Barbara Ling Interview: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ production designer
For production designer Barbara Ling, reading one of Quentin Tarantino‘s scripts is like sifting through “a long novel,” and starting on page one “you realize you are about to go into a massive, epic adventure with him.” In the case of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a period showbiz saga starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, she was amazed by “all the pieces that Quentin wanted to bring together” in recreating Tinseltown circa 1969. Watch our exclusive video interview with Ling above.
The veteran designer knew she had a massive amount of work ahead of her, so she hired researcher Lance Malbon to assist. After exhausting the usual assets — libraries, magazines, newspapers, etc. — they “went deeper into private photographers, because we wanted to get more color of that time” into the sets. But finding the right colors wasn’t that easy. “Particularly in journalism, it was mainly in black-and-white shots,” so they had to dig deep to make things accurate.
She found another resource in Tarantino‘s own Los Angeles-based movie theater: the New Beverly Cinema, which was closed for renovations during shooting. “He put sofas everywhere,” she reveals, “and every Friday night he played ’60s LA movies, which also gave us another whole collection of research.”
In addition to retrofitting large swaths of Hollywood, Ling was tasked with recreating several historical sites, including Spahn Ranch, home of the Manson Family. This was particularly difficult because the real place “burned in the ’70s, and then was bull-dozed over,” leaving “just a mountainside.” However, not too far away from the real place, she found a similarly “rocky terrain” where they could rebuild the compound, using a hefty amount of photographic research as their guide.
Prior to working with Tarantino on “Once Upon a Time,” Ling lent her talents to such films as “True Stories” (1986), “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1991), “The Doors” (1991), “Falling Down” (1993), “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Random Hearts” (1999).