Shane Valentino was extremely excited to tackle the art direction for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and specifically couldn’t wait to start working on two specific areas. “Absolutely the court room in and of itself. There are several different riot scenes or protest scenes between the Vietnam protesters and the Chicago police, as well,” reveals Valentino in our recent webchat (watch the video above). For the protesting scenes, he was able to draw from his experience of doing the production design for “Straight Outta Compton,” which included scenes recreating the 1992 L.A. riots. “I was capable of really helping [Aaron Sorkin] visualize the ways in which we can achieve something with conflict and aggression but does not necessarily need to show that much of the world.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is the latest effort from Sorkin as a writer/director. The film, currently streaming on Netflix, centers on the 1969 trial of seven anti-war protesters who are accused by the U.S. government of traveling to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago intending to start a riot with the Chicago Police Department. Valentino has worked as a production designer for over a decade and earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Production Design in 2016 for “Nocturnal Animals.”
As excited as Valentino was, he felt very worried about the scenes that took place in Grant Park with the band shell where protesters took the hill opposite a statue that many climbed on top of. “I was worried about that kind of dynamic between those two architectures. I was also worried about the style and look of the band shell.” But once he saw the finished product, he felt relieved at well the scene worked from a design aesthetic. “When we saw them together and with the way in which we created the lived space for the protesters, with the tents all around, I believed it and it really worked.”
Another of the challenges Valentino faced was in trying to find a place large enough to build the set for the court room and illustrate the monumental task the defendants were facing. “I think [Sorkin] wanted to sort of evoke what these eight men were up against, like they were up against something that was much larger than them and that has been working against the notion of counter-culture for a very long time.” To accomplish this, rather than recreating the International style that the Chicago court room had, Valentino designed the court room with a more traditional architectural style. “When all those things lined-up to find that place, you could say it’s serendipitous, but we found elements in that space that we could work with and we just ran with it.”
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