By Bill Desowitz
With his 14th Oscar telecast just behind him, award-winning Production Designer Roy Christopher took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the 75th Academy Awards. Meanwhile, he’s juggling two pilots at Paramount, A Minute with Stan Hooper, starring Norm MacDonald as a fish-out-of-water Andy Rooney in the Midwest, and Alligator Point, which takes place at an Oyster bar in the Florida panhandle. Both sitcoms represent rural departures from his usual urban specialty (Murphy Brown, Frasier, Becker).
Below the Line: So are you glad the Oscars are over?
Christopher: Oh, my God! Yeah, it was a terrific experience, but with the war, the whole last 10 days were so touch and go. But the beauty of our work is once we get inside a sound stage or theater, and you focus on your work, you feel good. But it was wonderful to get done, I think it went well, and was well received, and so was our work.
BTL: Plus you had the double pleasure of working on the 75th anniversary show.
Christopher: Exactly. I think I’ve missed every anniversary of the Oscars until the 75th. It was a special show.
BTL: The look came across very nicely. How long did it take you to choose the Art Moderne style?
Christopher: As the designer of the poster of the Oscars said to me at the Governor’s Ball—and I haven’t said this to a reporter—‘I just loved the Art Moderne style—it reminded me of the 1939 World’s Fair.’ I said, ‘I was conceived at the 1939 World’s Fair.’ A style that is so natural to me and I fight going to the well too many times before it runs dry. It’s a wonderful excuse to revel in a period and style that I love so much with Hollywood. The trick is always to take that impulse and turn it into something that doesn’t look like a tired old production with a piece of scenery.
BTL: How did you achieve the contemporary spin?
Christopher: We tried to stay very current in terms of architecture and fashion. You treat yourself like a computer and try to process all the stimulus that’s out there. I try to tell young people, don’t think you know it all and that everything when you were young was the best.
BTL: So what materials did you use?
Christopher: We had three nice breakthroughs. One was a new paint technique. I went into the paint shop here at Paramount. It’s a three-step process based on a pearlescent sheen that we called Oscar White. We used that throughout the set. Then we used a lot of silver leaf, which is traditional. We used silver paint, which is traditional. Then I wanted mirror mosaic, which is traditional material that we had trouble finding. But at Astek Wall Coverings I asked for something that looked like mirror mosaic and they come up with a Japanese product called Glass Film. Anyway there was a new one that had squares etched in this plastic film. It’s a little like mirror mosaic, but it’s just clear plexi. We took this film and just laminated it over a piece of silver mylar and it was a beautiful effect. We used it on the podiums, we used it behind the Oscars. It was relatively inexpensive, and I’ve had a lot of designers call and ask, ‘What did you use?’ And it was fun to use something that had never been done.
BTL: Now what about the crew that you worked with? Greg Richman and Tamlyn Wright, the co-art directors, and John Bradley, scenic show supervisor?
Christopher: I think Greg and I have worked together for 20 years. I think this was my fifth Oscar with Greg and his sixth Oscar — he did the one last year without me.
BTL: So what did you think about working in the Kodak Theatre?
Christopher: The best thing I can say about the Kodak Theatre is it’s only two miles from my home. I do so many shows in so many theaters and so many sound stages, all I need is a stage plan, a proscenium, and I just plunge ahead. Luckily, I had both Greg and Tamlyn, who both did the show there last year, and they were marvelous about reminding me that I might not have enough room on stage left to store that piece or whatever. But I didn’t think we compromised the look a bit. It’s a wonderful theater and very glamorous, it’s nice that it’s in Hollywood, we had to add to the loading docks, which John took care of, and it worked like a charm.