Forever is only the beginning…
So why not begin with the romance and beauty of paradise…a private retreat on a remote honeymoon island…
For the latest edition of THE TWILIGHT SAGA, BREAKING DAWN [Parts 1&2], Director Bill Condon teamed with Production Designer Richard Sherman and Set Decorator David Schlesinger SDSA to bring the fantasy of the popular novels to life on screen.
For the exotic Isle Esme honeymoon, the filmmakers shot exteriors on location near Paraty, Brazil. But the key interiors, including the highly anticipated bedroom scenes, were shot on a soundstage in Louisiana and seamlessly cut in. [See above for a panoramic click-thru slide show of the sets.]
Bella [Kristen Stewart] has deliberately chosen the human experience of a true honeymoon with her new husband Edward [Robert Pattinson] before making the transition into the vampire world. Thus, the emphasis for the sets is on the natural.
Everything is nature-inspired, from palette to materials. Hand-hewn, handcrafted pieces were carefully selected to create an eco-aware, but contemporary space. Lush, but restrained artistic choices abound in every detail and in the careful editing. The lighting throughout offers a natural twist on the modern. The fabrics, particularly cottons and bamboo, bring in the lightness and loft of the tropics—the essence of the sun and sea—whether billowing in the soft breeze or fluffed and stacked by the wood-encased spa tub. The romance of a draped four-poster bed is matched by floor pillows and throws in hand-embroidered cloths and rich earth tones. Flowers in full blossom give subtle but significant reminders of the young heroine, while the restrained artistry reflects the journey of her hero.
Producer Wyck Godfrey says, “The core of Edward’s journey is that he’s been so self-loathing about his desires, his instincts and his fear of what’s going to happen with Bella. He finally forgives himself for the things that have tormented him in the past and allows himself to just embrace her as an equal, through the course of both movies. That is liberating for anyone who knows what it’s like to be in a marriage, you have to trust and not try to control everything. Edward has a really wonderful arc in BREAKING DAWN, because he becomes the best part of himself when he accepts Bella as an equal.”
Re: the making of the film, Director Bill Condon remarks “There are big challenges in Part 1 alone, because it’s about taking something that’s written as a fantasy and actually bringing the moviegoer along to the degree that they believe in it, and some of these ideas are pretty out there. How do we figure out how to create a universe where you would go along for that ride?”
Schlesinger explains how they did, including integrating aspects from the earlier films while creating sets for both parts of the TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN sequence simultaneously.
What did you include from the previous episodes of this film series?
We kept the spirit of the sets intact, but put our own spin on them. The Swan House and Bella’s Bedroom are identical from the previous films. I had thought about changing a few elements, but the budget kept us from doing it. Bella is transitioning from her past here, so it made sense to leave it all the same. The interior of the Cullen House is almost entirely new.
What did you purposely do differently?
The challenge of the project was that the archetypes had been established. We considered some fairly radical changes for the Cullens, but in the end decided to take the initial spirit of the house and improve it. I did this by using objects that were authentic and infused with meaning, not just decorative. This was particularly true of the art in the Cullen House, and the art throughout the film. That was significant for our vision of this story.
Tell us about co-coordinating with the set decorators in Vancouver and Brazil.
We had fantastic crews in Brazil, Canada, and Louisiana. Louisiana was our primary base of operation, and most creative work originated from there.
I initially was going to go to Brazil, but there was too much happening in Louisiana for me to leave. Most of the work in Brazil took place at the honeymoon house. However, the Honeymoon Suite—bedroom, bathroom and courtyard—were on stage in Louisiana. I sent Set Decorator Monica Rochlin plans for what we were doing in Louisiana, and some my research. She took it from there and brought the location into the world of the set.
The wedding was shot in Canada, but essentially created in Louisiana. We created a prototype wedding—a sort of midsummer’s night fantasy— in Louisiana, which gave the us chance to play around with a lot of ideas. It also gave Bill Condon the opportunity to see it all together prior to shooting.
Tell us about the key sets:
Dr. Carlisle Cullen’s Study, which becomes the delivery room and Alice’s Bedroom were new sets for this version. We changed the main living area completely, without changing the spirit of the house. Again, I emphasized an environment that is real by using objects that are authentic. We revamped the sitting area and kitchen, incorporating some of the elements from the previous films, such as the coffee table and built-in sectional from the last film. I changed all the artwork in the sitting area. The Eames chair seemed too iconic, so I changed it for something more comfortable.
The Living Room was a total makeover. We did a comfortable, modern take on traditional ideas. Books and art became major elements for us. I sought out works that related to human form, death, decay and the spirit. I thought vampires would be fascinated by these concepts. I used several works by the artist Raine Bedsole, including the figurative piece in the corner. Her work is haunting and timeless. Greg King is another artist who has several pieces in the film. They are views from above, topographic in nature.
We built the first two floors of the house, interior and exterior, on stage, surrounded by a giant green screen.
Carlisle’s Study consists of two adjoining rooms surrounded in books. A lot of books! We fabricated Carlisle’s desk and conference table, so they would be related. I always like to have the opportunity to custom design a few pieces. We worked with MK Studios in Covington Louisiana, to create these pieces.
The study also serves as the birthing area. The idea was Carlisle would have brought the equipment in from the hospital where he works.\
Alice’s Bedroom, was built as a separate piece and went through a last minute change. I really played up the sewing and crafts aspect of Alice. She had a large work table and sewing machine in her room and some wonderful artwork. Alice’s is the most whimsical of the rooms in the house.
We played with a few concepts for the wedding, and landed on the mid-summer’s night dream idea. We wanted everything to feel like it emerged from the forest. We treated the ceremony part in a more fantasy, dreamlike way. The reception was a bit more traditional and rooted in reality. We always had in the back of our heads the question of, ‘What would Alice have done?’ I viewed Alice as a bit of a crafter, and wanted the wedding to have a slight bit of that feeling. It had to fit the characters and environment.
Honeymoon House on Isle Esme
The bedroom, Courtyard, and Bathroom were built on stage in Louisiana. Like the Cullen House, it was surrounded by a large Green Screen.
This was done in Canada by Set Decorator Jan Goodine. This was her set.
You were filming two films at the same time, not sequentially. How did you maintain the “time frame”? Were there extensive changes between the two films?
I initially was concerned about how we would pull it off, but it really was not an issue. There were not extensive changes between the films, although there are several new sets in Part Two, including my favorite, the Stone Cottage. I treated it all as one movie, which is broken into two parts. There was one budget, one schedule, etc.
Please tell us about the effect of Louisiana tax credits on your set decoration.
Tax Credits benefit the film in the long run, but do not directly put more money back into the set decorating budget. There is pressure to use local vendors, which often are far more expensive. The producers placed a lot of pressure to use Louisiana vendors. In order to make our limited budget work, I have to seek out the best deals, which in some cases meant going to tried and true vendors in New York and Los Angeles. I used as many Louisiana vendors as I could, but in some cases it just did not make sense.
What was most challenging aspect of the film?
Clearance. We had to clear not only all artwork, but every single item on camera. It added a layer of complication to everything. There was no last minute running out to get things, because it all had to be cleared. On the plus side, this forced us to have sets done a week or two earlier than what we typically would do.
What were your best resources? Old, tried & true? New?
I started my career in New Orleans, and this film gave me the chance to reconnect with some of my all time favorite vendors. In New Orleans: Bush Antiques, Dodge-Field Antiques, Keil’s Antiques, and Dunn & Sonnier.
Tried & true…
Aero Studios (NY), Sears-Peyton Gallery (NY)
So, I am in Baton Rouge for a couple days and Richard Sherman, the production designer, tells me about a store he had driven by and suggests I check it out. Being a typical set decorator, I sort of ignored it. Well...it turned out to be a life-saving resource! Dixon Smith Interiors in Baton Rouge, which was about 40 feet from my office there, ended up serving as our own little prophouse. I just wish they had a location in NY, where I usually work.
Maison Victoria has the largest collection of British and French Colonial Antiques in the United States, and just happens to be in Baton Rouge. I stumbled upon it one day and could not believe the amount of stuff they have. I used several of their Colonial antiques in the Isle Esme set.
There’s a Facebook page with thousands of members, “Twilight Takes Over Baton Rouge”…any comments?
I must confess…I am a member. The added level of fan interest added to the fun of the project.
Were there any serendipitous moments?