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This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Seibel, a French production designer whose creative talents and ability to speak English have made her “the go-to girl” for Hollywood productions that shoot in France — her credits include Steven Spielberg‘s Munich (2005), Sofia Coppola‘s Marie Antoinette (2006), Clint Eastwood‘s Hereafter (2010) — and whose work on one, Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris, has now earned her a trip to the Oscars on Feb. 26 as a nominee for the best art direction Oscar. (I encourage you to check out the audio of our full conversation at the top of this post.)
It’s a heady time for Seibel. Normally based in Paris, she is staying as a guest at the home of her friend, mentor, and fellow nominee for best art direction Rick Carter (War Horse); attended the Oscar nominees luncheon, where she laughed with fellow best art direction nominee Laurence Bennett (The Artist) about the fact that he is an American nom’d for his work on a French-financed film shot in America while she is a Frenchwoman nom’d for her work on an American-financed film shot in France; and will, the day before the Oscars, participate on an Art Directors Guild panel at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre with all of her fellow nominees for best art direction.
I was thrilled that she granted me a full hour of her time to discuss her journey from childhood (she designed the sets for “shows” that she would put on with her cousins), to schooling (she intended to become an architect and studied at Paris’ prestigious Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture school), to the series of happy accidents that led to her first gig on a movie set (which happened to be the 1985 James Bond film A View to Kill), to Woody Allen (after a series of impressive jobs before that).
Specific to Midnight in Paris, we discussed: the challenges of scoring the job of production designer (Allen and his sister/producer Letty Aronson essentially auditioned people for it); working within the sort of limited budget on which all Allen movies are made (there was no money for major construction, which meant that she had to recreate bygone eras within modern locales); designing an opening sequence that Allen would like (they wound up showing Paris landmarks from unconventional views, accompanied by rain and music but no dialogue); conveying the fantastical transition from the present back into the past, which is so central to the premise of the film (location, colors, and lighting mattered a lot); recreating the Paris of La Belle Epoque and the 1920s (all the more difficult because many of its iconic structures, such as the Moulin Rouge, no longer exist); and much more.
Last May, Midnight in Paris premiered at Cannes and was released in the United States, and became a huge critical and commercial success. And around that time, long before the Academy showed its appreciation for Seibel’s work on the film, she received the ultimate seal of approval from the person she hoped to please the most with it: Allen himself. The iconic 76-year-old asked her to serve as the production designer on his next film, even though it was to film outside of her comfort-zone of France; she agreed; and they have since completed Nero Fiddled, which she describes as a love letter to Rome in the way that Midnight in Paris is a love letter to Paris. It will be released later this year.
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