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HomeAwardsContender: John Myhre-Production Design-Dreamgirls

Contender: John Myhre-Production Design-Dreamgirls

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When film awards season rolls around, production designer John Myhre’s name pops up with increasing regularity. Winner of last year’s Academy Award for best art direction for Memoirs of a Geisha, Myhre recently garnered his fourth Oscar nomination for his work on Dreamgirls, the movie musical about the bumps on the road to success for an aspiring 1960s vocal group, the Dreams, directed by Bill Condon. (The nomination is shared with Nancy Haigh, the film’s set decorator.)Myhre moved into the spotlight as one of Hollywood’s foremost production designers when he received his initial Academy Award nomination in 1999 for Elizabeth, directed by Shekhar Kapur. That was followed in 2003, with his first Oscar win for art directing Chicago, another film based on a hit Broadway show. It was on Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall, that Myhre first became acquainted with Condon, who won an Academy Award for his Chicago screenplay.”You couldn’t find a more passionate, driven director for this project than Bill Condon,” he says. “It was so much fun to work with someone realizing his own dream of bringing this particular show to the screen.”For Myhre, Dreamgirls represented an enormous challenge to design a film based on a stage musical that also featured musical performers in concert. “There was all this design within the overall design of the film,” he says. “I was able to become a theatrical designer, and also design the performance pieces.” The performances ranged from playing small clubs to wowing a crowd at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve 1966.For the film’s showstopper number, when Jennifer Hudson as the abandoned Effie defiantly sings “And I Am Telling You,” the scenery all but disappears. “When we started designing the set, we literally took a huge piece of paper and drew a little picture of Effie, and surrounded her in the biggest space we could fit around her,” Myhre recalls. “She’s literally left alone in the spotlight.” Two Broadway stage-lighting luminaries, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, also worked on Dreamgirls, as they had on Chicago.The overall look of the film is heightened realism.”Bill Condon told me, ‘you don’t want to get too theatrical, you want to be real.’ But since we were in this really glamorous world of these young musicians and soon-to-be stars and celebrities, I wanted to turn it up a notch,” says Myhre.In researching the 1960s, “my goal was to find glamour in everyday objects,” says the production designer. Dreamgirls was mainly shot on soundstages at LA Center Studios in downtown Los Angeles and at old performance venues in the area. “We settled in the historic theater district, using places like the Palace Theater and the Orpheum,” he notes. Las Vegas had to be recreated, because today it looks nothing like it did 40 years ago. “The exterior of Caesar’s Palace was almost completely created out of visual effects, and we built the Caesar’s showroom from scratch,” Myhre states.Myhre is presently in Prague working on Wanted, an action film with Kazakhstan director Timur Bekmambetov in charge. He has also reteamed with director Kapur on a longer-term project about the life of the Buddha.2007: Nominated, Academy Award, best achievement in art direction, Dreamgirls; Nominated, Art Directors Guild award for excellence in production design for a period feature, Dreamgirls; 2006: Won, Academy Award, best achievement in art direction, Memoirs of a Geisha; Won, Art Directors Guild award for excellence in production design for a period film, Memoirs of a Geisha; Nominated, BAFTA, best production design, Memoirs of a Geisha; 2003: Won Academy Award for excellence in production design, Chicago; Nominated, Art Directors Guild award for excellence in production design on a period feature, Chicago; Nominated for BAFTA, best production design, Chicago; 1999: Nominated, Academy Award, best achievement in art direction, Elizabeth; Nominated, Art Directors Guild award for excellence in production design, Elizabeth; Nominated, BAFTA, best production design, Elizabeth

Written by Jack Egan

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