As part of our Inside the Set with SETDECOR video series, Set Decorator Gene Serdena SDSA chats with THE POWER OF THE DOG Set Decorator Amber Richards and Oscar-winning Production Designer Grant Major about creating the quiet realism & isolation of the ranch and its inhabitants, the glimpses of the world at its edge, and the beauty & cruelty of nature and man.
"Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank [Benedict Cumberbatch] inspires fear and awe in those around him. Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil is brutally beguiling. The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana, who live alone in the massive family farmhouse. When his brother, George [Jesse Plemons] brings home a new wife and her son,[Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee], Phil swings between fury and cunning, tormenting them endlessly...until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. Is this a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot twisting further into menace?" --Netflix
The ranch barn built from raw wood. The film's imagery was often framed through doors and windows, emphasizing the isolation and stark beauty. Benedict Cumberbatch & Kodi Smit-McPhee. Photo courtesy Netflix.
With New Zealand standing in for the wide-open sweeping vistas of Montana of the 1920s and earlier, the locations seemed ideal. However, from their extensive research, the design and décor team realized the vintage and antique furnishings available in New Zealand had a different look from those of the US in those time periods – different woods, different shapes, different carvings and styles.
The ranch kitchen includes a period-specific range from Universal Studios Props. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
So, the set decorator made her first ever trip to the US, a 10-day whirl of a visit to some of Hollywood’s great film resources.
Welcomed, mentored and aided by US set decorators and buyers, including Dena Roth SDSA and Sara Gardiner-Gail SDSA Associate, she discovered the vast and historically accurate assets to be found in the huge prophouses of Warner Bros. Studios, Universal Studios and Omega|Cinema Props, and specialty prophouses such as Premiere Props and the phenomenal creative services of Astek Wallcoverings who created the digital file for an antique wallpaper that was particular to Director Jane Campion’s directive.
The ranch master bedroom...The wallpaper design was based the background of a fashion photo Director Jane Campion had saved for costume inspiration! Astek Wallcovering created the digital file to help it come back to life on the ranch, this time as somewhat imposing and claustrophobic. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
“Robert Greenfield was hugely helpful in arranging the loading of our container and I sourced furniture, lighting, & small sculptures from Warner Bros. A large amount of furniture and rugs came from Omega, Universal’s Beverly Hadley purchased the kitchen range so that I could then rent it, and Premiere Props supplied all of our woodburners.”