"So how does a novelist get such a
fancy house in the Hollywood Hills?"
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
FIGHTER and costume designer Nancy Steiner, with whom they previously worked on
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
faĆ§ade 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,"
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
"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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