Butchie Peraino’s NYC office set: LOVELACE directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, director of photography Eric Alan Edwards, production assistant Noah Stahl and production designer William Arnold…
A true story of fame, exploitation, abuse and betrayal set against the sexual revolution of the 1970s, LOVELACE unveils a dual perspective of the world's most celebrated porn star…
In 1972, the first scripted pornographic theatrical feature film DEEP THROAT became a phenomenon, along with its unlikely star, Linda Lovelace…
Escaping a strict religious family, Linda Boreman fell for and married charismatic hustler Chuck Traynor, who pulled her into the world of pornography. As Linda Lovelace, she became an international sensation, promoted as “a charming girl-next-door with an impressive capacity for fellatio” and a seemingly enthusiastic spokesperson for sexual freedom and uninhibited hedonism. However six years later, with the publication of her book ORDEAL, she presented a completely contradictory view as the survivor of a far darker story of brutal coercion and abuse, and she became a steadfast and self-possessed representative of feminism...
Directing duo Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s compassionate and engaging storytelling in depicting complex lives, i.e. the Allen Ginsberg biopic HOWL, made them the obvious choice for LOVELACE.
Epstein notes, “Linda had an amazing life, and she was a pivotal cultural figure at a time when society’s sexual awareness was really blossoming. She was at once an important part of both the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism.”
Producer Laura Risner adds, “Linda is identified with that moment in time…as an icon of the porn industry, but also as an empowered woman who came to speak out against the objectification of women.”
To anchor this film in the reality of the moment, the early 1970s, the directors relied on Production Designer William Arnold and Set Decorator David Smith SDSA, a team whose work covers a spectrum of time and place, as well as personal experience of the period. They committed to the film because, as Arnold points out, “It was an important cultural aspect of that period we lived through, and yet the story had never been cinematically told.”
The budget was small and time was tight, so Arnold focused both towards the set decoration. “My job on this was to keep on point. I limited construction and paint so we could funnel more into the set dressing, the budget was so unbelievably tight!” He adds, “You couldn’t do this period film in one of the usual tax incentive states, like Georgia or Louisiana. We needed the proximity and access to prophouses to turn as fast as we did, and to establish this period correctly.”
“Our timing was really great because we began the shoot at the end of the year and things were winding down for the holidays, so I had access to more pieces,” Smith reveals. “We were able to make really good deals with Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony.” This is where a depth of knowledge of the prophouses and experience come to fore. "My incredible buyer Eva Firshein, who is a great collaborator for me, is also both a film and period buff. This is definitely one of her favorite periods, so she was really brutal about anything that would seem too trendy or sharp.”
Lamps were significant accessories. “For the three contiguous rooms at the Florida motel, we ended up with a pair of lamps from Sony, a pair from Universal and a pair from Practical Props…all matching. How incredible is that? Practical Props was a perfect resource for lighting on this film…Warners Bros. and Universal as well. We found some really great pieces at each, and then shaded almost every lamp in the film ourselves.”
The Florida motel is where DEEP THROAT was filmed, and where that cast and crew stayed. Thus, the multi-room set. Fittingly, the hotel location used to create these sets became “home base” for part of the LOVELACE production.
Arnold recalls, “The Seaport Marina hotel in Long Beach was seedy, run to ground and about to be torn down. We used it for several sets, including the honeymoon hotel, the New York motel, a radio station, a diner, and the lie detector office. We used it as home base for part of the shoot, because it ended up being central not only for these but also to several other sets. Kudos to the locations managers. The Boreman house was 3 blocks from the hotel, the Chuck Traynor house another couple of blocks, and the Marchiano house was nearby. This neighborhood was built back then and some of the older residents had had lived there the entire time and hadn’t really changed much to their houses.”
“The Boreman house belonged to a woman who had built the house originally. It had period wallpaper and period furnishings, the living room furniture was custom made,” Smith describes. “It seemed a little too upscale for the Boreman family and I knew Sony had an incredible late 40s-early 50s sofa and chair, that would look great. However, time and budget prevailed, thus we embraced the more 'current' look.” He smiles, “It does work very well in the movie.”
“The homeowner was a widow, and she lived there the whole time we were shooting,” he adds. “She was really obliging, and actually brought some things out of storage that she let us put back up. We moved her out of her master bedroom and used that for Linda’s bedroom. We brought in draperies, art, knitted afghans, lamps, dishes, although we also used her dishes."
"Sometimes you find the perfect anchor for a set," continues Smith. "In the kitchen, we replaced her phone with a yellow wall phone set against the existing fabulous yellow, orange and green wallpaper. Once connected, the phone rang, and it put everybody right into the period. This very vibrant bass sound so set the period, it was amazing! We also cleaned out the garage, shifted furniture, did some repairs. We were run and gun…they used one of the bedrooms for the actors to change clothes! It is a small film. It was definitely done as a small film.”
Arnold notes, “We had to shoot some days at the end of the year to qualify for CA tax credits, so we went back and forth on which set and finally decided to do Boreman. Then it was a scramble to get the sets ready in time, but we pulled it off. David and his team were great…again, my job on this set was more about managing, keeping everything to point and pushing for the support… ‘Yes, we have to have a truck, even though ‘only’ 3 blocks away from base camp!’ After it shot, we looked at each other and said, ‘Gosh, now everything has to look that good, be that accurate! How are we going to do that on this budget?’”
“It set the bar pretty high,” Smith agrees. “It ultimately set the tone for the rest of the movie.”
“Thankfully, this was an extremely collaborative film, everyone working within the constrictions,” Arnold notes. “Using the dual perspectives helped us be able to do the sets with the unbelievably tight budget, by shooting the same set, but from a different personal POV. The directors and DP were good about understanding the need to shoot only as planned. We didn’t have budget or time to suddenly have to block out an area for different camera angles!”
Defining the times without obvious “retro-ness” and with a limited budget meant each piece had more weight, more responsibility in the visual story. Arnold says, “I’m big on editing back on the set dressing, always. A lot of DPs want to have every space filled, they can’t handle an empty shelf, but it’s not realistic. People don’t always have a lot of stuff, so each piece has to carry more weight. That certainly applied to this film, and, David came up with great choices.”
The realism is so true, the story becomes almost haunting. “The realism is something Bill works hard towards. As a team, we tried really hard. You shouldn’t go away humming the set, and I will ask myself often, ‘Is it too on the money? Does it draw too much attention?’ But once you get an anchor..."
“I’ve worked with David for a long time, on several projects,” Arnold remarks. “People say, ‘Well, you must have developed a shorthand.’ But it’s not so much that. It’s more that we have a similar visual perspective and respect for each other. We appreciate what the other brings. And I know David will bring a great selection of choices…always interesting and well thought out. And often, if I’ve rejected something, he’ll explain why he chose that, and then I’ll see it as well and we’ll end up using it!”
“And he always brings a great team, especially his buyer and his lead. He had a good strong lead on this film [Paolo DeLeon]. I’ve seen where a poor lead can ruin a film for a decorator, and a good one really helps make it come together. And I’ve always felt for the set dressers…they’re the last ones to get the set! There’s always so much pressure, they have so much to do and so many details to get right. It really makes a difference who a set decorator chooses for his crew. Again, the good-decision making comes into play. I can always count on David in his choices of set dressing and crew, décor and awareness of budget!”
Experience and resources…
“Because I had done CIRQUE DU FREAK along with Eva and Bill, we knew that some unusual things existed,” shares Smith. “The round bed in Chuck Traynor’s house is from RC Vintage, but the slip cover is a 1940s pattern. Eva and I had bought two very long Middle Eastern bedspreads with mirrors & embroidery for CDF. So we pinned one around the bed and covered the headboard, and used the other as the bedspread."
"And it was our idea, I think, to give Chuck a music collection. Of course, Eva has a phenomenal knowledge about music and all that…so then we got a tape deck thinking that he would have both a stereo and a tape. And you know, now in the film, the whole scene begins on it and it’s just great!”
“We didn’t have a fulltime painter nor a fulltime construction coordinator, so whenever we needed to hide the fact that we’re not seeing things, we did pipe and drape…and my crew did that,” he states. “For example, we had red velvet curtains from WB to help do the red carpet scene."
"We also did a night club, which we shot in the contemporary cocktail bar at the Langham Hotel, the former Ritz, a bar that Bill and I had shot for AMERICAN DREAMS. Since then, they’ve made it sort of 2010, with an amoeba-shaped sofa and a patterned carpet. So we brought in orange velvet curtains and just masked the whole thing, turning it into a darker room. The standing divider screens are actually more draperies loosely tacked to frames. The vases are from CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE…and of course, I knew where they ended up and where to find them! The masses of orange pillows were found at various home stores. It was rather astounding that we could find so many. The red chairs are from Omega Cinema Props. We dressed the bar at 3:00 in the morning. They shot it at 6:00 am, and it was back, restored and opened for business at 11:00.”
“I think that part of this goes back to my training, having run a theater prophouse for 14 seasons. You use stock. You change it, or dress it in slightly differently, or you change it by how you use it in the set.”
Smith shares other resources: “Almost all of the artwork for the film was from Hollywood Studio Gallery and Hollywood Cinema Arts, with a couple of pieces from PSW and Omega. I used kitchen stuff and smalls from PSW, too. Velvet curtains for the thrift store came from Dazian and from RoseBrand. And of course, we used a lot of pieces from History For Hire and from Lennie Marvin. It makes such a difference being able to shoot in LA, with everyone and everything so accessible!”