Steven Spielberg’s latest historical piece The Post, is based on true events from the involvement of the stalwart newspaper with the 1971 Pentagon Papers, featuring Meryl Streep as the inimitable Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee.
To achieve a realistic 1970s aesthetic, Spielberg immediately gravitated toward trusted set decorator, Rena DeAngelo (Bridge of Spies, Get on Up, The Help), with whom he had worked previously.
Much research goes into recreating any period piece. The research initially started with photos of the Washington Post from the seminal All the President’s Men, to develop an idea for the design. Further insight was provided by pioneers Sally Quinn, the third wife of Ben Bradlee and Evelyn Small, Katharine Graham’s assistant for nearly 30 years. The set decorator and her team also visited the onsite location of the newspaper’s headquarters in D.C. and questioned several reporters who had worked with Ben Bradlee.
Replicating a real newsroom requires considerable attention and resourcefulness to evoke believability. The set decorator gathered materials from antiques dealers and stores, eBay, catalogs, and prop houses from New York. DeAngelo noted, “We found 90 filing cabinets from a company on Craigslist that were filled with paperwork from the 1960s with type written letters. My graphics guy also made 20 cases of actual paperwork. Every day, we had 5-6 trucks bringing stuff in from Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Minnesota as they would unload everything totaling about 200-300 truckloads throughout. I ordered pens and pencils from the 60s and 70s from eBay. The 150 typewriters, desks, and phones were all period correct. The actors had their own desks, coffee cups, and cigarettes.”
The set decor for Ben Bradlee’s homes and Katharine Graham’s house were disparate choices. No such pictures existed for Ben Bradlee’s original house, but DeAngelo’s location manager had befriended one of Bradlee’s daughters who had lived in the Georgetown house. Bradlee’s daughter described how the furnishings were eclectic including mementos picked up throughout her parents’ lives. Bradlee’s daughter even provided the set decorator with family photos of old Christmas parties and listed items from her recollection. Bradlee’s house shared a similar gray color of the newsroom, but was distinguishable with certaint furniture to give it a completely different feel.
On the flip side, Katharine Graham’s house was elegant and sophisticated, where she entertained and held parties. She had it decorated by a famous designer. In the film, several rooms in Graham’s home were outfitted with chic red and gold wallpaper.
DeAngelo reminisced about how production designer, Rick Carter (Avatar, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Forrest Gump) encouraged and empowered her on the importance of set decoration in this particular film. Carter added, “This is a decorator’s movie. It’s all about the set decorating. You are going to tell a story with what you do. The newsroom is going to become a character in the film.”