Award-winning Production Designer to speak on ‘The Art of Film Production Design’ at Calvin College

jeannine_oppewall_destaqueOn October 6 and 7, local film aficionados will have the opportunity to meet a motion picture industry great: Jeannine Oppewall, a highly respected production designer, art director and Calvin College alum, will share her ideas and experiences as a motion picture production designer during a Q&A after the screening of Catch Me If You Can at Celebration! Cinema North on October 6.

The following evening, Oppewall will present ‘Design and Ideas in the Film Industry’ at Calvin College. Both events are free and comprise the Loeks Inaugural Lecture in Film & Media, co-produced by Calvin College and Celebration! Cinema. RSVPs are required for the film screening. (Go here.)

About Jeannine Oppewall:
Professional on set, modest in her personal life, and an engaging conversationalist, Oppewall makes magic by turning a director’s vision (or lack thereof) into a coherent whole. Meticulous attention to detail is just one of her hallmarks. She has received numerous accolades, including the Camerimage Award to Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity in 2014. Photo credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Simply stated, Oppewall is responsible “for everything an actor walks in front of, sits on, drives through or picks up.” In addition, each item must be historically accurate, right down to the color and texture. She has worked on more than 30 movies in such roles as production designer, set decorator and set designer.

Depending on the project, Oppewall may or may not receive any overall direction. To illustrate the enormity of the job, each project may take up to nine months of her life, working 14-hour days.

“A large number of directors don’t have a vision,” she said. “Some are visual, some are verbal and some are not interested as long as I get the job done.”

For exJeannine_Oppewallample, on Bridges of Madison County, Clint Eastwood was very hands off. On Tender Mercies, Oppewall received only five or six specifications on production design from director Bruce Beresford.

“It depends on the individual,” she said.

Overall, to succeed in her field, designs must be clean, neat and simple. For Oppewall, this is not a problem; design is in her genes.

“I came from family of designers and tried to intellectualize my interest in art, theater and culture,” she said. “I wanted to be the family intellectual, but the genes won out.”

In an industry dominated by high-powered males, Oppewall credits her years as editor of Chimes, the Calvin College student newspaper, for toughening her up; working with the big boys in Hollywood doesn’t intimidate her one iota.

“I was young and stupid and chaotic and idea-driven,” said Oppewall of her tenure at Chimes. “I was full of righteousness. But I learned how to assert myself and stand up for myself. I gave as good as I got, and I learned how to deal with males.”

And she does not cry. Ever.

“I get angry, but I do not cry,” Oppewall says. “I don’t know how to do it.”

On rare occasions, however, she may be rendered speechless. In her twenties, she worked for iconic American designer Charles Eames. She had lucked into the job by first touring the Eames studio and then asking a secretary if there were any positions open. Serendipity. There was.

“They needed someone to curate the slide library, black-and-white negatives and photos, and do reading and research for the National Council of Arts,” Oppewall said. IMG_0160

Another aspect of the job concerned film post-production. She knew she could handle everything but film post-production. She didn’t let that stop her.

“I made a few phone calls and contacted someone I knew who was knowledgeable about film post-production,” said Oppewall. “He told me to meet him at the Technicolor plant. ‘I will show you what your job is,’ he told me. ‘If you know your job, it will make my job easier.’”

Much later, during a conversation with Eames, “out of nowhere, he broke out singing, ‘Jeannine, My Queen of Lilac Time,’ the same way my mother did when I was a young girl,” said Oppewall. “I was flummoxed.”

She has this advice for newcomers to the film industry: “In Hollywood, you can find out everything about anyone,” she said. “All it takes is two well-placed phone calls, and you will know everything about everybody, if you know just whom to call. Find two people who like you and want to help you. That is how you begin.”

About the film:
detailStarring Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who worked as a doctor, a lawyer, and as a co-pilot for a major airline—all before his 18th birthday.

Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a master of deception and also a brilliant forger, whose skill gave him his first real claim to fame: At the age of 17, Abagnale became the most successful bank robber in the history of the U.S. FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) makes it his prime mission to capture Frank and bring him to justice, but Frank is always one step ahead of him.

WHEN: October 6 at 7 p.m. WHERE: Celebration! Cinema North. Click here to RSVP.

About the lecture:
On October 7 at 7:30 p.m., Jeannine Oppewall will present ‘Design and Ideas in the Film Industry.’ Using illustrations and anecdotes, Oppewall will explain how she expresses color, shape, texture, location, and construction on a project.

“It’s something I do by instinct, and most people have no idea what I do,” said Oppewall.

The event is free and open to the public. WHERE: Covenant Fine Arts Center Recital Hall, Calvin College.