Before the Gold: Best Production Design

This month, we’re taking a look at this year’s Oscar nominees and digging into their past work to find hidden gems that you may have overlooked. Best Production Design includes a diverse array of landscapes, from an ever-changing apartment to a claustrophobic recording studio, from an antique Hollywood to an open desert, to some version of time moving in multiple directions.  Here’s a showcase of the masterful talent who helped to create the backdrops and scenery that made their movies so memorable, and other projects they’ve worked on that are absolutely worth checking out.

The Father

Peter Francis

Hidden gem: The Debt

Cathy Featherstone

Hidden gem: Supernova

The Debt (Focus Features)

Mossad agents hunt an escaped Nazi in the past and deal with the implications of their actions in the present, moving between secret locations and public landmarks in The Debt. In a recent release that largely avoided awards attention, Supernova, two partners travel from familiar places to memorable faces as they seek to hold on to something that reminds them of normalcy and happiness.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (our interview here)

Mark Ricker

Hidden gem: The Way, Way Back

Karen O’Hara

Previously nominated for: Alice in Wonderland (won), The Color of Money

Hidden gem: The Silence of the Lambs

Diana Stoughton

Hidden gem: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The Way, Way Back (Fox Searchlight)

The criminally underrated ensemble comedy The Way, Way Back brings to life an idyllic vacation summer and the colorful locales that come along with it. The effectiveness of the incomparable thriller The Silence of the Lambs relies greatly on its drab, dated locations and their eerie nature. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl features a strong narrative matched by a marked specificity in the physical creation of each scene.


Donald Graham Burt

Previously nominated for: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (won)

Hidden gem: The Social Network

Jan Pascale

Previously nominated for: Good Night, and Good Luck.

Hidden gem: The United States of Leland

The United States of Leland (Paramount)

Another collaboration with director David Fincher, The Social Network, is given an utterly sleek finish thanks to the presentation of all of its emphatic moments and speeches. The United States of Leland makes extraordinary use of ordinary spaces to weigh the impact of relationships and conversations.

News of the World (our interview here)

David Crank

Hidden gem: The Master

Elizabeth Keenan

Hidden gem: Widows

Widows (20th Century Fox)

The creepy allure of the cult movement in The Master is made exponentially more hypnotic by the muted colors and backdrops of its settings. Locations and hideouts are key in Widows, heightening drama by inviting action into unexpected places.


Nathan Crowley                                         

Previously nominated for: First Man, Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Prestige

Hidden gem: The Greatest Showman

Kathy Lucas

Previously nominated for: First Man

Hidden gem: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde (MGM)

A circus is brought to marvelous life in The Greatest Showman, complementing costumes and acrobatics with a dazzling trip back in time. Elle Woods stands out as the brightest and bubbliest person in any room thanks in no small part to the detailed work on whatever it is that’s behind her in any given scene in Legally Blonde.


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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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