February 7th, 2022 by Karen Burg & Gene Cane
Set Decorator Amy Wells SDSA
Production Designer Wynn Thomas
Set Decorator Brana Rosenfeld
Production Designer William Arnold
KING RICHARD follows the uplifting journey of a family whose unwavering resolve and unconditional belief ultimately delivers two of the world’s greatest sports legends. Armed with a clear vision and a brazen 78-page plan, Richard Williams [Will Smith] is determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena [Saniyya Sidney & Demi Singleton], into history. Training on Compton’s neglected tennis courts - rain or shine - the girls are shaped by their father’s unyielding commitment and their mother’s [Aunjanue Ellis] balanced perspective and keen intuition, defying the seemingly insurmountable odds and prevailing expectations laid before them. –Warner Brothers Pictures
WB also notes...
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green found resonance in the dynamic of the family working together to manifest that dream: “It is very clear that this story is really a full family affair. In speaking with the members of the Williams family, they talked about their mom, Oracene, working double shifts to put food on the table. Richard had many jobs. But all of the sisters, Isha, Lyndrea, Tunde, were all on the courts with Venus and Serena. They would pick up balls, hang signs and were out on the court after school until the lights shut off. These older sisters were helping to take care of the younger ones, which I just thought was incredible when I heard that story—all of this needed to make its way into the script and onto the screen.”
When we heard this, we knew we wanted to “visit” the sets of the Williams family’s home in Compton and the community park tennis court, where they assiduously built that dream into happening. We reached out to Set Decorator Amy Wells SDSA, who along with Production Designer Wynn Thomas and their teams, re-created the formative home life of this dynamic family.*
Williams family’s Compton home...“They were house proud,” says Set Decorator Amy Wells SDSA. “They owned that house, and, even with all those children, the house was very tidy, very clean. Oracene was a nurse and very no-nonsense disciplined, as well as loving.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
As always, research is key, and Wynn and Amy dove in, particularly for this true story of the family and the change in tennis history that they generated. Amy points out, “The house in Compton was a really important step for the family. We got input from the Williams family, particularly Isha, the eldest sister who was also a producer on the film, as to what that house would have been like, because I felt like it needed to be as accurate as possible, and so did Wynn. When a film is supposed to be about real lives, real people, making their world come to life realistically is the key responsibility the set decorator has. I want to achieve that as seamlessly as possible, so the audience can be immersed in the story and feel that they are actually in the Williams family’s home.”
Williams family’s Compton home...Where the girls grew up. Note the sports gear bags piled on the couch, along with homework being done. The parents were strict about that as well as the tennis practice. Photo by Chiabella James ©2020 Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family’s Compton home...The front door opens directly into the living room and dining room, the heart of the home. Photo by Chiabella James ©2020 Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family's Compton home...Dining table/study table, with Richard’s chair and home office in the background. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family’s Compton home...Richard’s home office. Amy notes, “Richard was always working on some business plan or another, his mind did not shut down. He was always dreaming up plans. So, he had his home office right there with his plans and ideas and references on the boards in the back corner...that’s not the kid’s stuff. Their study area was the kitchen table.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
“So, besides all the research we did on all of the tennis clubs and the neighborhoods of the time, and from so much media coverage of the family, I was also able to confer with Isha about details. One of the details I learned, was that there wasn’t the usual family detritus! Even with all those children, the house was very tidy, very clean. Oracene was a nurse and very no-nonsense disciplined, as well as loving. And I love that she loved her plants! You’ll find them throughout the house.”
Williams family’s Compton home...Kitchen. Don’t you love the ubiquitous linoleum table and stepped chair?! Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family's Compton home...Kitchen. For sets like these, it’s important to use elements from the era, and earlier, because the family would have lived with them for some time. Amy points out, to keep the realism, it is also important to not use pieces that “scream” the era. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
“The house has elements from prop houses, like Omega**, but also Jill Rollie-December, who’s been my Buyer and Assistant Set Decorator on many films and series [INHERENT VICE, THE MASTER, A SINGLE MAN, BIG LITTLE LIES, THE MORNING SHOW], and I love to go to estate sales, because I just like finding things that we haven’t seen on screen and that I know were a real part of someone’s life.”
Williams family’s Compton home...Richard & Oracene’s bedroom. Whereas today, we tend to fill the walls with shelves and decor, this was more typical. The princess phone and radio LED alarm clock visually set the time for us. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family’s Compton home...Richard & Oracene’s bedroom. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family‘s Compton home...Richard & Oracene’s bedroom. The laundry hamper in the corner and the robes and shoehorn hanging on the closet door add extra notes of realism. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Williams family’s Compton home...Girls’ bedroom. It’s a 2-bedroom house for 2 parents and 5 girls, and they make it work. Amy tells us the family is still very close.
She consulted directly with Isha, who upon seeing the room said, “Oh! This is it!” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Producer Isha Price, Venus and Serena Williams’s older sister, says, “Being a part of it this way has allowed us to tell the story ourselves, to share a lot of what people don’t know. I think that it has helped create an incredible storyline of a snapshot in time...It’s not just something that somebody made up. It actually, authentically happened.”
Williams family’s Compton home...Exterior. The VW bus became a travelling extension of the house, a set in itself, with sports equipment and homework and snacks and drinks, sweaters and jackets and shoes and the detritus of 5 girls! Amy’s team was constantly re-dressing the bus’s interior. Photo by Chiabella James ©2020 Warner Bros. Pictures.
--For a glimpse of the Compton tennis court, click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below, or click through the photo gallery at the top of the page.--
*Editor’s note: Because of the pandemic forced hiatus of filmmaking in 2020, the production was halted for several months, by which time, Wynn & Amy were committed to other major projects. Thus, Production Designer William Arnold and Set Decorator Brana Rosenfeld stepped in for the rest of the production. The Academy recognized the fine work by both teams and allowed them full Academy credit.
**Set Decorator Amy Wells SDSA would like to acknowledge the following SDSA Business members whom she particularly relied on in the making of this film:
Universal Studios Property
Warner Bros. Property
History for Hire
Lenny Marvin’s Propheaven
Hollywood Studio Gallery
Hollywood Cinema Arts