For Capote, production designer Jess Gonchor by and large worked within a restricted color palette to create a muted late-’50s look. The film traces writer Truman Capote’s journey from the wood-paneled literary salons of New York City to the small-town flatlands of central Kansas where the writer pursues the story of two killers for In Cold Blood, the breakthrough nonfiction novel that capped his career.“We wanted sets without vibrancy, no reds, or purples,” said Gonchor. The exception was a bright-hued interlude when Capote, under pressure to finish the book, escapes to visit a friend on the sunny coast of Spain, which was filmed in Malibu.Otherwise the film was mainly shot in a warehouse in Winnipeg, Canada. Working with a lean $300,000 construction budget, the production designer created the various muted interiors, punctuated by a cramped death-row jail cell set. That’s where some of the most dramatic encounters between Capote and the killers take place. There’s also an all-too-real gallows for the grizzly execution scene that culminates the film.In preparation, “I visited a lot of jails and maximum-security prisons,” said Gonchor. The toughest thing to find was a working gallows, which after much searching, he discovered in Canada.The Capote production designer resides in New York City. He started by doing stage sets while at Mamaroneck High School in nearby Westchester County. The first part of his professional career was in theater.When he finally got a driver’s license at the beginning of the 1990s, Gonchor drove across the country, and upon arriving in Los Angeles went straight to the Fox lot. There he got a job building sets, and then worked his way through the ranks. His father, an architect who would always be building mockups in the basement of their home, “was my biggest mentor and encourager,” he said.The lean budget he had to work with on Capote contrasted with his previous job as an art director on lavishly budgeted The Last Samurai. He’s now working as production designer on The Devil Wears Prada, a send-up of the flashy New York fashion scene, and, compared to Capote, a decided change in tone and subject matter.
Written by Jack Egan