE WONDERFUL.
AND OVER THE FIREPLACE,
I HAPPENED TO FIND
AN OLD NEEDLEPOINT OF
MARTHA'S VINEYARD.

Elwy laughs quietly.

Richard smiles and continues WHICH IS OVER THE
FIREPLACE.
AND EACH BOOK IN EACH
BOOKCASE BECAME IMPORTANT.
BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE A
CHILD, SO THE BEST BOOK
TO START WITH WOULD
BE "SUMMERHILL."
A BOOK THEY WOULD READ
THAT THEY WOULDN'T KNOW
ANYTHING ABOUT, BUT THEY
WOULD READ IT, YOU SEE?

Elwy says I SEE.

Richard says AND EACH ROOM WAS LAID OUT
SO YOU KNEW SOMETHING
THE AUDIENCE DIDN'T KNOW
ALL THE TIME, THAT GEORGE,
AT ONE POINT, WAS GOING TO COME
OUT OF A CLOSET BEHIND MARTHA,
AND POP THAT THING
WITH THE FLAG IN IT.

Elwy says YEAH.

Richard says THAT DOOR BECAME MORE
IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE
AT ONE POINT BECAUSE
YOU HAD TO HAVE IT
IN EXACTLY THE
RIGHT PLACE.
AND THE WHOLE SCENE IS
LAID OUT AROUND THAT DOOR.
SO THEY'RE LIKE
DEER IN THAT HOUSE.
THEY HAD THEIR
OWN PATHS.

Elwy says BECAUSE THEY
STALKED EACH OTHER.

Richard says ABSOLUTELY.
AND IT WAS A
WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE.
AND IT WAS SO WONDERFUL,
THAT, AS I SAID,
WE SPENT THE NEXT
TEN YEARS TOGETHER.
BUT IDEAS ARE THE BASIS
OF PRODUCTION DESIGN.
AND IDEAS ARE MUCH MORE
VALUABLE THAN ANYTHING
I CAN THINK OF BECAUSE
THEY CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING
TO A MOVIE YOU CANNOT
CONTRIBUTE ANY OTHER WAY.
YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE
SOMETHING IN WORDS.
YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE
SOMETHING IN IMAGES,
IN TERMS OF LIGHT.
BUT A DESIGNER CAN CONTRIBUTE
SOMETHING NOBODY CAN SAY.

Elwy says PROFOUNDLY CONCEPTUAL.

Richard says MUSIC CAN DO ITS JOB.
AND DESIGNING, THE WHOLE
IS SO IMPORTANT THAT THE
PICTURE IS LOCKED INTO
A DISCIPLINED IDEA
SO THAT IT FEELS
LIKE ONE PIECE.
THAT'S THE TRICK,
BASICALLY.
THAT'S THE TRICK.

Elwy says TELL ME ABOUT KAZAN BECAUSE
YOU WORKED WITH HIM.

Richard says TERRIFIC MAN
TO WORK WITH.

Elwy says HIS METHODS OF WORKING QUITE
DIFFERENT THAN NICHOLS?

Richard says NO, BECAUSE THEY ARE
BOTH FROM THE THEATRE.
THEY'RE NOT
DIFFERENT AT ALL.
THEY ARE, AS A MATTER OF FACT,
TWO STAGES OF THE SAME ROCKET.

Elwy laughs and says REALLY?

Richard says AND THEY BOTH ARE VERY, VERY
INTELLIGENT ABOUT ACTING.
AND IT'S ABOUT ACTING.
IT'S ABOUT THOSE THINGS THAT
ARE HAPPENING BETWEEN PEOPLE
THAT'S REALLY THE
CORE OF ANY MOVIE.
BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE
DOESN'T CARE ABOUT
ANYTHING ELSE, FINALLY.
I MEAN, IF YOU
THINK THEY DO,
YOU'RE WASTING
A LOT OF TIME.
SO FROM BOTH OF THEM, I
LEARNED A GREAT DEAL
ABOUT ACTING.

Elwy says SIDNEY LUMET, TOO?

Richard says SIDNEY IS WONDERFUL
WITH ACTORS.

Elwy says ALSO FROM THE
THEATRE, TOO.
HE HAS THAT.

Richard says ABSOLUTELY.
HE WAS AN ACTOR
HIMSELF, AS A CHILD.

Elwy says YES.

Richard says AND THE DRAMA.
AND THE CONFLICT.
I REMEMBER ONE CONVERSATION
ON BABY DOLL; MYSELF,
BORIS KAUFMAN AND KAZAN WERE
WALKING IN A COTTON FIELD.
KAZAN SAID, WHAT DO YOU THINK
ABOUT A SHOT LIKE SO AND SO?
AND I SAID, IT'S EASY.
AND BORIS SAID, WELL,
IT'S VERY DIFFICULT.
AND KAZAN SAID,
THAT'S DRAMA.

Elwy says YES, RIGHT THERE.

Richard says ONE GUY SAYS IT'S EASY, THE
OTHER GUY SAYS IT'S DIFFICULT.

Elwy says YES.
YOU HAVE AN ELEMENT
OF CONFLICT.

Watch: Designing Movies