When the 25th Art Directors Guild Awards are handed out during today’s virtual ceremony, Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to production designer Stuart Wurtzel, concept artist John Eaves, scenic artist Patrick DeGreve, and set designer Martha Johnston. And Ryan Murphy will receive the Guild’s Cinematic Imagery Award during the virtual event, which begins with a pre-show at 3 p.m. PT followed by the ceremony at 4 p.m. PT.
Wurtzel’s credits include Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, for which he received an Oscar nomination; and three Peter Yates films including Suspect, The House on Carroll Street and An Innocent Man. In television, he’s perhaps best known for HBO miniseries Angels in America, for which he designed New York during the 1980s AIDS crisis, garnering him both an Emmy and ADG Award in 2004. He was additionally nominated for an Emmy and received an ADG Award for Empire Falls, and he received another Emmy nomination for Little Gloria…Happy at Last.
Reflecting on his work on Angeles in America, directed by Mike Nichols and based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, Wurtzel says heaven was his biggest challenge. “I think it was so amorphous and so undescribed,” he says. “In the play, it’s representative of San Francisco. … but I think it was just that we didn’t actually know where we wanted to go or what we wanted it to be.”
In the end, the heave scene was filmed at Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome. “When Villa Adriana, or Hadrian’s Villa, came up in photographs and pictures, I think [Nichols] just said, ‘we’ve got to go’ because what it did was it represented the classical world, the classical world under destruction, and it could be the beginning of something. Once we resolved that and decided on that, we just went full steam ahead.”
For the set of Prior Walter’s apartment, based on a New York brownstone, Wurtzel relates that he needed “enough floor space without the apartment seeming overly big. So I put in a center arch supported by a couple of columns on each side. By seeing the arch and columns, it sort of suggested it’s two rooms, but the main open space is basically one floor plan. So it gives you more floor space to work with–it’s a little bit of an architectural trick–but also it pays homage to the play. The arch sort of acted as a proscenium.” This arch served another function, he says, “I wanted to give the angel an entrance.”
Looking ahead, Wurtzel acknowledges that remote working will be part of the future of his craft, thought he prefers to have the team together in person.”I personally just like to have more bodies around because you could talk to somebody, you could work out problems instantaneously, you can go to your board and push the pencil around. But I do think that there will be more from-home in the future, certainly I think until this pandemic is way behind us.”