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THE STEPFATHER

Home Sweet Home
Dylan Walsh says his character is attached to the idea of being "king of his castle.” To create the perfect "castle” for Walsh's diabolical stepfather, the filmmakers called upon production designer Steven Jordan "In all of my work I treat the sets as characters,” says Jordan. To "cast” the house in The Stepfather, he had to find something with everything the script called for, something that would work for the stunts and specifications the story demanded. "We decided on the Craftsman style because it lent itself most to good visuals – an expansive first floor and lots of depth and lighting possibilities,” he says. "We did an exhaustive search of Craftsman homes in Pasadena, but we needed a home with a swimming pool, certain sight lines from rooms in the home, and a third story with an attic.” Because of the film's Portland, Oregon, setting, they also had to find a home without palm trees – not so easy in palm-lined Pasadena.

They found several homes with two of their three requirements, and ultimately fell in love with beautiful house that was perfect…except it only had two stories. To remedy the situation, "I actually had the design team design and build a third story attic that we sat on the roof of the home and painted to match. "It was actually rather successful,” he laughs. "Neighbors would come by and felt it had always been there.”

They shot in the house and also used its newly-three-story status for exteriors, including the climactic fight that bursts from the attic onto the backyard below. For interior attic shots, they built a replica of the third story attic on a soundstage.

The challenges in designing a movie that takes place in a home include facilitating a variety of lighting requirements, accommodating dramatic camera movements, and enabling enough arresting angles from which to shoot. Jordan focused on creating "a set that had enough depth, windows, and architectural interest to sustain that volume of work.”

He and his team also worked hard to give the home a realistic, lived-in family feel. "It's so important to create a place where the actors feel motivated and really feel at home,” Jordan says. "The decorators spend a lot of time helping develop the characters through their use of set dressing.” Stepping into the minds of the actors (and often working with them), the design team looked for answers to questions like, "Where do I pay bills? Where's my computer? Where's the garbage can, so I can use it when I'm working at the computer writing my bills?”

For instance, Jordan says, "For Sela's character, we turned her into a bit of a cook and a collector.” They stocked her home with Roseville pottery. "Roseville was the natural thing, given the vintage of the home and the abundance of it in the Western United States.” Befitting a thriller, the decorators also carefully sprinkled the house with "weapons of mass destruction in every room,” Jordan laughs. "It's nuanced. You try to foreshadow in very subtle ways. Knives and tools everywhere, but to give the audience credit you're subtle in how you do it.”

Overall, knives or not, Jordan repeats the same mantra oft-repeated by The Stepfather's director and cast. "It's about everything being based in reality,” he says. In making a film, "all of us, no matter what your craft, are storytellers.”

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