50 SHADES OF GREY’S LEAD SET DESIGNER ON SETTING THE MOOD FOR THE SEXIEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson aren’t the only ones bringing the heat.
BY COLLEEN EGAN
For design geeks, set designer C. Scott Baker has without a doubt one of the coolest jobs in the film industry. He’s insanely impressive resume includes movies like Avatar and Bridesmaids (which, as expected, was “a blast”), and soon you can see his work in the hotly-anticipated 50 Shades of Grey movie, out on Valentine’s Day. Baker is currently working on the third installment of the Divergent triology, Allegient, but he took some time to tell us what it was like to design for the movie version of E.L. James’ beloved naughty novel about the extreme love affair between high-powered CEO Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele.
ELLE DECOR: Had you read the book when you were approached about the project?
C. Scott Baker:I actually read the script first. Often when a book is adapted into screenplay a lot of things have to be glossed over or skipped, and I didn’t want to taint my idea of what the idea of the vision of the movie should be. I read the book after.
ED: How did you get involved with the movie?
CSB: I initially spoke with [Production Designer] David Wasco in July of 2013, and we went back and forth on the phone for a bit. I was excited to work with him. He and his wife [Set Decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco] are phenomenally talented.
ED: How do you approach the design process?
CSB: I would say one of the most important things is to understand who these people are who are going to inhabit the spaces you’re designing. One of the things I do is write a design brief, get to know the characters, and do a little psychological study about who they are. Often the sets can become characters in their own right, so it’s important to understand the backstory of the spaces you create. Christian is very interesting and compelling character. Understanding who he is and what they story is saying about his person informs his environment.
ED: What kind of feel did you want for Christian’s apartment?
CSB: Definitely an incredibly modern — I wouldn’t say cold, but impersonal — controlled environment. The interesting part was creating enough clues to his personality in the design so it doesn’t feel completely static, like a model house. [Director] Sam [Taylor-Wood] is an artist, and she was particular about what kind of art Christian would have. Everything on screen is a very deliberate choice.
ED: What about the Red Room of Pain?
CSB: The color is a lot stronger there than in other rooms. The main thing is we wanted it to feel both sensual and masculine — the things he likes in his heart more than the projection he wants to portray. It was very important that we got it right, and it was the longest design work on the movie from beginning to completion. I think the time we spent paid off. I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed.
ED: How did you make sure you got it right?
CSB: A couple of advisers in the BDSM scene were brought on to work with the director and production designers. We were very interested in making sure we weren’t doing things that the [BDSM] community would flag as wrong. We wanted it to feel authentic.
ED: Was Christian’s home a set or was it in an apartment building?
CSB: Those were all sets we built on a soundstage. His apartment and living room and kitchen were on one stage, the bedroom suite on another, and the hallway to redroom and Ana’s room on another.
ED: How do you make a room sexy?
CSB: As a designer, I feel that design is very sexy, but a lot of people may not have the same response when they see something well designed. Modern design is typically a very reduced style, I think when it’s done well it’s sexy. Most of the choices in his apartment were made to reflect his character more than make a particular design statement. In the red room we used leather tiles on the floor, which is a little unexpected. If I had his apartment to design for myself or a client, I would have made very different choices. But you’re designing for the camera instead for a client, so there’s some freedom and restrictions there. The most interesting spaces to me are ones that lead your eye.