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Going Inside the Production Design Secrets of 'Walter Mitty'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 8, 2014 at 2:05PM

Designing the "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was a new experience for Jeff Mann, known for working on such "blunt instruments" as "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller and "Transformers" with Michael Bay. But Stiller definitely had a different mind set for the daydreaming Everyman, full of whimsy and wistfulness, and Mann visualized that world in a graphic and poetic way that's certainly worthy of Oscar consideration.
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Ben Stiller in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'
Ben Stiller in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'

Designing the "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was a new experience for Jeff Mann, known for working on such "blunt instruments" as "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller and "Transformers" with Michael Bay. But Stiller definitely had a different mind set for the daydreaming Everyman, full of whimsy and wistfulness, and Mann visualized that world in a graphic and poetic way that's certainly worthy of Oscar consideration.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

From Mitty's orderly New York apartment to the iconic Time-Life Building to the exotic landscapes of Iceland and Afghanistan, Mann had plenty of opportunity to juxtapose Mitty's inner and outer worlds. The trick was tying them together and so the production designer found ways of providing signals or clues in Mitty's daydreams or yearnings while also planting visual cues that define his linear personality.

"It was quite the variety of environments where we got to build and contradict and have similarities to his fancies and reality," Mann explains. "We wanted a commonality that carried through, but all the imagery had to be resonant and have graphic and compositional beauty, even if it was something mundane or routine."

It was hard enough for the Southern California native to find fresh locations in New York City, but he managed to surprise the local crew with an apartment complex exterior in the Bronx around 168th Street that was new to them. The interior of Mitty's apartment is full of hard lines and his shelves are lined books and LPs indicative of his analog preferences.

This article is related to: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Immersed In Movies, Ben Stiller, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards Season Roundup, Interviews


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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.