It’s been a busy year for Judy Becker, production designer for two period films — Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” set in the 1950s, and David O. Russell’s “Joy,” which spans four decades. The two films couldn’t be more opposite stylistically.
“Joy” tells the story of one woman’s (Jennifer Lawrence) journey from poverty to success with the invention of the Miracle Mop. Despite its roots in the relatively recent past, Becker reveals during our recent webcam chat (watch below), “We approached it differently from a period film, and differently from a contemporary film."
As she explains, "David initially had the idea, which we developed, that it should look kind of timeless and almost fable-like, and the look of that took a lot of planning.” Because of this Becker and her team didn’t go the normal route in preparation. “We did not do period research,” she admits.
“We instead looked at a lot of references for a kind of fairy tale-like feel, old black-and-white movies like 'It’s a Wonderful Life,' Paper Moon,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' which influenced me especially. We sort of started with the idea that it almost looked black-and-white like very timeless, classic cinema, and worked from there.”
When it came to putting these ideas into practice, Becker reveals, “We started with a palette that was very monochromatic, a lot of white and faded pastels. We didn’t literally do black-and-white because that would’ve looked extremely stylized and unrealistic. But a lot of white in snow, and aged white and aged tinted colors, and that’s all for Joy’s childhood and early adulthood.”
As the film progresses, “Joy’s real life develops as she develops the mop, and one idea that we had was that when she goes to QVC, it’s like going to the emerald city, and it’s like when ‘The Wizard of Oz’ goes into color from black-and-white.” When she visits the soundstage, “you see all these bright, saturated ‘80s colors, and that’s the first time you see bright colors in the movie.”
Becker received her first Oscar nomination for Russell’s “American Hustle” (2013), after working on Best Picture contenders as “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “The Fighter” (2010), and “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012).
With both “Joy” and “Carol” in the mix, could nominations two and three be far behind?
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"Joy" photo credit: Fox