Meet the Production Designer Who Created Mozart's Bedroom

Creating a set isn't just "picking out curtains," says Oscar winner Patrizia von Brandenstein, this year's recipient of the Art Designers Guild's lifetime achievement award.
Courtesy of Art Director's Guild
Patrizia von Brandenstein

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

She did Mozart's bedroom, designed Eliot Ness' office and put Sigourney Weaver's face into an Andy Warhol painting — but that's only part of the reason Patrizia von Brandenstein, 72, will be receiving the Art Directors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award at the ADG's 20th annual gala Jan. 31. "People think you pick out curtains and towels and chairs," she says, explaining the art of production design (as the first woman ever to win an Oscar for the craft — for 1984's Amadeus — she ought to know). "But the primary responsibility is translating the story in visual terms so the vision of the director and cinematographer can coalesce and the dream can come true."

Von Brandenstein grew up in Arizona, worked as a seamstress on Broadway in the 1960s, moved to Hollywood in the '70s to begin a career as a costume designer (she created John Travolta's white suit for Saturday Night Fever) then transitioned to production design in the '80s. Her collaborators have included Brian De Palma on The Untouchables, Mike Nichols on Working Girl ("Sigourney still has it," she says of the Warholian portrait of the actress commissioned for the film) and Milos Forman on Amadeus. "I'm not sure how I fell in with this crowd," she says. These days, she's still mingling with impressive people; she's working with Hunger Games screenwriter Billy Ray on a pilot for Amazon based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon. "[Amazon] is fantastic," she says. "It's like having a project open in a couple million theaters."

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