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HomeAwardsAwards Portfolio: Henry Bumstead/Jack Taylor-Million Dollar Baby

Awards Portfolio: Henry Bumstead/Jack Taylor-Million Dollar Baby

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Henry Bumstead is quite simply a living legend. His work is not only magnificent in its own right, it also defines the majesty of his era, which spans much of the history of Hollywood. He is now in the 68th year of his still active career.Bumstead’s his first assignment as art director was on the film Saigon—made in 1948 and starring Alan Ladd. He went on to design some of the most beloved movies of all time, including Vertigo and To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet Bumstead’s presence goes beyond work, manifesting itself in his aura of humanity, warmth, and phenomenal zest for life.Known as “Bummy” to his friends, he has worked with some of the industry’s finest directors and now designs exclusively for Clint Eastwood, whom he considers one of the best directors in the country. His regular colleagues are art director Jack Taylor, set decorator Richard Goddard, and location manager Kokayi Ampah. “We’ve all worked with Clint before; I’ve done 12 with him, Jack’s done nine, Richard and Kokayi four or five. I’m 89, you know, and I wouldn’t be working except for Clint. He’s wonderful to work with and he loves the whole crew. He loves people around him that he knows. He’s very loyal and keeps them on and on.”Because Bumstead and his colleagues know Eastwood so well, their understanding of his preferences for the design and atmosphere of the settings has become second nature. Their understanding of each other’s working methods reminds veteran decorator Goddard of how things were in the studio days, when crews worked on film after film, and were able to unify a visual style of production.“We hardly spend any time with Clint before the picture starts,” says Bumstead. “Because he trusts us. And [Million Dollar Baby] was all local and on location, except one big set, and we did a lot of construction.”The large set was for the Hit Pit, the rundown boxing gym where Clint Eastwood’s character Frankie trains hillbilly waitress Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). As Ampah explains, “It’s a warehouse downtown. We looked at a lot of other spaces, but this one rang true with all of us. And with the transformation that Bummy and Jack designed and what Dick and our construction people put together, it was fantastic. It is a character within the film.”In Million Dollar Baby, nitty-gritty realism is the order of the day. The Hit Pit perfectly underscores the edgy lives of the characters—it has the aura of a weathered old fighter still capable of a final bout, yet aware that both victory and defeat are inseparable aspects of life. Taylor points out that the downbeat story scared the studio a bit, hence the budget was cut. “They didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so it’s basically what we call kind of a road picture, all locations.” That Bumstead and his colleagues designed such amazing settings on a cut budget demonstrates their mastery of craft and adaptability to any production circumstance.Like all great filmmakers, Bumstead defines his basic technique in production design as keeping everything in service to the story. He allows the set decorator to concentrate on the colors, while keeping the basic setting neutral. A master of both black and white “values” (his To Kill a Mockingbird Oscar was in the black and white category) and color design, Bumstead’s trademark is a realism with subtle touches of stylization that enhance the drama on the screen. – Henry Turner

Written by Henry Turner

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