Skip to Main Content

Jeannine Oppewall & Michael Stock: L.A. Confidential (February 5, 2019)41:53

Michael Stock introduces production designer Jeannine Oppewall, citing her own description of her job as being “responsible for everything an actor walks in front of, sits on, drives through, or picks up.” They begin discussing the start of her career working with Charles and Ray Eames on their film projects, and jump to her work as production designer for Curtis Hanson’s 1997 neo-noir feature “L.A. Confidential”.

She explains how the goal was not to copy the classic film noir style, but create a hybrid that was filmed in the present, but with clothes and locations that reference the past.

She describes ten weeks of driving around Los Angeles, looking for locations to accommodate the script. She relied on her personal experience of arriving in L.A. for the first time, experiencing it as an outsider.

Oppewall discusses one set – the Victory Motel – in detail. No suitable location was available, so she designed a motel set based on historical research, which was constructed in the midst of the bobbing oil derricks of the Inglewood oil field.

She describes how her process starts manually: drawing and drafting by hand, watercolors, exploring options to accommodate the needs of the production efficiently while also giving visual expression to the narrative. She stresses the importance of the production designer and director sharing the same kind of responses to the script – which is not always the case.

She notes that the only digital effects in “L.A. Confidiential” – erasing non-period details around City Hall – point out an increasingly difficult problem with filming in Los Angeles: the loss of intact historic locations. She stresses how real-world short cuts – a billboard to hide an AC unit – saves producers money.