The Minds Behind the Sets of “Mank” Share Their Experience Re-Creating Old Hollywood in Black and White

Netflix’s film starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Lily Collins has been nominated for a host of accolades, including a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.

Lauren Wicks
February 9, 2021
Veranda

For those in the television and film industry with dreamy job titles like production designer or set decorator, the fun begins long before filming, deep in the throes of research. And that was especially the case for Netflix’s Mank, a period piece filmed in black and white in 2020.

“Any opportunity to work on a period film has everybody in our business, especially those in our department, salivating to hear that we get to go back in time, discovering how society functioned and the nuances of the period: the furnishings, the architecture, the lifestyles,” says Donald Burt, the film’s production designer. “It felt like we were living in the film, and that’s what it’s all about: presenting a story in a format that feels like it was actually made then.”

Burt spent much of his design preparation time at the Academy of Motion Pictures library, scouring through documents from filming methods to formal letters, sorting out old gambling debts between executives to decipher thought processes regarding films from nearly 100 years ago.

“This is not a documentary, so we needed to take some license, but I always say I put research and information into a blender and see what comes out to best help tell the story we are trying to tell,” says set decorator Jan Pascale. “It’s so exciting to not only do a black-and-white film but to dive into the history of Hollywood and L.A., learning how people communicated back then.”

Pascale recalls offering typewriters to the casting agents, and it proving a greater challenge than originally thought to find people to type efficiently on them. Though “QWERTY” was created long ago, managing a modern keyboard is much easier than the models of yesteryear. The same goes for making a movie in color.

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