- This episode of “Movies Insider”, find out how movies, TV shows and books disguise modern city streets to fit historical contexts.
- Oscar-nominated set designer Rena deAngelo talks about how she made modern cities look old for Wes Anderson. “The French Dispatch”, “The new West Side Story”, There are many other period pieces.
- She shows us how vintage windows, faux windows and colors would make a modern New York building feel like it was in 1957.
Below is the transcript of the video.
Narrator:It’s Dumbo, Brooklyn in the opening scene. “Bridge of Spies.” This is what the block looks like today. This street has been altered to look convincingly like 1957. Rena DeAngelo, Oscar-nominated set designer who worked on period pieces such as ‘The French Dispatch’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘The Post’, ‘Mad Men”. ”
Rene:Here’s a newsstand you’ll see in every movie. Probably every decorator in New York has used it at least 10 times.
Narrator:Rena took us through Eclectic/Encore Props NYC to show how she transformed a New York street into a 1950s time capsule.
First, hide anything that doesn’t belong to that era when you’re exploring a site. This involves removing security cameras and replacing all cars on the streets with older vehicles with vintage plates. Signage is an essential part of any exchange. It is important to know its history and to choose the right panels.
Rene:In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s they used to paint advertisements on benches. These are fantastic. These would be perfect in a smokehouse display case.
Narrator:This huge tire sign was used in ‘Bridge of Spies’ Dumbo looked more industrial in the 1950s than its modern high-rise apartment building look. Many neighborhoods have also been defined historically by their communities. Therefore, you would need cultural signifiers such as those Hebrew signs or specific food advertisements. Rena: I think I used Murphy & Ashcom Saltfish in “Bridge of Spies”. They look more aged because they are hand painted. They are not mass produced.
Narrator:It’s the little things that make the difference. It is likely that the embossed text is from the 1950s or 1960s. The flat text on these signs indicates that they were produced later since many cities stopped embossing traffic signs in the 1970s and 1980s. Plus, the font is a sign of its age. The spit sign looks older than the barber shop sign due to the fact that this typeface was popularized in the 80s, while the sans serif category is more common. When deciding which sign will fit the times, decorators don’t limit themselves to font and embossing. This means you need to know what the signs were made of in the past.
Rene: Metal. Drink. It probably dates from the 1920s or 1930s because it is made of cast iron.
Narrator:Panels made with plastics in recent years were lighter than those made with more modern materials. However, the signs can’t do much. Today, many gifts are nailed to the ground. Rena will take care of those using hollow barrels or crates. Old phone booths can visually block modern features. This one would look right at home on any street corner in Manhattan from the mid 50s to the late 70s. Rena is able to tell that these payphones are from the 50s because of the style and the width of the dial. Later, the plastic dial and push button were added in the 70s and 80s. Strategically placed kiosks can conceal larger freebies such as streetlights or modern traffic lights. For the 70s decor, she created six newsstands with a more modern look. “The Post”. To make a 1950s movie, she would use this type of newsstand to fill it with magazines, newspapers, signs, products, and all things specific to that decade. Eclectic has tons of them.
Rene:Everything is in real packaging.
Narrator:In addition to sourcing vintage products from prop houses like this one, decorators will also be digging into the basements of local grocery stores, where shopkeepers often have leftover products from decades past.
Rene:You can use this material in a hardware store or a beauty salon.
Narrator:Rena says the most important thing for display cases to look real is the amount of product. Sometimes she scans the packaging and prints copies. Then she’ll use them to wrap row upon row of empty boxes. Additionally, set designers conduct extensive research into the consumer culture of that era, particularly as it relates to pieces from the 1950s. Consumer goods had a major influence on the imagery of the decade. They should know what people bought and sold and what kinds of services were offered at each block.
Rene:A shoe repair shop was always available because people didn’t buy new shoes just for fun. They took them to fix their shoes. There’s always a guy who can fix shoes on every street.
Narrator:Showcases have been used to showcase new technologies like televisions.
Rene:It is ideal for electronics stores.
Narrator:This type of TV would be perfect for the 1950s.
Rene:It’s the 50s. It’s definitely the 50s. It’s the early 50s.
Narrator:Radios like this were used by her as part of the 1950s ‘French Dispatch’. Even clothing stores have designs tailored to specific eras.
Rene:They would look great in a women’s clothing store.
Narrator:For the 50 models that filled the front of the Gimbels department store. “West Side Story”, Rena discovered a rounder vintage women’s mannequin head with less makeup than later decades.
Rene:You can see the differences between the faces. The faces just have a different structure and the hair is molded. This is what I would use in a 1950s movie set.
Narrator:In the 1950s, male models looked much slimmer and leaner than they do today. She modeled their bodies after teenage models. Another bespoke “West Side Story” item that wasn’t quite as glamorous.
Rene:This is a modern urban trash can that we need to get rid of. These metal boxes, older than the current ones, were used on the streets in the 50s or 60s. Although it is not very old, we sprayed paint on it to give it a newer look. You can find more “West Side Story”, They were about 400, because they wanted to throw trash everywhere.
Narrator:However, some details are more difficult to replace, such as streetlights. You can just replace the lampposts digitally, but you need those wraps to get that look on set.
Rene:These are those wraps. These are fake wrappers that can be used to wrap contemporary floor lamps and make them one of them, without having to bring one of the 70 million pounds.
Narrator:Designers could also replace bulbs as in “Joker”. 1981 Gotham had sodium vapor streetlights. These gave off an icky orange glow. The team replaced all the LED bulbs with old sodium vapor bulbs to get the right lighting.
These fine distinctions can make or break an entire period scene. It can take several days to get all the details needed to film a few minutes. That’s what it takes to create a time warp in busy urban centers. Rena: 200 newspapers will be produced and 10 accessories will be given to participants so that they can enjoy reading them. If there are 100 people reading the newspaper, the props will become 100. You could go on and on. “The Post” was simply stacks and stacks of newspapers.