Production Design In Holidayland | MJ

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What Christmas movie springs forth as ruler of them all? I mean behind Die Hard, because that’s the true master of them all and let’s not lie about it, pal. The Year Without A Santa Claus? It’s A Wonderful Life? A Christmas Story? For me – and for a lot of people – it’s Home Alone. The misadventures in semi-sociopathic Kevin’s bout with some thieving baddies is cemented forever in cinematic holiday history (sidenote: check out Macauley Culkin’s new webseries DRYVERS).

Home Alone is the most Christmas-y Christmas movie that ever Christmas-ed, not for of its overall message of not leaving your 8-year-old home by himself because he might kill someone and/or himself, or because of its excellent use of both John Candy and polka music, but because it looks so gosh darn Christmas-y.

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Ho ho holy crap, whose house has ever been that red and green?
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Cinephiles and film writers throw around terms like production design and an instance likes this is where a viewer can really see what that entails. Production design is the overall look of a film, including props, locations, and sets. What’s going on in the background of a movie should be just as important as what’s happening in the foreground, even in an instance like this where it is largely unnoticeable until you’re really looking. But that’s the point. Home Alone feels so Christmas-y because the production designer has subtly – as well as not-so-subtly – made the McCallister household largely green, red, and white.

Around Oscar season, a lot of period pieces will get nods for production design, most recently lavish The Great Gatsby and quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel. Interestingly, way back in 1976, All the President’s Men won over the usual crop of historical and fantastical nominees.

But that’s the thing: the look of a film matters no matter what its setting is or how big the budget is. Take an indie film like 2011′s Weekend. The most integral location in the film is the main character’s tiny apartment, which is filled with cheap furniture and kitchen knick-knacks from charity shops, all mis-matched and second-hand. The nature of the character’s setting feeds into the character himself; he’s feels largely out-of-place and out-of-touch with his environment. He doesn’t have much of his own. Recently, low budget horror faves The Babadook and It Follows used the same simplicity to their advantage to make familiar settings downright terrifying.

Here’s a video essay on the look of Children of Men and a tour of the design of gothic London created for Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. Never forget the background.

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