In a recent production design master class held at the Los Angeles Film Festival, visionary production designers Jeannine Oppewall (L.A. Confidential) and K.K. Barrett (Her), discussed the way that they approached their two completely different films. Although both were set in different time periods, worlds, and styles, they share the similarity in highlighting the City of Angels.
During the production design process for L.A. Confidential, Oppewallspent ten weeks on drives around Los Angeles with Confidential’s location manager. She described driving around Hollywood with a friend and spotting her perfect location without even planning it, getting out of the car, and running towards it. With great spontaneity, she had found her perfect “pot-bust movie theater”.
During Preproduction for Spike Jonze’s Her, Barrett spotted a building that they just kept going back to, but were unsure how to place it in the film. Barrett finally made the call that it should be the underground where Theodore sees the ad for the operating system. Imagining the future gave him the freedom to shoot not only in LA, but combine the look of four cities at once. For a scene where Theodore enters a building, he starts in the Pacific Design Center and then in the same building, walks through a concourse in Shanghai.
Barrett admitted that’s an essential part of his job is to know the script inside and out to be in the same page as the director. Barrett’s work sometimes involves knowing the script so well that he’s able to suggest locations that weren’t called for because he knows it will work for a scene. “You have to know the script very well because sometimes you have to bend to the action to fit a location you think is really good,” Barrett said. “If you know the reasoning of the script and the reasoning of the director, then you’re able to get into that conversation. You may not always win, but you can kind of stick your foot in the door, and then strong arm a little bit and location and maybe coming around to a location that adds to the palette of the movie.”
Barrett starts the production design process is by facing the obstacles head on, because getting those on the table helps him strike the creative phase. “After the problems,” he said, “you just get into ideas.”