Designer Becker Talks Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell’s Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook arrived on Blu-ray this week from Anchor Bay looking its blue collar best and containing an intriguing alternate ending.  Production designer Judy Becker discusses collaborating with Russell in creating the Italian-American Philly atmosphere. It’s Good Fellas meets It’s a Wonderful Life.

Talk about coming up with the world of Silver Linings Playbook with Russell.

Our process was similar to the process on The Fighter — the visual world was based on the characters, where they lived, and the story.  We started with the facts of an Italian-American couple who lived in a working class suburb of Philadelphia and had probably decorated their house when they got married 40 or so years ago.  The main elements we tried to bring into the house were aspects of their Italian-American  heritage – for this I drew heavily on scouting neighbor’s houses, David’s memories of his relatives, and friends of mine from similar backgrounds.  We also wanted to work in some elements specific to Philadelphia — this shows most clearly in the exaggerated white grout lines painted between the stones on the exterior of the house (we did this).  This is a design element you see throughout the Philadelphia and South New Jersey area.

We came up with a palette that stemmed from the gold flocked wallpaper that was a crucial part of the design, and mixed in blue and, naturally, the green and teal of the Philadelphia Eagles.  We kept the palette from seeming too limited and contrived through the use of off colors in some of the costumes and set dressing.

There’s a nice contrast between the house and the dance studio, which is Tiffany’s home.

Tiffany was someone who was trying to shed the past and had her own space to do it in.  So we deliberately kept it very spare and focused – dance is her passion so the only set dressing we added were two dance posters.  We also tried to build the studio in a way that was financially realistic for her character – we shopped the doors and other details at home depot and were careful not to make it too “designy.” I also wanted to make sure elements of the garage carried through to the built set, so we left one wall cinderblock, and put in a ghost remnant of the original garage doors.

Tiffany was a young character with a goth bent and I knew she would be fascinated by the ’80s so I picked a vintage ’80s color for the studio from a vintage paint deck I had — “Dusty Rose” — and that’s the main color of the set.

And what about the outdoor night set at the end after she flees the dance competition where they have their reconciliation?

It was quick!  The concept for the ending came up near the end of the shoot and we needed to make it romantic yet keep the gritty quality of downtown Philadelphia at the same time.  David envisioned Christmas lights that were reminiscent of the feast of St. Gennaro (a traditional Italian street festival in NY) and we had the lights across the streets custom made in Christmas colors and convinced the merchants of Jewelers Row, where the scene was shot, right near the Ben Franklin Hotel (a real place) to let us string them across their buildings.  They ended up liking them so much they kept them and now they are part of the Philadelphia Holiday decor!

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Oscar, Production Design, Tech

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