The Academy Awards of The Oscars have a practically myth-like aura about them, particularly with people like myself who work in the moving pictures industry. I have been fortunate to have been able to actually go to the ceremony once thanks to my lovely partner in crime, Cindy Carr, as well as having worked on many nominated pictures with nominated co-workers.
In this particular blog-post I will keep my 6-degrees to Oscar limited to the category of my craft, Best Production Design.
No, I am not a Production Designer, but the Set Decorator shares the nomination with the production designer. The name of the category was changed in 2012 from Best Art Direction, interestingly through the 1920's to 1940's it was the award for Best Interior Decoration, how times have changed.
My first Union job as a set dresser was on Bugsy which went on to be nominated for Best Art Direction, Dennis Gassner-PD and Nancy Haigh-SD in 1991. They would also be given the nod that year for their work on Barton Fink. At the time of the announcement I was working with Cindy Carr who was nominated that year for her work on Fisher King with PD, Mel Bourne. I had also worked on another nominated picture Hook; PD Norman Garwood, SD Garrett Lewis. The only film nominated that year that I didn't have some sort of connection with was The Prince of Tides. It was very exciting for this 24 yr. old to be associated with all these projects and people so early in my career.
I myself have never been nominated, but I am only half-way through my career, so there's still hope. And since that banner year, I have only worked on one other film that has been nominated, Dracula; PD Thomas Sanders and Garrett Lewis. Although I have worked with many nominated production designers and decorators in a variety of capacities.
When I was still non-union and just beginning my career in the film business, I would always have my eye out for hold tags at the various studio prop houses to see who was doing what. Garrett Lewis had tags everywhere. I figured I should try to work on his crew, they had to be top-notch. One thing led to another and I found myself on the tail-end of shooting and then wrapping Hook knowing that I would be going onto work on his next project Dracula.
I had never worked on sets as impressive and amazing as these before. Garrett was an amazing decorator and I later had the honor to take over a show he started as a decorator and share a credit with him on the Panic Room.
I have had the great fortune as you can see to have worked with many brilliant and creative people, but in regards to Production Design none have inspired me and touched my creative senses in the way Eugenio Zanetti did.
Cindy and I first worked with him on Last Action Hero. We would collaborate with him again on the Haunting and he would later steal Cindy away from me to do What Dreams May Come.
Meeting the Man
The first and only time I have actually held an Oscar was at one of Eugenio's amazing parties. It was awarded to him for Restoration in 1995.
I worked as Cindy's lead person on many shows which can be a trial by fire for a relationship. So after several years, we decided to work apart. I predicted that I would get on a Hell show in Los Angeles and that she would get a fabulous show on location and get nominated for her second Academy Award.
I was dead on right, on both counts. I won't bother to mention my project, but What Dreams May Come earned Eugenio and Cindy a trip down the red carpet. At least I got to share that experience, well sort of ....but that's a tale for another day.
King of the World
Cindy and I would go from one Arnold Schwarzenegger project to another, True Lies. And from designers that were polar opposites in a lot of ways, although both incredibly talent and multiple Oscar nominees.
Where Eugenio was a larger-than-life personality who's designs were very uniquely his vision, Peter was incredibly reserved and soft spoken and his design was very rooted and based on the needs of the production, which is how he was able to work so well with James Cameron.
Peter Lamont had already been nominated 3 times before his fourth time when he won for his work on Titanic. Cindy and I took a trip down to Mexico to visit him while he was working on it. The magnitude and engineering of the sets were breath-taking. Ironically we were also working on a "boat" movie at the time, the not nearly as successful, Speed 2.
I worked with Ridley Scott on the very first thing I ever lead on; a Super Bowl commercial that his son Jake Scott production designed.
I would end up working with him again on GI Jane, a show that I lead with Cindy decorating and Arthur Max as the production designer. Arthur later hired me to take over decorating on the Panic Room when Garrett Lewis left.
Arthur got nominated twice, Gladiator, a film Ridley directed and also American Gangster.
.Cindy and I have worked with Jeannine Oppewall on three different projects; Primal Fear, Rich Man's Wife, and Sum of All Fears. While none of those were nominated, she has been nominated four times; L.A. Confidential, Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Good Shepherd.
While it was wonderful working with her, it has been amazing to get to know her outside of work, she is a truly unique and special individual.
As of 2000, she is a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is also a world-traveled amateur lepidopterist. Her eyes really light up when she speaks of butterflies. As of 2009, she also serves on the Art Directors Guild's education and workplace issues committees. In 2000, Oppewall tore down the bungalow and built a larger modern house in the style Charles and Ray Eames because she "did not want my house to conflict with my (Eames-designed) furniture," which she bought while working for the Eameses
I Would Like to Thank
Like in many Academy-award winners' speech, I'm sure there are several that I have forgotten to mention but we are minutes from the announcement of this years nominees.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
PD Adam Stockhausen
SD Anna Pinnock
PD Maria Djurkovic
SD Tatiana Macdonald
PD Suzie Davies
SD Charlotte Watts
Into the Woods
PD Dennis Gassner
SD Anna Pinnock
PD Nathan Crowley
SD Gary Fettis