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Calvin's World
"So how does a novelist get such a fancy house in the Hollywood Hills?" -- Ruby

The world of RUBY SPARKS is contemporary Los Angeles - a city where people tend to interact in houses, apartments and offices rather than out on the streets. This is even more true of Calvin, who lives mainly in his head until Ruby comes into his world. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris envisioned the film as taking place largely in three visually evocative houses: Calvin's stark, minimalist bachelor pad; the hippie idyll of Calvin's mother Gertrude, where she meets Ruby; and the grand mansion where the imperious Langdon Tharp throws a fateful party.

To bring all this to life with the same buoyant energy of the script, they worked with a superb visual team that includes director of photography Matthew Libatique, who garnered a 2011 Oscar nomination for BLACK SWAN, production designer Judy Becker, whose recent work includes SHAME and THE FIGHTER and costume designer Nancy Steiner, with whom they previously worked on LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

Albert Berger comments, "L.A. is a character in this film and it was very important to Zoe, Jon and Val that the locations be picked very carefully. The story is grounded in reality and we use places that real people go in L.A.: El Coyote restaurant, Cafe Figaro, Skylight Books, the Egyptian Theatre and Griffith Park. Every scene takes place in the same neck of the woods in an organic way."

The visual design began with Calvin's house, a blindingly white, linear cube nestled in the East Side neighborhood of Los Feliz overlooking the downtown Los Angeles skyline. The chosen house was designed and built by J. Frank Fitzgibbons, a renowned modernist architect.

"Fitzgibbons is no longer living, but his widow, Irma, lives in the house that he designed for them as a couple," explains Judy Becker. "It's an amazing house with a lot of architectural planes, and this mazelike feeling with staircases going up and down -- and we loved the idea that you could play with having the characters on different levels and different planes throughout the storytelling. It allows the scene where Calvin first finds Ruby in his house to be so fun and physical."

Dayton & Faris say the house reminded them of an Escher drawing with all its kinetic energy. "It's as if we are inside Calvin's head, lost in a maze of multiple levels and stairways. It's a colorless world of white surfaces, not unlike the blank page that vexes him," comments Dayton. "It was a very challenging place to photograph, but our D.P., Matthew Libatique, did an amazing job capturing the multifaceted white world . . . before Ruby brings some color into Calvin's life."

When Calvin takes Ruby to meet his mother and her lover up in lush Big Sur on the central coast, they are instantly transported to a very different realm, an enclave of unbridled sensuality. In searching for a real house that could evince some wildly unconventional qualities, the filmmakers came across famed puppeteer/producer Sid Krofft's ("H.R. Pufnstuf") sprawling home at the top of Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Hand-built in the 1970s, it was perfectly eccentric.

"It's just a spectacular kind of Hippie House," Becker describes. "It really does feel like you're in another world within. There are inner gardens, there are tree houses, there's a spectacular pool, and there's all sorts of dense foliage almost in the house. It's a one-of-a-kind environment and we were really grateful to have Sid on board. He's never allowed the house to be filmed or even photographed before, so this will be a truly unique experience for the audience."

The third house where Calvin and Ruby's romance takes yet another turn belongs to Langdon Tharp, but is in reality a work of the architect Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Ornamented in the style known as Mayan Revival, the house is known both as The Sowden House and the "Jaws House," because its faƧade resembles the mouth of an attacking shark. It is also infamous as the home of Dr. George Hodel, a prime suspect in the 1947 Black Dahlia murder. In 2001, it was renovated by Xorin Balbes, who installed the courtyard pool where Ruby takes a dip with Langdon.

"The Lloyd Wright House is a one of a kind place," says Becker, "It's all closed walls surrounding a courtyard with layers of glass doors and hallways in between. It's definitely got that indoor/outdoor, California-living feel to it. Even though it's on Franklin Avenue, which is a very busy street, you feel like you're completely out of the city and enclosed in another environment."

As he moves through the film, Becker subtly expanded the colors in Calvin's world. "His world starts out pretty neutral, but Ruby brings with her reds and teals and violets," she says.

Similar palette shifts are at the heart of costume designer Nancy Steiner's work. She slowly takes Calvin from bland and blah to a more vibrant wardrobe in the wake of Ruby's logic-busting arrival. "Calvin is someone who could easily fade into the background before Ruby enters his life," she describes. "At first, he wears mostly sand colors, oatmeal, beige and a little bit of white, which blends with the white of his walls. And then, very subtly, color and patterns come more and more."

As for Ruby, she instantly comes into existence in exciting, dynamic shades. "Zoe had a lot of input, but miraculously, it happened quite naturally that we really like each other's taste," she says. "We both wanted an artsy quality to her clothes and a lot of creativity."

Reuniting with Dayton & Faris was an inspiring endeavor for Steiner. "They really care a lot about every physical detail of their films," she notes.

Dayton & Faris hope that all those details combined with the clever twists of Kazan's story will add up to something surprising for audiences as they ponder whether Ruby Sparks really exists or lives only in Calvin's head.

"The story leaves some questions open for discussion," concludes Faris, "we hope that people will leave the theatre with something to talk about." Adds Dayton: "Despite this movie's high-concept premise, we think audiences will identify with Calvin's predicament." Kazan chimes in, "I am so proud of the movie we made. After such a happy collaboration, we are really excited to share the film with an audience, hear their reactions, start that conversation."


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