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Anatomy of a Scene: Talking the 'Her' Office with Oscar-Nominated Production Designer K.K. Barrett

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 31, 2014 at 2:05PM

Spike Jonze's beautiful and beguiling "Her," the dark horse in the best picture Oscar race, offers a warm and inviting fusion of LA/Shanghai, with its intoxicating use of red. And the opening scene in the office -- a high rise on Hope near Bunker Hill -- wonderfully sets up the delicate mood and world inhabited by the forlorn Joaquin Phoenix. Oscar-nominated production designer K.K. Barrett discusses his artistic choices and the impact.
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Her

Spike Jonze's beautiful and beguiling "Her," the dark horse in the best picture Oscar race, offers a warm and inviting fusion of LA/Shanghai, with its intoxicating use of red. And the opening scene in the office -- a high rise on Hope near Bunker Hill -- wonderfully sets up the delicate mood and world inhabited by Joaquin Phoenix's forlorn letter writer. Oscar-nominated production designer K.K. Barrett discusses his artistic choices and the impact.

Her

"I think the best idea is to introduce something familiar when you're introducing an unfamiliar twist," Barrett suggests. "So Spike's description to me was that it was one of these creative workplaces that are all the interior architectural rage now where people don't feel like they're chained to a desk. And he wanted it to feel open like everybody enjoyed coming to work and it was an atmosphere where you could be spontaneously creative in. And so we still have a computer monitor, a desk, the written word."

Indeed, Barrett was spontaneously creative as well, seizing on the rental the moment he discovered it, even though it was a bit pricey for their budget. It offered good views out of windows, had great light, and was horizontally expansive allowing space to breathe above you. It was just off-kilter enough with its angled ceiling and light and penthouse views. Phoenix already lived in a high-rise and so they put him even higher. And they couldn't put him in the dark because they were saving that for a different mood, which turned out to be the sex scenes.

Barrett also made use of an old idea -- color transport panels -- which made the office more breezy. And he found inspiration from that alarming and funny moment in "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" when Jacques Tati's alter-ego peers down a maze of proto-cubicles. 

This article is related to: Her, Spike Jonze, production design, Immersed In Movies, Oscars, Thompson on Hollywood, Interviews , Awards, Awards Season Roundup


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.