Trumbo [Bryan Cranston] and other liberal Hollywood writers meet to discuss the backlash coming at them. In the wake of World War II, as relations between the US and the USSR deteriorated and the fear of the “Red Menace” reached unprecedented heights, the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated tens of thousands of Americans suspected of being communist sympathizers. Teachers, military contractors, civil servants, and others lost their jobs, their reputations and even their families as suspicion and paranoia swept the nation…
When jobs dried up after Trumbo’s incarceration, the family had to sell their beloved ranch and move into a smaller place in town. Daughters Mitzi [Meghan Wolfe] and Niki [Elle Fanning], son Chris [Mitchell Zakocs] and their mother Cleo [Diane Lane] listen carefully as a family meeting is held to determine the next steps to take.
Actor Edward G. Robinson [Michael Stuhlberg], left, held several meetings to support progressive directors and writers such as Dalton Trumbo [Bryan Cranston], right, seated and Arlen Hird [Louis C.K.], right, standing…
In the mid-1940s, studio mega-chief Louis B. Mayer [Richard Portnow] offers Dalton Trumbo [Bryan Cranston] the highest paid screenwriting contract ever, as Trumbo’s agent [Dave Maldonado] happily accepts…
Dalton Trumbo and other top writers have been invited to celebrate the opening of Ross’s new venture. Buddy Ross later denounces and shuns them all. Much later, he pleads with Trumbo to step in and save a film for him by re-writing the script under an assumed name…
“The King brothers were the accidental heroes,” notes Director Jay Roach. Frank King and his brothers produced scores of grade-B gangster, horror, sci-fi and western pictures in the 1940s and ’50s. “They hired Dalton to write for them while he was blacklisted. They didn’t care about politics. They didn’t care about anything but making money. But in their own strange way, they help undermine the blacklist by ensuring that banned writers stay employed.”
Trumbo’s story is still an inspiration today,” says John Goodman, who plays Frank King. “It is about one man’s courage standing up against the system. A lot of lives were ruined, including his and his family’s, but he just kept fighting and he did it with impeccable grace and a lot of humor. It’s almost impossible to believe that the blacklist existed or that people were that frightened of each other. It reminds us all to be vigilant and cherish the truth because it can happen again at any time.”
Actor/producer Kirk Douglas [Dean O’Gorman] shows up at the blacklisted writer’s home with a rough draft of SPARTACUS, which needs a complete rewrite…
At the apex of his career, the superstar is one of a few brave insiders who used their influence to force the end of the blacklist in Hollywood. Dalton Trumbo received a film credit for the first time in over a decade.
Bryan Cranston proffers, “It’s a small movie but it has a big thought behind it, which is: ‘Fighting for civil rights is important, the 1st amendment of our constitution is important.’ It should always be part of the equation in deciding what laws should be enacted, and the behavior of the government…”
“In essence, it is about being true to yourself and having the courage to stand up for what you believe is right. That’s what Dalton Trumbo did, and it’s what Kirk Douglas did, as well. They stood up at a time when it was dangerous to express their beliefs. That’s as relevant now as it ever was.”
--Actor Dean O’Gorman [Kirk Douglas]
In the 1940s, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is one of the highest paid screenwriters in the world, penning movie classics including the Oscar-nominated KITTY FOYLE and THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO. A fixture on the Hollywood social scene, and a political activist supporting labor unions, equal pay and civil rights, Trumbo and his colleagues are subpoenaed to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of its sweeping probe into communist activity in the U.S. Trumbo’s refusal to answer the congressmen’s questions lands him in a federal prison and earns him the eternal enmity of powerful anti-communist gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).
For the next 13 years, all of the major Hollywood studios refuse to hire Trumbo and many other writers for fear of being associated with their perceived radical political views. Forced to sell his home and ostracized by friends, colleagues and neighbors, Trumbo struggles to feed his family by writing mostly low-budget movies under assumed names and helping other black-listed writers do the same. He never gives up fighting for what he believes in.Ultimately, Trumbo prevails when star Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger each put the screenwriter’s real name on screen in their respective 1960 blockbusters, SPARTACUS and EXODUS, effectively bringing the blacklist era to an end.
An astonishing portrait of an often forgotten chapter of American history, the film TRUMBO is directed by Jay Roach, in collaboration with Production Designer Mark Ricker, Set Decorator Cindy Carr SDSA and their teams, who somewhat miraculously turned the New Orleans area into the Hollywood of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Ricker says, “We populated the sets with details that many audience members may not notice, but the actors on the set saw. Hopefully that helped the performances in some way. For example, Bryan discovered that Trumbo collected paintings by the social realist William Gropper, so we reached out to Gropper’s family. His grandson Craig was kind enough to loan us a wealth of paintings, which we hung throughout the two Trumbo houses. Bryan was thrilled. At first he thought we’d found reproductions, but they’re the real things.”
“We tried to keep everything as authentic as possible within the realms of our budget and time frame,” Ricker continues. “It was a constant juggling act to provide sets that were rich in texture, but it benefits both the actors and the audience.”
“Being so meticulous about period details for a film that spans four decades greatly complicated the filmmaking process,” acknowledges Producer Michael London, “but the rewards were worth it. There is so much in this story that is relevant to our lives today. The period element made the bar much higher for every element of the movie…”
Carr, who has extensive Set Decorator credits ranging from huge action films to small, meaningful ones, takes a moment to reflect on the making of TRUMBO.
“Working on TRUMBO was a highpoint of my career. I got to work with Jay Roach, the kindest and most even-tempered director I've ever worked with, who's smart and funny to boot, and with Mark Ricker, the enthusiastic, talented, hard-working New York-based production designer who truly believes in and trusts the collaboration between himself and the set decorator.”
“I've been fascinated by the story of the blacklisted screenwriters for years, thought it was a very important story to tell, and was thrilled to be asked to do a film that would span the 1940s and ‘50s through 1970.”
“Having said this, did I think New Orleans was the best place to make said film? NO! But tax incentives speak louder than common sense these days and I always try to embrace a challenge. 1940s Hollywood in southern Louisiana seemed to be quite a challenge, so much so that our initial leadman and art director thought the job was going to be so hard as to be undoable and consequently pulled out! Mark and I had to find another leadman and art director in short order. I then secured my buyer, Jill Broadfoot—without whom I wouldn't have wanted to do this movie, because of her enthusiasm for period films and her dry sense of humor—and we were off and running.”
“We had some great research sources. His daughters Niki and Mitzi Trumbo sent photos of their ranch house in Lockwood Valley CA, along with family photos taken mostly by Trumbo's wife, Cleo. We had Chris Trumbo's scripted documentary film about his father, photos of Kirk Douglas's home, an extensive list of Edward G. Robinson's paintings collection, and the iconic photo of Trumbo writing in his bathtub, which spoke volumes about the man—I'm pretty sure a moment from Angelina Jolie's film BY THE SEA with Brad Pitt’s character writing in the bathtub was an homage to Trumbo. I scoured Sears catalogues from the period, TIME and SATURDAY EVENING POST and LOOK magazines, and a biography of Trumbo, as well as perusing films of that era and newsreel footage of Hedda Hopper and the House Un-American Activities proceedings. I felt crash-course-steeped in the late ‘40s-‘50s by the time we were ready to start buying set dressing pieces, which was pretty immediately after I started, given the relatively short (7 week) prep time.”
“There are some great vendors in the New Orleans area for the kinds of sets we were doing, in particular Renaissance in Metairie and Dop in town. Jill and I took a trip to Natchez MS at the suggestion of Mark and set decorator Rena D'Angelo—they had shot the film GET ON UP there.* We filled a 5-ton full of fabulous stuff in a whirlwind trip, including some of the mid-century office furniture seen in Buddy Ross's office. Who knew?”
*[Editor’s note: Check out the Film Decor interviews with Set Decorator Rena D'Angelo SDSA for the films THE HELP and GET ON UP!]
Carr continues, “In order to show the Trumbos' change of circumstances after they had to sell their beloved ranch, we kept pretty much all the furniture, smalls and drapery we had in their ranch house and relocated everything to their more modest Highland Park home. I don't know if this is noticeable in the film, but it was a fun exercise for me, down to hemming the drapery for the Highland Park home because their new windows weren't nearly as grand.”
“The Trumbos were given a new stove and fridge when they moved to Highland Park because they would have had something more modern by then, but that was about their only upgrade beside Trumbo's typewriters. Cleo's darkroom goes from being in its own space above the ranch garage to a corner of the pantry in the new place, and they end up with a tiny yard and pool rather than their acres and acres of country spaciousness.”
Carr adds, “I have to thank:
…the incomparable Atlanta-based Robert Gerwig for letting me rent from his extensive collection of period artifacts: telephones, typewriters, concession stand dressing, hospital furniture, kitchen small appliances, food staples, toiletries, etc.…
…History for Hire for their period filmmaking equipment…
…Mandy at Faux Library for considerable office dressing as well as books…
…Rich Reams of Prop Source Atlanta GA for his quantity of metal frame hospital beds for both of Arlen Hird's hospital rooms…
…Tricia Scott of Creative Film Connections and Cindy Lajeunesse of NOLA Props for putting together 2 really good prophouses in New Orleans…
…and the amazing draper Leila in Harahan LA.
It would be impossible to do what we do without our vendors.”
“I had a blast pulling together all the disparate parts of these sets to make something authentic to the characters and the story, and as I write this, I realize a part of what made the task easier than I had originally thought it would be, is that there is a timelessness to New Orleans that is evocative of old Los Angeles, our Hollywood of memory.”
“Dalton Trumbo, the King Brothers, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Hedda Hopper, Otto Preminger, all those writers—how could someone who grew up in Ohio and dreamed of working in films since she was little not be excited to tell this story? It was hard work, and it was worth it, because it was a wonderful experience and it's a film I'm very proud of,” she concludes, in essence summarizing the overall reaction of the entire production team.
Actor Bryan Cranston describes the real Trumbo, “He loved this country. He thought it could be even better. As he says in the movie, ‘We all have the right to be wrong.’ Allowing each other the freedom to be wrong is the crux of Americanism.”
“The common denominator in his films is that there’s a character who chooses honor over self-advancement, a character who fights for the righteous path. He felt he was a voice for the invisible person and that made him remarkable.”