With wit and candor, JW2 & JW3 Set Decorator David Schlesinger SDSA International takes us behind the scenes... “Our goal was to create an alternative universe of New York and a stage for the Ballet of Violence that is the spectacle of JOHN WICK 3, PARABELLUM...”
...and, at the end of this photo gallery, Set Decorator Letizia Santucci SDSA International gives a peek of the Continental Hotel, Casablanca...
Schlesinger explains... “The concept started as military-style armory/bunker, but quickly morphed into a combination of Winston’s private space, a repository of his weapons collection and the Continental’s armory. Built and shot onstage, the floor is printed, the lights are vintage, and the guns are real! I took for granted that attaching the guns to the wall would be easy. Not so much. After many frustrating attempts with magnets, and various rigs, we found a simple hook at Home Depot. The weapons in the room came from The Specialist and International Military Antiques. The terrific sofa is from Newel.”
“The great thing about creating an alternative universe, is rules don’t really apply. It makes mixing styles easy. The sofa and the wing chair in the back corner are both from Newel. The coffee table is a contemporary piece from KGBL. The hanging lights are from Olde Good Things, originally from a theater.”
“The Circle of Guns is one of my favorite elements on the set. I struggled to figure out a way to display Winston’s collection, and researched a lot of museum displays and home displays of guns. Chris Shriver, the best Art Director on the planet, remembered the Oklahoma Claremore Mason Hotel that he had visited as a kid, that seemed covered in guns. I did a bit of digging, found an old postcard from the hotel, and immediately was inspired by their gun displays.
The small gun in the middle of all this is a replica of the weapon John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Booth was not a member of the Continental!”
“The Continental has two lobbies. This soaring atrium lobby contains a Bar, a Billiards/Game Room, a Barber Shop, and lounge seating areas and nooks. We shot it at the Williamsburg Savings Bank, and had to work around heavy restrictions to protect the historic building. There are two large circular banking tables, which we could not remove. The solution was to build a pair of massive banquettes and top them off with two equally massive statues...”
Continental Hotel, Lobby... BTS: Finishing the set for camera...including massive florals
“What’s a Hotel Lobby without flowers? But this is the Continental, the home of the world's most elite Killers. Sarah suggested using Brittany Asch to create our flowers. And Wow! Her work could not have been more perfect and fitting for the look of the Continental. She soon became the official florist, adding floral to all sets related to the hotel, including the magnificent floral sculptures we created for the glass house.”
“Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh conceived and started to design the Glass House long before the movie was in pre-production. It was the constant set, in a sea of changing ideas: an all glass structure with glass floors, ceilings and walls.”
“In New York, the Set Dressing department is responsible for glass. This was far beyond my abilities to figure out. Fortunate for me, Supervising Art Director Chris Shriver took over the procurement, engineering, and directed the installation of the glass. The remarkably skilled Set Dressing crew, at the direction of Leadman Harvey Goldberg, handled and installed the glass with a lot of guidance from Chris.”
Note encased clear glass floral sculptural piece in foreground fronting a gallery of glass skulls...
“We viewed the Glass House as a transparent museum. I had the idea of using florals as sculptural installations, as well as individual cases of Assassins’ armor/cuirass, and of “glass” skulls, which we had cast out of an acrylic material that could break during the fight sequences. Each of the cases has small reliquary objects, related to the fallen assassin.”
Director Chad Stahelski points out... “The piéce de resistance for CHAPTER 3 is the spellbindingly fragile glass gallery inside the Continental, where John Wick finds himself in a literally shattering fight for his life. We really wanted to do the sequence entirely practically, without any effects. We relied on choreography, lighting and camera angles, which meant the design had to synch with the action.”
“The other major element in the glass house is L.E.D. lighting, which the Set Dressing team installed along with Electricians. Sorry to anyone who needed L.E.D. Strips from Lite Gear the week we bought them out...”
“All of this for what, a puppy?” Asks The Director [Anjelica Huston], a woman who straddles the worlds of devoted artistic perfection and crime...
“The Director runs a school for assassins,” Huston explains. “She’s someone who I see as having once been an assassin for the High Table herself, but she long ago climbed the staircase of the assassin world, and now she runs the training. She is surrounded by beautiful young ballerinas who are going to be wonderful spies, as well as martial arts geniuses who are junior assassins.”
“Perhaps my favorite set in the film is the Doctor’s Office, a layered personal space, inhabited by our Herbalist/Doctor. It is one of the few personal spaces, which allowed me to dress-in many details. I love details.
With all sets, I start with research, looking for inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Sarah McMillan visited herbal shops in Chinatown, and we worked with an Herbalist to make sure we had all the correct items, from specialized scales to correct labels.”
“On JOHN WICK 2, we were scrambling to shop and dress the Bowery King’s Lair. It was one of those sets that a location and concept was not decided on till late in the game. Sometimes not having the luxury to overthink things make for the best sets.
While in the midst of dressing...in fact, while the Set Dressers were at lunch, Sarah McMillan and I took a quick trip to a local flea market for some last minute shopping. I saw a taxidermy bobcat, and Sarah convinced me it was perfect. We bought it and used it, and it made perfect sense on the set. For JW3, we expanded on the taxidermy idea, using only predators and their prey. We had several incredible pieces, created by Frank Zitz.”
“Kevin Kavanaugh is calm, low key and matter of fact. He has a way of convincing you to do the most crazy, awesome sets. Kevin calmly pushes the envelope, and the results are fantastic.
We were having a tough time finding a location for the Sushi Bar, although I think in the back of Kevin’s head it was always going to be a build. I recall a conversation with him... ‘Hi Kevin, Have we found a location for the Sushi Bar?’ “Yes, David, We found an awesome location under an overpass to build it.” Almost any other movie would have gone to an existing location, but JOHN WICK is an alternative universe version of New York...”
“What we ended up creating was another one of my favorite John Wick sets. Of course, as part of my research, I had to eat at some of New York’s best Sushi spots. Trying to turn in those receipts on my petty cash did not go over so well. ‘What? It’s research...’”
Continental Hotel, Casablanca... The Casablanca branch...homage to the 1939 film, a Rick’s place on steroids...is run by Sofia [Halle Berry], a mysterious figure from John Wick’s past. Although most of the Morocco scenes were indeed filmed in Morocco, the hotel corridors were shot in NY, to show similar and signature scale.
Set Decorator Letizia Santucci SDSA International tells us about the Morocco sets... “I like to mix the old, the traditional, with modern furniture to create an interesting contrast. We did the same in Rome for JW2 and it worked. John Wick in Morocco was a beautiful opportunity to contribute in inventing this parallel world, where you are free to use whatever you like, without worrying if it’s right for the period or formally correct for the place...”
Santucci continues... “...I wanted to use as much as possible furniture and objects that I found in Morocco to show the taste of the place. Drapery and fabrics are my passions, and in Morocco, there are very good craftspeople. So, I particularly enjoyed doing the Bedouin tents with unusual color details and peculiar dressing inside. Morocco was a breathtaking experience. Plans were changed many times...locations too...weather was impossible, so we became even more creative!”
“I like reinventing the normal function of objects to make something different. For instance, in Sofia’s apartment I made a low table by sticking together some small pieces of Moroccan wooden carved windows’ doors, or in Barrada’s office where we used pieces of a beautiful old coffered ceiling for making the coins tables.”
Here, several unique Moroccan boxes and two Malinois emphasize the importance of the talisman John Wick is holding...a marker from the past, for the future...
In this third installment of the adrenaline-fueled action franchise, super-assassin John Wick [Keanu Reeves] returns with an army of bounty-hunting killers on his trail. From the propulsive start of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3—PARABELLUM, the clock ticks relentlessly against the formerly retired super-assassin. The action picks up directly from Chapter 2, as John Wick finds himself on the brink of being declared excommunicado—stripped of the protective services of The High Table, the secretive global association of crime organizations that enforces the assassins’ code. With a $14 million bounty on his head, even John Wick has never faced so many simultaneous threats hell-bent on ending his existence. Enemies are everywhere, but that will only drive Wick to the ends of the earth as he continues to seek a personal reckoning, embraced by audiences hungry to see and know more about him and his stylishly seductive world... —Lionsgate
Expanding the John Wick universe brought a whole new array of design challenges, which the filmmakers relished. To help meet those challenges and go even beyond, Director Chad Stahelski assembled much of the same team that created JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2. They include Director of Photography Dan Laustsen ASC/DFF, Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh, Set Decorator David Schlesinger SDSA International, Set Decorator Letizia Santucci SDSA International [Rome/Morocco], Costume Designer Luca Mosca, Editor Evan Schiff and their teams.
“They love what they do and they love putting in the maximum effort to make every frame better than we imagined,” says Stahelski.
Which leads to Schlesinger evoking the grace, wit, frankness and depth of the title character while giving us a look behind the scenes...
This is stylized innovation, elegance with a gritty edge and grittiness with great beauty...
Karen Burg, Editor
Notes from Set Decorator David Schlesinger SDSA International, both here and in the photo gallery above...
...with a few from Lionsgate, as well!
“While the critics are talking about how “beautiful and bonkers” JOHN WICK 3 is, and the Studio Executives are celebrating the huge box office, I will be talking about the marvelous team of artists I collaborated with to bring the sets of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3—PARABELLUM to life, to give a reality to this unreal world, beginning with Assistant Set Decorator Sarah McMillan and Leadman Harvey Goldberg, who did remarkable jobs on an exceptionally challenging project.”
“Having a shorthand with Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh, with whom I have worked on several other projects...including JOHN WICK 2...gave us the luxury of comfort and trust. I knew Kevin’s vision was sharp, and when he pitched epic ideas, we were able to efficiently bring them to life. Our goal was to create an alternative universe of New York, and a stage for the Ballet of Violence that is the spectacle of JOHN WICK 3, PARABELLUM.”
Continental Hotel, New York...neutral zone for assassins... ...Atrium Lobby...
“The Continental has two lobbies. The soaring atrium lobby contains a Bar, a Billiards~Game Room, a Barber Shop, and lounge seating areas and nooks.
We shot it at the Williamsburg Savings Bank, and had to work around heavy restrictions to protect the historic building.
There are two large circular banking tables, which we could not remove. The solution was to build a pair of massive banquettes and top them off with two equally massive statues. Our scenic department created the statues and my favorite custom furniture maker, Naula, built the banquettes.”
“What’s a Hotel Lobby without flowers?
But this is the Continental, the home of the world's most elite killers.
Sarah suggested working with Brittany Asch to create our florals. I discussed color and a vague concept with Brittany, but essentially instructed her to go to town...and wow! Her work could not have been more perfect and fitting for the look of the Continental. She soon became the official florist of the Continental, adding florals to all sets related to the hotel, including the magnificent floral sculptures we created for the glass house.”
This unique hideaway is located in the lower level of the Continental Hotel. The concept started as military-style armory/bunker, but quickly moved into being Winston’sprivate space. Leading up to, but never seen in the film, is the Continental’s 10,000-bottle Wine Cellar. The Armory morphed into a combination of Winston’s personal space, a repository of Winston’s weapons collection, and the Continental's armory.
Originally, we were going to shoot this set in the basement of the Bank Tower, but scheduling needs meant that it ultimately was built on stage. The floor is printed, the lights are vintage, and the guns are real! The small gun in the middle of Winston’scollection is a replica of the weapon John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Booth was not a member of the Continental! The terrific sofa that anchors the room is from Newel.
...The Glass House...
“The private elevator leads to the Executive level of the Continental,which we affectionately referred to as the Glass House.”
From Lionsgate: The piéce de resistance for CHAPTER 3 is the spellbindingly fragile glass gallery inside the Continental, where John Wick finds himself in a literally shattering fight for his life. “
We really wanted to do the sequence entirely practically, without any effects. We relied on choreography, lighting and camera angles, which meant the design had to synch with the action,” explains Director Chad Stahelski.
Schlesinger points out, “Kevin conceived and started to design the Glass House long before the movie was in pre-production. It was the constant set in a sea of changing ideas, an all glass structure with glass floors and glass walls.”
“In New York, the Set Dec department is responsible for glass. This was far beyond my abilities to figure out. Fortunate for me, Art Director Chris Shriver took over the procurement and engineering, and then directed the installation of the glass. The remarkably skilled Set Dressing crew, at the direction of Lead Harvey Goldberg, handled and installed the glass with a lot of guidance from Chris. The other major element in the glass house is L.E.D. lighting, installed by Set Dress and Electricians. Sorry to anyone who needed L.E.D. strips from Lite Gear the week we bought them out!”
“We viewed the Glass Houseas a transparent museum. I had the idea of using florals as sculptural installations, as well as individual cases of Assassins’ armor/cuirass, and of “glass” skulls, which we had cast out of an acrylic material that could break during the fight sequences. Each of the cases has small reliquary objects, related to the fallen assassin.”
From Lionsgate: In many ways, this realm of glimmering, splintering glass represents all the contrasts that make John Wick so beguiling: the way the series plays with both the brutal and the beautiful, the straight forward and the magical, the most demanding designs yet the purest visual storytelling.
See the photo gallery above, with additional fascinating notes from Schlesinger, and from Set Decorator Letizia Santucci SDSA International for sets shot in Morocco...