"Good Night and Good Luck"
Set Decorator: Jan Pascale SDSA
Production Designer: Jim Bissell
All Photos have been reprinted with permission from SET DECOR Magazine (Winter 2005)
photos: Melinda Sue Gordon © 2005 Good Night Good Luck, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
“GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK couldn’t be more unlikely, more unfashionable – or more compelling. Everything about it – its look, its style, even its sound – stands in stark opposition to the trends of the moment. Yet by sticking to events that are half a century old, it tells a story whose implications for today are inescapable…
Kenneth Turan, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Edward R Murrow and his CBS news team’s heroic stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s abuse of citizen rights, and the price paid for that heroism, are the essential elements of George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. The ninety-minute Homeric captures in black and white clarity the power of the press and its clash with both government and corporate politics.
Director George Clooney talks with Jan Pascale, the film’s set decorator, about bringing his vision to the screen.
Jan Pascale: Production Designer Jim Bissell and you first worked together on the film CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. Obviously, something clicked. Tell us about Jim and about creating the look of GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.
George Clooney: Jim has such a great visual style. And he is one of those people who rather than trying to inflict his point of view—and he has a great point of view, a great vision—is so good at accommodating what you need as a director.
When I called him up and said “I’ve got another project,” and he said, “I’m in,” we sat down and started to map out the set. I said, “Look, I want this to be very claustrophobic and all in one soundstage.” He very quickly drew up a map and an idea of how to do it and how to shoot it. There were things we wanted to do that were really complex for one small soundstage. We shot the hell out of every wall in that place. We used every inch of the set.
I wouldn’t do a film without Jim. It’s that simple. He’s the best I’ve ever worked with. It’s not just that he’s great at what he does, but he’s also flexible enough to fix mistakes when you make them. And he’s also one of the personalities that you want to have on the set.
We work in sync a lot. I’ll say “Well, I want to do this…” and he’ll say “Okay, if you do this, what if I build that?” He can apply himself to anything, absolutely anything. And he’s stunning at building big, silent rotating sets. It’s fun!
JP: How did you capture that “fly on the wall” viewer POV?
GC: It started with Grant [Grant Heslov, producer and co-writer] and I figuring through the idea of what we wanted it to be. We started off with this sort of Godard, breathless kind of feeling, and realized it was almost too stylized, too stylish. We wanted it to be more like a true documentary, more a Pennebaker look. [DA Pennebaker, documentary director]
We talked about elements of claustrophobia and size, and how we would then make the Paley offices seem twice as big to make Murrow look smaller and put him in his place. So it was about bringing Jim in very early on and discussing how to do it. I wanted there to be two cameras all the time because I wanted the dialogue to overlap. Robert Elswit, brilliant cinematographer, came up with the theory of shooting everything from far back. And Jim was able to accommodate us. Robert pulled the cameras way back and put them on long lenses, and we got much more of a documentary feeling to it.
I think Jim’s and your attention to detail on things like the SEE IT NOW set was so perfectly done that it doesn’t feel like a set. And that was what was important to us. It had to feel as if you were actually there.
And the trick to being there is that you have to shoot things in the style that they were shot at the time. We needed it to be as messy as those Pennebaker documentaries, with the focus sort of missing every once in a while and the camera being on the wrong person at the right time. All of that starts primarily with where you put these people, how you design it, how real you make it look.
JP: Obviously, your experience with your father influenced you, but was it the mood, the technical aspects, the era or a combination of these that you wanted to create?
GC: I felt there was a different kind of sense. I talked to the actors about speaking differently. We spoke differently in 1953-54, a quicker delivery. We didn’t talk about emotions; we sort of kept everything under the lid there. I felt that was important in setting the mood. We knew we were going to smoke the hell out of it, and that was going to be important…because everyone died of emphysema and lung cancer. We knew that there was going to be some (audience) shock.
The technical stuff was easier, in a way. For instance, I think for you guys it was a lot easier to do the SEE IT NOW stuff because you could go to reference material and say let’s make it look like that. You did a spectacular job. But the challenge was going to the newsroom and saying we want the newsroom to be like it looked at a special time, but we had to design it to look like we’re shooting a big live show. That requires imagination, and that’s where you guys did such a great job.
JP: How do you feel your directing skills have developed with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK?
GC: CONFESSIONS was a different film. I’m really proud of it. I wanted it to have a visual style. I wanted to shoot in each of the eras and you would recognize the era. I wanted the camera to be one of the stars, like a Coen Brothers film. I wanted the camera to be one of the characters.
For this film, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, I felt that the words were much more important. So I wanted the words to be the star, the silence to be the star. That meant the camera had to almost not exist at all.
So the development for me as a director was in trying not to do what I had done before. This time I had to try and do exactly the opposite. I had to “sit” quietly, both in the musical score and the sound, and in the camera moves and editing.
And part of it was simply Murrow writing really beautiful lines and David Strathairn, looking at the camera for a four and half minute speech, giving a great performance. In a way, you get credit for things you really had nothing to do with.
JP: When you and Grant Heslov were writing, did you envision the sets that you felt you needed in terms of how the story developed?
GC: Well you know, I’d grown up as the son of an anchorman, sitting on the floor of newsrooms watching my dad working in the newsroom and going back and forth with all of these guys, and I really had a view of what I wanted it to look like.
We knew we would shoot in black and white because we would use the archival footage and also because I’ve never seen Edward R Murrow or Joe McCarthy in color, ever. So it seemed to me that I knew what the aesthetic would be from the minute I first sat down to do it. I knew what I wanted to do.
And the thing that’s really fun for a director is when you have something, an idea in your head, and the film actually ends up looking like what you had in your head. Most of the time, it doesn’t, simply because a director isn’t good at communicating it. I’m not saying that I was good at communicating, but there’s a bit of a shorthand for people like Jim Bissell and Robert Elswit. And the editor Steve Mirrione and I have worked together a lot. There’s a shorthand with that kind of artistry.
You guys would do stuff and you’d bring it to me and say, “How about this?” And I’d say, “Geez. I never thought of it. It’s great!” It means that you are not just these worker bees, but you’re individual artists participating in a great big painting, this interesting sort of moveable mosaic.
The truth of the matter is that everyone on that set wanted to participate and make it look and feel and sound better. Ed Tise (sound mixer) said it was the most difficult time he’s ever had as a sound man, but he did just a stunning job. You know, we didn’t loop a single line in this movie.
I think the job of the director in many ways is like a general going to battle. You hire the right people, and you point them in the right direction and trust that they’ll do a good job. And it’s worked really well for me over the years.
photos: Melinda Sue Gordon © 2005 Good Night Good Luck, LLC. All Rights Reserved.