'Joy': How Production Design Made QVC the Emerald City

"We wanted the set to be really bright," says production designer Judy Becker.
Screengrab/20th Century Fox

To tell the story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, Joy director David O. Russell reteamed with his longtime production designer, Judy Becker, who earned an Oscar nomination for her work on his prior film, American Hustle (and who, this year, was also production designer on Todd Haynes’ Carol).

“We talked about Joy being a very classic movie and having a feeling of timelessness,” says Becker of O. Russell’s latest film. “David wanted the beginning of the film to feel like black and white — because literal black and white would have felt unreal — so we came up with this classic, almost desaturated, almost black and white palette for a feeling of timelessness and also a feeling of stasis because Joy is trapped in this part of her life. We did it in camera with faded wallpapers that we bleached down a lot [in Joy’s home], and contrasting that were the darks in Rudy’s garage.”

When Joy gets to QVC, the palette changes as she finds herself in the colorful world. "It was a huge push to get that done on camera. It was like The Wizard of Oz, going from black and white to color and also the feeling of going to the Emerald City,” explains Becker.

“It was a huge set: QVC in the ‘80s did have a revolving turntable with different sets on it; I’d never designed a moving set before. It was really fun, and it was complicated,” she says. “We wanted the set to be really bright. But it was a balancing act because we had some really bright costumes, and if everything had been at that level, nothing would have stood out, and you want her to stand out. It was, for instance, balancing very bright furniture with slightly less bright wallpaper, a bright carpet and bright costume. Bright painting was easy to do, but finding the right bright fabrics and carpets was hard. We went through a lot of color samples.”

This was a more stylized approach compared to the actual QVC sets from the ‘80s, “which were simpler and less colorful. [In reality,] the QVC set was a work environment, and we pushed it much more in terms of telling the story. Sometimes reality isn’t going to tell the story as well as we do as designers.”

Incidentally, O. Russell is slated to receive the Cinematic Imagery Award at the upcoming 20th annual Art Directors Guild's Excellence in Production Design Awards. “David is really unique in the way he approaches movies visually. I think he does something nobody else does in the way he uses space to tell the story with the actors,” says Becker, adding that for O. Russell “to be awarded and recognized in this way shows that we’re able to think of production design as something more than the traditional building of sets: It’s re-creating the world of the movie.”