The precipitous, dangerous...at times extremely dangerous...as well as humorous story of the making of THE GODFATHER movie, based on the memories of the film’s Academy Award-winning Producer, Al Ruddy, who has long kept this story secret, until now!
For our Inside the Set with SETDECOR video series, David Smith SDSA talks with Set Decorator Lisa Alkofer SDSA and Production Designer Laurence Bennett about how they so beautifully and vividly brought this true tale of movie magic to life.
Click on the video here, which can also be found in our Inside the Set with SETDECOR section. Note the tab at the top of this page or any time you come back to the website. You can find the video on our SETDECOR YouTube channel as well!
This is a fun and intriguing conversation.
We know you’ll enjoy!
Karen Burg, Editor
...more THE OFFER!
Since the series is about the making of THE GODFATHER movie, much of it is set at Paramount Studios, the studio that produced it. In the Inside the Set video conversation [above], Production Designer Laurence Bennett points out, “It was always in the plan to shoot at Paramount and to use the backlot...this is part of the studio's legacy. And they were tremendously supportive in letting it be a venue for the show...there have been changes in the 50 years since our time frame, so we needed to make some visual changes each time we shot on the backlot. The lot was tremendously busy at the time, like 100% capacity, as were all the stages through most of our nine months there. And it was the height of COVID spike. So, in addition to having to accommodate other production’s vehicles and staging... it was also just this entire wealth of blue COVID popups everywhere...it was all a logistic nightmare.” Editor’s note: But they pulled it off beautifully! Click on the video for more!
A few key sets: Angelo’s restaurant...
“The painting of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius I found from the Chicago Institute of Fine Arts,” Lisa remembers. “It was one of the first things I showed Laurence. He’s such a great collaborator, he welcomed the idea and then our paint department built that into the set as wallpaper. The florals are by Sandy Rose Floral. They did ALL of our florals, which were extensive. Corri Levelle and her team made certain that the florals not only fit the sets and palettes and characters, but were also in the specific floral styles of the period.”
Don Corleone Office – the movie within a movie...
“We purchased a desk from Arte de Mexico that was then added on to and built upon to help re-create the Don Corleone Office within THE GODFATHER. The desk was a starting point for Set Designers and Sculptors. We couldn’t use the original because it now resides at Francis Ford Coppola’s winery”, she smiles. Editor's note: Click on video for much more about this, including before & after!
Gambino Social Club and Colombo Social club...
These Italian American NY social clubs, depicting the essence of the two top crime families, both masterfully built onstage turned out to be favorite sets for Laurence.
“Carlo Gambino was born in 1905. He and his entire Mafia crew are immigrants. They're all from the same couple of towns in Sicily, whereas Joe Colombo was the first American-born head of one of the families. He and his crew were first-generation American, even second generation in some cases.”
“I figured that given the difference in age, the Colombos are a little more rock and roll more doo-wop. And my thinking is for Joe's place was that he found a bar and encouraged the patrons and owner to just go away, commandeered it and made that their headquarters. Whereas, Carlo and the other older guys [heads of the other families] have the more traditional, classic spaces. I wanted to underscore the contrast between the traditional pros and the young Turks.”
This set is a carefully curated time capsule of 1970s NY Italian, every piece defines the era and the characters. The dining chairs are key. Lisa found them early on at a Lloyd Gordon Estate Sales event, and bought the entire suite, including a massive breakfront.“ Lloyd Gordon helped immensely. We purchased set dressing way before shooting that was used throughout the season; especially for the Bob Evans living room and Joe Colombo’s Brooklyn house. These set the tone early on for me and my team.”
The Feast of San Gennaro...
“The San Gennaro Festival was so magical,” Lisa remembers. “And huge! We had 48 set dressers on that. It took a week to dress, with the arches and booths and ancillary stores, layer after layer after layer...My mother’s family is from Mott Street, so I come from Italian New York, and I’ve been going to Little Italy since I was a kid, so it was a blast to do.” Editor’s note: There is so much more to see in the video above!
Best and Co. at Christmas...
Another great and immense set was an overview of THE GODFATHER team “filming” an exterior Christmas-shopping scene. Lisa notes, “Frost Christmas displays were used throughout the show, but especially for the Best & Co. department store set at Universal Backlot. We were able to create the store windows circa 1947. Great fun!”
Lisa adds, “And because everything was so well thought out by Laurence, our DPs and teams, the whole series really went off without a hitch...shockingly for as big as it was! There were over 160 sets, which is pretty daunting when you think about it, especially when you looked at it on paper. I still can't even believe how much work we did! But we had fun and that makes a huge difference...Someone asked us, ‘What is it with you guys that you all still laugh, and you all come to work every day in a good mood?’ That's because we're all excited to be here, telling this story. I mean, you know, it was a gift.”
Editor’s note: Another gift is the relationships Set Decorators build with their resources.
Set Decorator Lisa Alkofer SDSA is quick to acknowledge those she particularly relies on, especially the following SDSA Business members:
Omega Cinema Props ~ Warner Bros Studios Property & Drapery ~ Universal Studios Property & Drapery ~ Lennie Marvin’s Propheaven ~Sandy Rose Floral, Inc ~ Town & Country Event Rentals ~ Art Pic ~ U Frame It ~ AMCO American Screen & Window Coverings ~ Advanced Liquidators Office Furniture ~ Faux Library Studio Props ~ Arte de Mexico ~ Frost ~ Lloyd Gordon Estate Sales