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Oscars 2013: 'Anna Karenina' production designers' game changer

January 10, 2013|By Chris Lee
  • Kiera Knightly on the set of director Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina"
Kiera Knightly on the set of director Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" (Laurie Sparham )

Considering its daunting production difficulties and director Joe Wright’s last-minute decision to totally change the look and meta-narrative of the film, there’s an almost storybook quality to the Oscar nominations haul by “Anna Karenina” on Thursday morning.

That fact is not lost on Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, who were nominated for achievement in production design for their work on the lavish adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel.

“We didn’t start out making the film we ended up with,” Greenwood said from “rainy, freezing London” on Thursday. “We started off with a fairly conventional approach. Then, 12 weeks out [before shooting] we turned around and Joe decided to set it all in the theater. It was a completely different concept. But it was the most amazing thing to happen. We were grinding into the mud. Didn’t have enough money or resources. It was an amazing decision. It really gave us a boost.”

Setting the film’s action amid a faux theatrical tableau to hammer home the plot point that 19th century Russian aristocracy was a gigantic dog and pony show allowed the filmmaker to ratchet up the movie’s visual razzle-dazzle, leading to Oscar nominations for cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and costumer Jacqueline Duran.

As set designer Spencer sees it, Wright’s habit of utilizing many of the same crew members on his movies, production after production, for over a decade engenders an unusually collaborative environment — one that resulted in a late-inning burst of creativity for “Anna Karenina.”

“What enabled us to work so well together is having worked together for such a long time,” Spencer said. “Joe’s so collaborative and open. You’re not frightened to stand up and say something, being part of this team. It might be completely stupid but it might not and you just put it out there. It’s like panning for gold: You just put it out there.”


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Twitter: @chrislee

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