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Cinema Series:Jeannine Oppewall and Michael Stock on Pleasantville (March 3, 2020)46:44

After an introduction by Michael Shock, Jeannine Oppewall discusses her work as production designer for Pleasantville (1998). She notes that, for once, the tag line was apt: “Nothing is as simple as black and white” for a film that was a comedy but also pointedly political, dealing with racism, freedom, conformity, oppression. The director Gary Ross provided a starting point by designating two sets as the central scenes for the dramatic conflict: the Town Hall (the “seat of power”) and the Soda Shop (the “seat of sedition”).

Oppewall describes designing, constructing, dressing and landscaping an entire town – consisting of a main street and one cross street – in a parking lot in Malibu Creek State Park – a site formerly used for Westerns. The unique challenge of this project was that it was filmed both in color and black and white – so everything had to be design to be comprehensible and appropriate in both modes. She was particularly pleased with the mural painted by Frank Romero, and showed the clip of how it was presented in the movie.

Oppewall responds to general questions about her work from Stock, stressing the importance of choosing projects that suit your personality, the longer project times of film versus the compressed project times of TV, her preference for period pieces over films set in the present or future. When Stock quotes a comment she made about art department making “a nest for actors”, Oppewall elaborates: “We are the first people out there, ahead of everybody else in the film crew. And it is our job to do a great job, so that everybody else coming behind us … is forced to come up to the mark. … Your job is to make everybody else’s job easier, better and clearer.”