Directing Production Design – Setting as Character – The Movie “her”

– Posted in: Directing Films and Videos Directing Production Design

I was watching an interview with Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara about the making of “her” and found a little directing nugget I wanted to share with you. (See the YouTube interview below.)

When directors talk about how they made their movies, I try to listen for anything that will make me a better story teller and this happened at the six minute mark of the Film Society of Lincoln Center video. Spike Jones was asked to talk about production design and “the very specific, detailed world” he had created. Spike said, the idea became concrete after a conversation with an architect who had also gone to film school. She asked Spike if this “future world” was dystopian or utopian? After mentioning he thought it would have colors influenced from Jamba Juice-  which is in itself a great anchoring visual, he acknowledged it was an utopian world where “everyone gets what they want”. The value of this statement came when he mentioned that for someone to be lonely in a utopian world seems even worse. This was a casual statement, but Spike was this movie’s storyteller and seemingly small statements find their into the movie and become powerful juxtapositions.

This struck me, because often I take production design at face value. Meaning, I know colors, furniture and style should all be appropriate for the story and the time period. But, Spike’s statement reminded and made tangible the fact that production design can do much more. In this case it’s that the utopian world is juxtaposed in contrast with the reality the main character is living in.

According to Spike living in a utopian world makes Joaquin Phoenix’s character even sadder.

At this point I haven’t seen the movie, but it makes perfect sense. This little statement will remind me to consider the affects that the film’s setting has on my characters. Are they merely backdrops or are they characters working with or against the emotional objectives of my cast?

What movie can you think of that uses production design as a character element?

How about the Shining?

The big empty hotel is so huge and empty, it lacks of comfort and very easy to get lost in. I don’t know about you, but when I’m scared I want to control my world.  I want it to be small, so I can see and control every thing. I want to occupy my mind with things familiar and comfortable. With too much space and time I’ll think myself into crazy. Did this happen to Jack? How much did the empty spaces  influence this?

Please leave a comment.  We all learn when you share your thoughts.

If you like this article please check out these two posts.

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NYFF51: “Her” Press Conference | Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde

NYFF’s Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair, Kent Jones said,  “Like many people I’ve come to expect great and surprising things from Spike Jonze, but Her is something altogether new in cinema. To discuss even a little bit of the plot – let’s just say that it’s about lonely people and artificial intelligence – is to deprive first-time viewers of the opportunity of discovering it themselves. The tone is magical, the freedom of the narrative is breathtaking, Joaquin Phoenix continues to be one of the most adventurous actors in movies, Rooney Mara and Amy Adams are unforgettable, Scarlett Johansson’s voice will break your heart, and so will this impossibly delicate, funny, daring movie.”

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