Filming a wealthy home exterior, McMansion interior

A film production designer describes the problem of finding a home for filming:

Photo by Mark McCammon on

We were looking for the Voze mansion and having trouble finding an exterior and interior to match, as most wealthy estate-type people heavily renovate their interiors and look more McMansion inside. The exterior was a house in Pasadena.

I think this is saying that they had a problem finding a home fit for wealthy characters because the homes with the gravitas-invoking exterior did not necessarily have the same kind of interior. Having lots of money can be associated with a particular aesthetic. Describing a portion of the home as having a McMansion look is not usually a good thing. It is a negative term. I imagine a McMansion interior could involve the latest trends, having large spaces, and going for shock and awe rather than refined details.

Through the magic of filming and editing, a different exterior and interior can be put together without too much evidence otherwise. Of course, it is also fun to watch for situations where they do not exactly match.

When the music swells…

I recently encountered two examples where an increase in volume of music portends something important is happening:

Photo by Pixabay on

-In watching The Truman Show for the umpteenth time, I noticed at one point director Cristof points to the live pianist to increase the music. The musician obliges and the melancholy music swells. (Bonus: you can see composer Phillip Glass playing piano in this scene as Truman sleeps.)

-In a chapel service, the organist played a quiet piece underneath a prayer, but as soon as the prayer ended, the volume and activity increased as the congregation moved to singing together.

This musical signaling is common in live events, religious services, television and film, and elsewhere. When the music increases in volume and/or activity, something important is happening. It is a cue to the events unfolding in front of the participant or the viewer.

Is it emotional manipulation? Can we be pushed in directions we may not even be aware of just by the musical vibrations around us? Perhaps. Yet, humans have done this for centuries and millennium as music has a long and rich history not just as an individual activity but a collective tissue and performance where tone, volume, timbre, and more contribute to life together.

A positive on-screen depiction of New Jersey

In contrast to the typical depiction of New Jersey on TV and movies, one writer suggests a new show portrays a positive vision of the state:

Photo by Noriely Fernandez on

I don’t want this attention. Jersey’s bad reputation for being America’s garbage dump has done a great job of keeping people out and our blocks relatively affordable. For years, Jersey City was protected by a forcefield of bad representation. Jersey is by far America’s favorite punchline of a state. Futurama imagined America’s founding fathers dubbing New Jersey “our nation’s official joke state.” Movie after movie refers to Jersey as “the armpit of America.” Even in Marvel’s What If…?, Harold “Happy” Hogan laments the only escape from a zombie apocalypse: “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, we gotta go to Jersey.” MTV’s Jersey Shore continues to do a fantastic job of finding the best cast to represent the state and all it has to offer folks on the outside. Snookie and J-Wow knew exactly how to lay out the red carpet. The Sopranos also knew exactly how to showcase Jersey’s finest hospitality. Come for the bar fights, stay for the gabagool.

I would argue few places are depicted well on television or in films where the emphasis is usually on character and plots rather than on places, neighborhoods, and communities.

At the same time, certain locations can acquire a particular character through the way they are depicted over the years. Viewers might see only a particular perspective on or a portion of a place.

What would the average American think New Jersey is like based on what they have seen on screen?

Constructing a New Urbanist movie town outside of Atlanta

Going up around a one-stop movie filming and production facility outside of Atlanta is a New Urbanist community named Trilith.

Google Maps

When the British film studio company Pinewood opened a production facility outside Atlanta in 2014, it framed the venture as a one-stop-shop alternative to the mature but spatially fragmented system in Hollywood. With a high-tech media center, soundstages, offices, prop houses, and set builders all colocated, Pinewood Atlanta was a turnkey space for filming. An early relationship with Marvel Studios led to a steady stream of big-budget superhero movies such as Ant Man and Captain America: Civil War, and Pinewood Atlanta quickly became a contender in the film business.

But some of its local investors wanted it to be more than just a production facility. They wanted the entire business to have a place at the studios, with development of new shows happening where they’d eventually be filmed, and local workers able to easily commute to jobs on the site, about 20 miles south of Atlanta. So they decided to build a town…

Pinewood recently left the project, amiably, and the studio and town are now fully in the hands of local founders, who have accelerated Trilith’s development, which broke ground two years ago. Planned with New Urbanist design principles, Trilith is a dense, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use village, with a commercial town center, more than half of its area dedicated to green space and forest, and room for an eventual population of 5,000. About 500 people are currently living in the town, which is planned to have a total of 1,400 townhomes, apartments, cohousing units, and 500-square-foot “microhomes.” Housing is available to rent or buy, and Trilith’s developers say it’s luring residents from within the film industry as well as people from other walks of life…

Parker says the town was inspired by Seaside, a New Urbanist community in Florida famous for its use as the setting of The Truman Show. Trilith was designed by the Atlanta-based planning firm Lew Oliver, with homes designed and built by companies such as 1023 Construction and Brightwater Homes. Parker says the design was intended to appeal to young creatives, with an emphasis on wellness and access to the outdoors, but with the kinds of amenities people want in a town. The first of the town’s restaurants recently opened, and 11 more are in the works. A 60,000-square-foot fitness studio was recently completed, and a K-12 school is already open.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the film industry and the town continues. On one hand, it could create a regular level of business and residents. On the other hand, not everyone in the community will be involved and interests could collide. Will this be like other suburbs and communities that rely heavily on one industry or sector (with both the advantages and disadvantages that come with this)?
  2. Later portions of the article discuss the diversity of residents in the community. Seaside looks good on film but has been more of a wealthy community than one that lives up to its New Urbanist principles of having mixed-income housing and residents. Will the desirability of such a community drive up housing costs? Will the connection to the film industry make it more difficult to others to move in?
  3. Does this provide a new model for numerous industries? For example, prior to COVID-19 big tech firms had constructed large, all-encompassing headquarters intended in part to help keep workers close. Or, large office buildings in central areas help consolidate workers and multiple sectors. But, perhaps this New Urbanist vision provides an alternative: more space in the suburbs, film facilities, other opportunities in the town outside of film.

Comparing aliens, asteroids, and ghosts destroying cities

Mass destruction of cities is a common feature of action films but what creatures bring about the most destruction?

Anyway, this all got us wondering why aliens hate Earth architecture so much, and then we realized that it’s not just aliens—Earth architecture is also hated by asteroids and ghosts. Let us review the evidence…

Verdict: Asteroids

It’s got to be asteroids. Asteroids are such jerks.

Not exactly a scientific review of the available evidence (how hard would it be to analyze all the movies with such urban destruction) but still an interesting question to ponder. Nature, in the form of asteroids, does not care about what exactly is destroyed. Asteroids of large size rarely hit earth and what are the odds that they would regularly hit major cities as opposed to falling in the ocean. At the same time, asteroids are faceless villains whereas you can fight or negotiate with aliens and ghosts.

We could also ask whether it is best for other worldly villains to take out key architectural landmarks versus other strategic targets. The first has symbolic value but key infrastructure would be much more crippling. Perhaps this is the equivalent of the bad guys always having bad aim as they try to shoot; these villains always go for visible targets, giving responders time to come up with a plan.

Selecting the right McMansion for Gone Girl

Following up on a post from two days ago, here is how the production designer described finding Nick and Amy’s McMansion in Gone Girl:

It’s hard to explain without being insulting (laughs). Those neighborhoods, with that style of housing— and without finding any other better way of describing it, sort of that “mcmansion” — they aren’t very attractive. You go, oh geeze do we have to really film this, you know? We found this simple one, and it had all the attributes of that type of house without being too obscene. It felt like it could be traditional, but it was a modern take on traditional. Just the fact that it was on the corner, it gave us good angles for a lot of the scenes with the driving and the staging of the news vans.

We built the entire interior on a stage in Los Angeles. We took the floor plan of the house that we shot on location, and we started adjusting it for our own story and our own camera angles. It was important for me, especially, not to do something where you’d look at the exterior and then you go inside and you’re like wait a second, how could this interior even fit with that exterior? I didn’t want to do that. David [Fincher, the director] and I had long conversations about it. We cheated a few things, we stretched the interior.

You know those homes are they’re done with traditional elements but in a modern style? They have the built-in cabinets and they have the wooden molding, but there’s something askew about it. The way the moldings are done, they are made out of mdf instead of real wood. It’s that modern construction where they use traditional, classical elements— they put medallions on the ceilings and they have recessed lighting in drywall ceilings instead of real plaster. The spiral staircase isn’t really spiral. It’s curved, and it looks elegant but when you stand there and take it in, you realize there’s something skewed about it.

It works in the sense that Nick is trying to give Amy the perfect home in the perfect place. It’s sort of like, why wouldn’t you like this? Why wouldn’t you feel comfortable in this large house? There’s remnants of the New York feel, but it’s a little bit offbeat from that.

A few thoughts, question by question:

1. The dislike for McMansions is clear. But, then he notes that the house wasn’t too bad in its attempt to replicate a traditional style. What then marks it as a McMansion? Subdivision. Multiple gables. Square footage. Tall entryway.

2. Even with a home that is already large, they stretched the interior. Does this mean that the home scorned for its size was depicted as even larger on the screen?

3. Commentary on the quality of construction. The style may fit from a distance but someone who knows the older style can spot the problems quickly.

4. Conjecture about what such homes are supposed to symbolize: the perfect house. Looks new, nice landscaping, quiet neighborhood…how did all that violence and coldness end up there again?

Even with all that explaining about the negatives of such homes, it is amusing to see the comments below the story from people who want to replicate the look.

Argument: George Lucas is the “greatest artist of our time”

Camille Paglia explains why she believes George Lucas is “the greatest artist of our time”:

Who is the greatest artist of our time? Normally, we would look to literature and the fine arts to make that judgment. But Pop Art’s happy marriage to commercial mass media marked the end of an era. The supreme artists of the half century following Jackson Pollock were not painters but innovators who had embraced technology—such as the film director Ingmar Bergman and the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. During the decades bridging the 20th and 21st centuries, as the fine arts steadily shrank in visibility and importance, only one cultural figure had the pioneering boldness and world impact that we associate with the early masters of avant-garde modernism: George Lucas, an epic filmmaker who turned dazzling new technology into an expressive personal genre.

The digital revolution was the latest phase in the rapid transformation of modern communications, a process that began with the invention of the camera and typewriter and the debut of mass-market newspapers and would produce the telegraph, telephone, motion pictures, phonograph, radio, television, desktop computer, and Internet. Except for Futurists and Surrealists, the art world was initially hostile or indifferent to this massive surge in popular culture. Industrial design, however, rooted in De Stijl and the Bauhaus, embraced mechanization and grew in sophistication and influence until it has now eclipsed the fine arts.

No one has closed the gap between art and technology more successfully than George Lucas. In his epochal six-film Star Wars saga, he fused ancient hero legends from East and West with futuristic science fiction and created characters who have entered the dream lives of millions. He constructed a vast, original, self-referential mythology like that of James Macpherson’s pseudo-Celtic Ossian poems, which swept Europe in the late 18th century, or the Angria and Gondal story cycle spun by the Brontë children in their isolation in the Yorkshire moors. Lucas was a digital visionary who prophesied and helped shape a host of advances, such as computer-generated imagery; computerized film editing, sound mixing, and virtual set design; high-definition cinematography; fiber-optic transmission of dailies; digital movie duplication and distribution; theater and home-entertainment stereo surround sound; and refinements in video-game graphics, interactivity, and music.

Read the entire interesting argument.

Four quick thoughts:

1. This broadens the common definition of artist. It acknowledges the shift away from “high art,” the sort of music, painting, and cultural works that are typically found in museums or respectful places to “popular art” like movies and music.

2. The argument doesn’t seem to be that Lucas is the best filmmaker or best storyteller. Rather, this is based more on his ability to draw together different cultural strands in a powerful way. Paglia argues he brought together art and technology, combined stories from the past and present, promoted the use and benefits of new technologies that were influential far beyond his own films.

3. Another way to think of a “great artist” is to try to project the legacy of artists. How will George Lucas be viewed in 50 or 100 years? Of course, this is hard to do. But, part of creating this legacy starts now as people review an artist’s career though it could change with future generations. I wonder: if technology is changing at a quicker pace, does this also mean the legacy of cultural creators will have a shorter cycle? For example, if movies as we know them today are relics in 50 years, will Lucas even matter?

4. How would George Lucas himself react to this? Who would he name as the “greatest artist” of today?