F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel gets a dazzling 21st-century update when it hits theaters May 10, 2013. We talked to Catherine Martin - the film's production and costume designer, and the wife of its director, Baz Luhrmann - about her creative process, designing sets for 3D, and capturing the feel of 1920s New York in Australia. Plus, see photos from the set.
After tackling 1900s bohemian Paris in Moulin Rouge and bringing Shakespeare into the 20th century with Romeo + Juliet, visionary filmmaker Baz Luhrmann puts his own spin on Jazz Age culture, romance, and drama in The Great Gatsby. As he often does, he turned to his wife and frequent collaborator, two-time Academy Award-winner Catherine Martin, to do production and costume design for the film. It was shot entirely in Sydney, Australia, which meant that duo had to build most of the film's sets from scratch. The result is a vibrant and opulent world filled with authentic details, but without any nostalgia - which is exactly how they imagine that Fitzgerald would have seen the New York City of his day.
Housebeautiful.com: How does your design process work?
Catherine Martin: Baz had been thinking about doing The Great Gatsby for 10 years, but we only started developing the script about three years ago. Baz is a visualist, so he will always have a very particular mental picture for how he wants to see a story come to life. In the initial design briefings for a project, he might bring to the table anything from a verbal concept to tear sheets to a sketch that he's drawn himself. Alternatively, he might assign particular research projects, which will in turn uncover what the design language should ultimately be.
Every Baz Luhrmann film has such a distinctive visual interpretation, a unique spin on something classic, such as Romeo + Juliet's modern-day setting and Moulin Rouge's colorful take on bohemian Paris. What kind of look and feel were you trying to achieve with this film?
One of Baz's main design directives for the look and feel of this particular movie was that he didn't want a nostalgic, sepia-toned New York City of the 1920s. He wanted the New York we created to feel as vibrant, modern, and cutting-edge as it would have felt to Fitzgerald in 1922.
What research did you do while designing the film's sets?
We do an extraordinary amount of research for any project. For this film, we visited the libraries at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York; read everything we could about the author; poured over academic appraisals about the novel; and looked at historical analyses of the time period.
The film was shot in Australia, but it's set in Long Island and New York City. Did that give you more freedom to create a distinctive and different look?
Two of the main characters in the book are in fact those locations: Long Island and New York City, so it was very important to us that we try to capture the correct essence, flavor, and nature of that time and those places. One of the nice things about working in Sydney was that we were able to create our own environments, but they were still based heavily on historical imagery.
You designed both the sets and the costumes for the film. Did one influence the other?
I really enjoy the task of designing both sets and costumes, because the dialogue between the two is absolutely essential to serving the story in an effective and clear way for the audience. These two elements have to work hand-in-hand, and I'm constantly hoping that they have an active and persuasive dialogue. The book was our primary source and inspiration. Its descriptions were the defining influence on the looks of the characters and the scenery.
The Great Gatsby was filmed in 3D. Did that affect your design choices and ideas?
In a way, I think that Baz has always been directing for 3D. He considers everything in the shot: the deep background, extreme foreground, the far left and right. We were both conscious of making the most of what he calls "the most dazzling 3D visual effect," which is the actors. How they're framed in a space allows the audience to understand exactly where they are. In terms of costuming, texture becomes a very important storytelling device.
What visual element are you most proud of?
I think that we told the story in a visual language that expresses Baz's vision and helps the audience know who the characters are and why they do what they do.
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