THE BIG WEDDING
Planning the Big Wedding
Bringing The Big Wedding to life was, in many ways, a lot like planning an actual marriage ceremony -- and, like any good wedding, a lot of the atmosphere depended on the people behind the scenes. Working closely with Zackham was an accomplished crew including director of photography Jonathan Brown, ASC, production designer Andrew Jackness and costume designer Aude Bronson-Howard. They all convened in Connecticut to make every detail as vivid -- and in synch with the comedy -- as possible.
It all started with the Griffins' home -- and site of the wedding -- which Zackham wanted to feel as warm, inviting and as full of quirks as the family. It fell to Andrew Jackness to find just the right house to dovetail with their story. "The house was a very difficult location to find," Jackness explains, "because it needed a lake, it needed a lawn large enough to produce a wedding on and it needed a house that not only felt right for who the Griffins are but was comfortable and shootable. Luckily, we found the perfect venue: a house that's airy and open on the inside, sits directly on the lake and was fairly new but had a classic, flowing design. Best of all, the lawn was just big enough to fit the wedding tent."
Inside the Griffin home, Jackness focused on a casual, artsy vibe, befitting Don as a sculptor and his quirky girlfriend Bebe -- whose taste is confined to one comic set piece room. "Justin has a really strong visual eye and he wanted everything to be based on character," says Jackness. "So for example we had to create a lot of 'pug art' on the walls for Susan Sarandon's character who has a pug fixation. We also had to come up with a style for Don's sculptures, so we brought in a real sculptor and he created some amazing pieces of art."
Later, the production moved outside to carefully handcraft the wedding environs. As with any wedding, the filmmakers had to hash out colors and themes from endless options. "We ultimately decided on a 33 by 81 foot wedding tent with 15 tables, a stage and an altar -- and the fun part was showing how this world evolves as the story moves from pre-wedding to wedding to post-wedding," says Jackness. "We all agreed on a palette of pastels -- with lavenders, soft creams and pinks. It was a just like a real wedding. We had to pick out the china, choose the flowers, figure out who was going to sit at what table . . . even the wedding cake was edible!"
Jackness coordinated closely with costume designer Aude Bronson-Howard throughout. As with the house, Bronson-Howard wanted the Griffin family's attire to express their highly individual personalities. "This is a pretty artsy, wacky family but they also have a lot of class," she points out. "I didn't want to make them look too serious or stuffy, so they adults are all slightly eccentric while still being sophisticated."
For Robert De Niro, Bronson-Howard went for "loose and easy, since he is an artist who doesn't necessarily fit into the Greenwich scene." Then she contrasted Keaton and Sarandon's characters, characterizing Ellie as "very much her own person in the way that Diane is very much her own person" and Bebe as "sexy and fun, with a bit of her own Southern style mixed with Greenwich colors."
In a twist on the usual expectations, Bronson-Howard made the decision to dress the younger generation a bit more conventionally and conservatively than their wilder elders. "The parental generation of Griffins is a lot more unruly," she laughs, "and they're the ones who get into more trouble! The groom, Alejandro, is probably the most conservatively dressed of them all. He's the one who is just trying to go with the flow."
Then came the coup de grace of any wedding, no matter how fraught: the dress.
Bronson-Howard had a blast with envisioning different looks for Amanda Seyfried as Missy. "Amanda is just a dream to dress," she notes. "She can wear anything and always looks stunning. Throughout the first part of the movie she really has her Greenwich, Connecticut look in her Lily Pulitzer outfits. For the wedding, we wanted something not quite traditional, with a looser, less formal feel befitting the not-so-traditional Griffin family."
As any bride would, Bronson-Howard started by looking at every dress design concept out there. "We started with racks and racks full of the latest wedding dresses from all kinds of designers," she acknowledges. "Then we had a long fitting session with Amanda and you name it, she tried it on. She tried on long, poofy, slinky and more. Then she put on one dress that I found on a sale rack that was kind of ill-fitting but it had this amazing fabric. The fabric reminded me of a mermaid's skin because it was so delicate and had such lovely movement. As a character, Missy is such a cheerful, happy-go-lucky person that the look just felt right."
Inspired, Bronson-Howard took the unconventional fabric and turned it into a flowing, floral gown that is at once relaxed and resplendent. "When Amanda put it on, she looked so radiant and fun," the designer muses. "It was lovely on her but also loose enough that she could run around in it during all that goes on in this crazy wedding. It lent a theme to the wedding with a frothy, frilly atmosphere."
Of course beneath the froth and frills of The Big Wedding, friction is mounting. Yet the crazier and more out-of-control things get, the more connected the Griffins keep discovering that they feel.
That, says Zackham, is what he hopes people leave the Griffin wedding with on top of the laughs: the picture of how a family calamity can become an occasion of unbridled love. He summarizes: "My goal was to make an honest comedy where you feel like you've really gotten to know this family. And then, at the end of the day, when you strip away all the funny misunderstandings and snags that lead up to the wedding, you see that what's really important is that they're all still standing together."
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