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HomeCraftsArt DirectionContender – Production Designer Dean Tavoularis, Carnage

Contender – Production Designer Dean Tavoularis, Carnage

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Dean Tavoularis

“I have never designed a film with one set before,” said production designer Dean Tavoularis, who is best known for his work on epic movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather trilogy, (he won an Oscar for Godfather, Part II). He’s referring to Carnage, the latest film from director Roman Polanski. The comedy-drama takes place almost entirely in the living room of a Brooklyn apartment where two couples confront each other, first politely and then savagely, over a bullying incident involving their two sons.

“I like to look for contrasts in a film I’m working on, going from one atmosphere to another, an exterior to an interior – you can play off of these,” he said. “What struck me right away in reading the script was that there would never be a contrasting situation in Carnage. I also thought of the audience looking at one room for an hour and half.”

Polanski assured him that he wasn’t the only one working on the film and that “there were four very competent actors that could take care of the attention of the audience.” Jodi Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christopher Waltz are the stars of the movie, which is based on a Tony-award winning play by Yasmina Reza, The God of Carnage.  When Reza visited the shoot on the sound stages of Bry-sur-Marne on the outskirts of Paris, she said that “the most moving moment was when I got a complete tour of Dean Tavoularis’ magnificent set.”

(From left) John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet star in Carnage. (Photo by: Guy Ferrandis, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics).

The realistic setting of a stylish, but not precious, contemporary apartment filled with books, primitive art and other objects is as important to the film as any of the characters, revealing the values of the residents while providing an environment that grows more claustrophobic as the tensions rise and twilight arrives.  There are other changes as the story unfolds, noted the production designer. “The camera becomes more mobile, the cuts quicker, the lighting darker, the window backings move into dusk.” The set’s floor plan also includes a bathroom, where a key scene gets played out, and a corridor outside the door to the apartment which leads to the building’s elevator.

Tavoularis is known for meticulous attention to detail and the 360-degree set even had objects placed inside of drawers of cabinets, in case Polanski asked one of the actors to pull something out in the course of filming.  He praises his set decorator, Franckie Diago, who had worked with him previously and is now a production designer in her own right. ““She was very gracious to accept working with me and I was so lucky that she was available,” he said.

In addition to his Oscar for Godfather Part II, Tavoularis was nominated four other times for an Academy Award for best art direction – Tucker: The Man and his Dreams, The Brinks Job, Apocalypse Now and Godfather Part III. In 2007 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Art Directors Guild. His most frequent collaborator has been director Francis Ford Coppola, with whom he has done 10 films. He also has been production designer for directors Arthur Penn, Michelangelo  Antonioni, Wim Wenders and William Friedken.

After a 50-year career, Tavoularis, 79, came out of  a decade of semi-retirement to do Carnage. “I couldn’t turn down the chance to do another film with Roman,” said the production designer, who also worked with the director on The Ninth Gate.  He now spends most of his time painting. Earlier in 2011, his work was exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris, in a one-man show titled “Dean Tavoularis: The Magician of Hollywood – Cinema in Painting and Painting in Cinema.”

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