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THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN

The Making of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green"
Production designer Wynn Thomas, whose award-winning films include such a range of visuals from "Mars Attacks!" to "A Beautiful Mind," created sets for "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." "I really truly loved the story," says Thomas. "I loved the mystery of how Timothy comes into the lives of Cindy and Jim Green and the idea that this childless couple suddenly become parents and have to deal with the joys and tribulations of parenthood."

The story takes place in Stanleyville, which is a fictitious small town in Anywhere, USA. The generic license plates on the cars read "The Best Place to Live." Thomas felt from his first reading of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" that the movie felt as if it took place in Middle America. Thomas turned to arts references to create his designs. One of them was American photographer Gregory Crewdson, best known for elaborately staged, surreal scenes of American homes and neighborhoods.

Director Hedges remarks, "I like stories that take place in a small town because in a small town you are accountable.

For the look of our film, Wynn Thomas and I were on the same page from the beginning, which was amazing."

Thomas' color palette for the film was also greatly influenced by the iconic paintings of American illustrator Norman Rockwell and painter Edward Hopper. Says Thomas, "With both Rockwell and Hopper's work, you know without a doubt their depictions are happening in America. These pictures tell a very significant story with few details, and this is one of the things I wanted to do with this film."

Thomas notes the coincidence that Peter Hedges, cinematographer John Toll and costume designer Susie DeSanto were also referencing the same photographers and artists when they all met for the first time in pre-production.

Thomas' designs were best showcased under the eye of double-Oscar -winning cinematographer, John Toll. Producer Jim Whitaker says, "John Toll is a master. There's not really much you can say except there are probably only a few living directors of photography that are as accomplished as he is. I'm most impressed with the fact that it didn't matter what we were shooting. He took the exact same care to shoot. He put the exact amount of energy into every shot in the entire film."

Location Hunting

Since the film's story takes place over one autumn into winter, the production had to find a part of the country where they could shoot autumn, even though it was mid-winter. They looked to Atlanta-not only did the Atlanta metropolitan area have the landscapes to support the visuals needed, it also boasted a great infrastructure of film crew.

This is producer Scott Sanders' second time staying for an extended period of time in Atlanta. In 2005 he developed his Tony Award -winning musical "The Color Purple" at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre. "Georgia was always at the top of my list for our filming location," says Sanders. "The people of Atlanta and the surrounding communities have been so incredibly nice to us. The sheer beauty of the locations we had on this film was breathtaking."

The production crew found themselves discovering locations all throughout Georgia as far southwest outside of Atlanta as Newnan, where the Crudstaff mansion location set was on Granville Road, to northeast of Atlanta in Newborn, where the exterior of the Green family house was built on Broughton Street.

Other Georgia locations included the interior of the pencil factory in Monroe, the nursery interiors and exteriors in Decatur, the soccer field scenes in Tucker, the remote bridge location in Rex, the exterior woods in Alpharetta and the town hall set interior in Canton, inside The Cherokee Arts Center auditorium.

The Stanleyville Pencil Factory

The Stanleyville Pencil Factory set was created in Monroe, Georgia, inside an abandoned textile factory warehouse. Thomas scouted over 25 working factories all throughout Georgia prior to filming to be able to depict with realism the workspaces and factory machinery floor plan. Using earth-tone colors, Thomas made a point to have the workspaces of the characters inside the pencil factory reflect their personalities. Jim Green's workspace inside the factory is most illuminated, while Franklin Crudstaff's office is totally enclosed, tight and dark.

Thomas was also drawn to the Monroe warehouse location for the Stanleyville Pencil Factory set because the light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows was magical.

Also, through the windows one can see a huge smokestack, which, with the help of the VFX department, was transformed into a large pencil for the film. Thomas also visited one of the few operating pencil factories in the United States to see pencils actually being manufactured. He duplicated these old-school techniques inside his set, using conveyor belts and mock painting machinery. He even rented a few key pieces of machinery from the General Pencil Factory in Jersey City. Hundreds of pencils were stamped with the Stanleyville name on the side, a detail you may never see on film, but which added realism for the actors' performances.

The second unit shooting crew for the film also traveled to the Musgrave Pencil Factory in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where they shot close-ups of the pencil-making equipment. Thomas comments, "The fascinating thing is that there are only a handful of pencil factories remaining in the country and the technology in those factories has not changed in the last fifty years."

Green House Interior

Both the upstairs and downstairs of the interior of Cindy and Jim Green's house were built on a stage in Atlanta, Georgia. The furnishings of the home reflect that the Greens live on a modest budget and that most of their furniture is gifted or used and has a history to it.

Wallpapers were aged and the dark wood floors weathered to look lived in. From the antique fireplace to the living room workshop where the Greens create their unique pencil, the Greencil, there is both a feeling of coziness and a sense of practicality.

"Everything feels lived in," says production designer Thomas. "They are iconic and simple furnishings, not fussy. Old, but not ratty. Timeless, not period décor."

Adds director Peter Hedges, "It was a fine balance to be current and not kitsch. Above all, it needed to feel like this was a home eager for a child."

Says set decorator Brana Rosenfeld, who shopped at countless flea markets and consignment stores to find just the right pieces for the interior of the Green home, "The challenge is to seek out and fill the rooms with unique 'used' pieces that reflect the depth of the characters who live there. The only piece of new furniture in the house is the crib, which was deliberately chosen to add to the visual story."

Peter Hedges adds, "Once Timothy enters the story, the house needed to feel full of life all the time. Early in the story there is a loneliness, an emptiness, in those hours after Cindy and Jim have been told they won't be able to conceive a child."

Prop master Ritchie Kremer had to create a variety of prop items, such as cowbells, BBQ recipes, flyers for pencil factory meetings, Crudstaff donation box, soccer trophies, Timothy's drawing of Mrs. Crudstaff, "Greencil," Timothy's envelope for Joni's note, water coolers, wrapped packages and birthday cakes… just to name a few.

One of the items Kremer had to create was the box that Cindy and Jim Green bury in the backyard with their "wish child" attributes inside. Kremer had made a box for his dad in his junior high school wood-shop class that he thought might be a good fit for the job.

He showed the box to Peter Hedges who really liked it. They ended up using Kremer's vintage box and making duplicate boxes of it for the film.

Green House Exterior

In Newborn, Georgia, on Broughton Street, sits a colonialtype house on a 10-acre property. The long driveway that leads up to the house showcases the large oak trees and Cindy Green's garden.

As this house is a key character in the film, it had to transition from summer to fall to winter. Thomas and his team changed the set to reflect the timing of the story. The house paint was dulled down for the beginning scenes when Timothy just arrives and as the story progresses, the house gets a new coat of paint and the front yard lights up with family gatherings and children playing.

The exterior of the Green house embodied the frustration and hope of the Greens, particularly when filming the night scenes in the rain. The special effects department pelted rain from 75 feet in the air, while massive fans created 70 mph winds as Cindy and Jim dig in the garden.

Says Garner about that fateful evening of night shooting, "There we were, Joel and I, in the 40-degree, rainy night air, on our knees digging in the mud. The whole crew was in foul-weather gear and looked like they were on a ship. That to me is making a movie. The whole world is asleep but we are all are awake because we are a team making something together."

Nursery Garden

The scenes between the Greens and botanist Reggie Marks, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, took place at a very well-known nursery in Decatur, Georgia. This nursery is the home of world-renowned landscape artist and gardener Ryan Gainey. From topiaries to cacti, a huge variety of plants and flowers could be seen flourishing in Gainey's masterpiece gardens.

Gainey purchased five lots side by side and for over 40 years has been creating the most magnificent garden paradise. Gainey lives in the garden cottage that is the main house and has built several glass greenhouses as homes for his plants.

This green wonderland has something blooming in the garden 12 months out of the year, regardless of weather or season. It was the perfect fit for the scenes to be shot for the film and many crew members were gifted with seedlings by Gainey so they could take a little piece of this incredible dream garden home with them.

Crudstaff Mansion

The Crudstaff mansion set was quite a find for Wynn Thomas and his team. Originally a two-story, Greek-revival structure, this home was remodeled in the mid-1880s to a Victorian style. Over the next century, it changed hands frequently and was not cared for, and in the early 1980s, in dilapidated condition, it was purchased by the Soucy family.

The Soucy family restored the house within two years in accordance with the National Park Service guidelines and for their efforts received an award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by the Trammell family. Double Oscar -winning actress Dianne Wiest plays Bernice Crudstaff, who lives in the mansion. Thomas used lots of lace and fabric curtains, along with big wooden furniture and stuffy chairs in rich fabrics, to bring to life the feeling of this matriarch. The Crudstaff mansion represents the old-money part of the community, while the Greens' home represents the average person's décor.

Best House Interior and Exterior

The Best house interior and exterior was shot in the wellto- do Druid Hills neighborhood in Atlanta. The décor was perfect inside, reflecting the personality of Brenda Best, Cindy Green's sister, played by Rosemarie DeWitt. One of the most memorable scenes in the film takes place here at the Best family yearly music recital.

The Greens take a stab at having any musical talent to the sounds of the band War's classic "Low Rider," being played on cowbells and makeshift bongos.

Says production designer Thomas, "Each of the families in the film, the Greens, the Bests and the Crudstaffs, all have their own color palette. Brenda Best's colors are muted, and so are the Greens, but with Timothy's arrival, things start to pop with color and transition."

The interior Best family set was inside one house and right next-door to that house was the exterior set of the Best family home. Call it movie magic when it blends together seamlessly on film.

Season to Season

Greensman extraordinaire Daniel J. Gillooly ("Alice in Wonderland," "Edward Scissorhands," "True Grit") had a huge challenge on "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" to create a look for all of the seasons, even though filming was happening in the middle of winter.

When existing trees were barren and within the shot, Gillooly and his 12-person team worked their movie magic but not without some very labor-intensive, handmade efforts.

Silk leaves were attached one-by-one to tree branches. So the existing branches were not damaged, the leaves would be attached using plastic rings and the rings would each be hand-painted to blend in with the color of the tree bark. Some trees had more than 50,000 leaves attached to them by hand. One of the beautiful autumnal-colored trees on location in Rex, Georgia, took one greens artist a week to hand-apply the leaves to the tree.

When production was in full swing, Gillooly had tapped out all of his silk leaf suppliers and was asking silk leaf factories to produce more for him.

The leaves had to range in all colors and shapes. Some of the tree types included pin oak, white oak, Canadian oak, maple and birch in colors of green, yellow, red, orange and transitional mixes.

In addition to dressing existing trees, and creating 40 trees from scratch that could be moved from set to set, the greens department also took pride in spraying grass green, building roads and driveways, adding grass, flowers and ivy, as well as using greenery to cover up the production's cables or equipment.

Says Gillooly, "Sometimes I would be driving on the road in Georgia and I would see a really great- looking dead tree in someone's yard and I would knock on their front door and ask if I could take it away for them. They would look at me like I was crazy, asking if I could use their dead tree for a movie."

Production designer Wynn Thomas adds, "Dan Gillooly and his incredible team are really the heroes of this film. They were able to take landscapes that were completely barren and leafless and turn them into lush autumnal or summer trees."

One of the stunning examples of Gillooly's work is the set in Rex, Georgia, next to the old historic Rex Mill. We see Timothy Green and Joni Jerome riding on a bike over a small wooden bridge next to a babbling brook with a forest of trees displaying the oranges, reds and yellows of fall. To all who witnessed the set on these days, it was as if experiencing a genuine autumnal day, when in reality it was the middle of winter.

Says Gillooly, "Our work becomes part of the set. Nobody knows what we really do and if you don't notice it, well, we have done our job right!"

Where Dan Gillooly's team would leave off with their practical efforts, visual effects supervisor Paul O'Shea would pick up with his computer-generated artistry. Early on in the project, the producers sat down with O'Shea, Peter Hedges, production designer Wynn Thomas and Dan Gillooly to determine the overall look of the film and figure out what landscapes they could create practically and what landscapes they would need to create using digital enhancement.

O'Shea did a scout to Georgia the fall before filming began and photographed more than 2,000 trees in various state and national parks. He created a library of different looks and colors and then created his own pre-visualization reference shots that he showed to Peter Hedges. In the process, O'Shea became a more knowledgeable botanist than he ever imagined.

Overlapping extensively with the art and greens department, O'Shea, who was a painter before getting into the film business, took his nature references and tailored them to the story points.

As discussed with Hedges in pre-production, sets were to feel and look as natural as possible, and as the story progresses, the colors of the trees change. For example, as Timothy Green and Joni begin to develop a deeper and deeper friendship with each other, the leaves on the trees are rich with crimson and orange design.

Says Peter Hedges, "There is something very poetic to the fall. There's a sense of life passing."

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