Oscars 2021: inspiring sets of Minari, Mank and a promising young woman
By Cheryl Lai-Lim
April 22, 2021
Ahead of this year’s Oscars, we take a closer look at the inspiration behind the set design of three of this year’s Oscar-nominated films: Minari, Promising Young Woman and Mank.
We’re in the final round of an unusually long awards season, which means the Oscars are almost upon us. In light of the pandemic and its detrimental effects on the film industry, Oscar eligibility criteria have been changed to include films that have aired directly on streaming services.
Among this year’s Oscar nominees are a myriad of standout film designs with stunning and impactful interiors. As we await Hollywood’s most famous awards show, we explore several stunning production sets, from classic glamor to Mank at home comfortable and rickety Minari.
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Set in 1930s Hollywood, David Fincher’s Mank was praised not only for its cinematography, but also for its impressive production design. The lavish decor, diffusing old Hollywood glamor, earned it a nomination in the Best Production Design category.
Decorator Donald Graham Burt, who previously won an Oscar for Best Artistic Direction in 2009 for Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was commissioned to create the extravagant decor with decorator Jan Pascale. While film noir pays homage to the original 1930s films, it was shot in black and white, which was an additional hurdle for Burt and Pascale when it came to translating opulence to the screen.
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As filming at the original Hearst Castle is rarely permitted, the production crew had to recreate the set on a soundstage instead. The interiors and exteriors of the extravagant ensemble are reconstructed with intricate detail. Different styles and influences – from elements of the Spanish Renaissance to Gothic details – can be seen throughout the film. Large hanging tapestries, wood paneling, and ornate fireplaces enhance the old world glamor of movie sets.
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Inspired by the childhood of director Issac Lee Chang, Minari explores a Korean family who immigrated to America hoping for better opportunities. The tender storyline and poignant cast of the semi-autobiographical film earned it critical acclaim, earning six nominations, including Best Picture.
When the Yi family first arrive at the “ house on wheels, ” as later lovingly described by Soon-ja (Yoon Yuh-Jung), it is easy to dismiss the decrepit house propped up on cinder blocks with a unimpressive facade. But as the family of four moved in, the house slowly turned into a home.
Located in a rural location in the Arkansas countryside, the home is inspired by 1980s country living. Rustic wood cabinets and furnishings give off a warm vibe, while pastel yellow wallpaper and curtains provide cover the walls and the retro style lampshades bring a vintage touch to the interior.
In an interview with the American Film Institute, decorator Lee Yong Ok revealed that she got most of the period furniture and decorations through garage sales and flea markets. “Although I didn’t have first-hand experience of immigrant life in the 1980s, I still remember how much of a home it was in Korea. I looked at some of my parents and grandmother’s photos to get a feel for it, as well as researched American cultural references.
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Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut, Promising young woman, has created a real buzz since its theatrical release. The comedic thriller prominently uses bright, bold colors to depict the film’s quirky approach and the protagonist’s path to revenge.
Fennel worked closely with costume designer Nancy Steiner and set designer Micheal Perry to mirror the film’s protagonist, the personality of Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan). Cassie’s workplace, a cafe where she spends much of her time, features a pastel color combination with a striking neon sign. The sign phrase lends a sly undertone, referring to the backward stereotype of a woman’s place in the kitchen.
In an interview with Variety, Perry revealed that he deliberately designed Cassie’s parents’ house to give off a “time-trapped” feel. Retro decor pieces like vintage lounge chairs and eclectic decorative lamps decorate the space, with gold accents and ornate details tackling the old Baroque style.
The deliberate contrast between the dated house and other modern spaces reflects Cassie’s state of mind, of being stuck in the past after the key incident that set her revenge plans in motion.
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