Cover Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) teaching her grandchildren Go-Stop, a traditional Korean card game. The living room is a prominent feature in the film (Image: IMDB, Courtesy of A24)

Ahead of this year’s Oscars ceremony, we give you a closer look at the inspiration behind the set design of three of this year’s Oscars-nominated films—Minari, Promising Young Woman, and Mank

We’re in the final lap of an unusually-extended awards season, which means that the Academy Awards is nearly upon us. In light of the pandemic and its advserse effects on the film industry, the eligibility criteria for the Oscars awards have been modified to include films that have been released directly to streaming services. 

Amongst this year’s Oscar nominees, there are a myriad of standout film designs with stunning and impactful interiors. As we await Hollywood’s most famous awards ceremony, we explore several stunning production sets, from the classic glamour of Mank to the cosy, rickety house in Minari.

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1. Mank

Set in 1930s Hollywood, David Fincher’s Mank has been lauded not just for its cinematography, but also for its impressive production design. The lavish set, broadcasting old Hollywood glamour, has landed it a nomination in the Best Production Design category. 

Production designer Donald Graham Burt, who previously clinched an Academy Award for Best Art Direction in 2009 for Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was tasked with creating the extravagant set with set decorator Jan Pascale. As the noir film pays homage to original 1930s films, it was shot in complete black-and-white, which was an extra hurdle for Burt and Pascale when it came to translating opulence on screen.

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Above Mank sees production designer Donald Graham Burt working closely with director David Fincher to recreate Hollywood in the 1930s

As filming at the original Hearst Castle is rarely allowed, the production team had to recreate the set on a soundstage instead. The interiors and exteriors of the extravagant set is reconstructed with intricate details. Various styles and influences—from Spanish revival elements to Gothic detailing—can be seen throughout the film. Large hanging tapestries, wooden paneling, and ornate fireplaces ups the old world glamour of the film set.

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2. Minari

Inspired by director Issac Lee Chang’s childhood, Minari explores a Korean family who immigrated to America in hopes for better opportunities. The semi-autobiographical film’s tender storyline and poignant cast have earned it critical acclaim, securing six nominations—including Best Picture.

Above Minari, directed by Issac Lee Chang, currently holds six nominations for 2021's Academy Awards

When the Yi family first pull up to the ‘house on wheels’, as lovingly described later on by Soon-ja (Yoon Yuh-Jung), it’s easy to dismiss the decrepit house propped on cinderblocks with an unimpressive façade. But as the family of four get settled, the house slowly shaped up to be more of a home. 

Located at a rural Arkansas countryside spot, the house is modeled after 1980s country living. Rustic wooden cabinetry and furniture pieces emit a cosy vibe, while the pastel yellow wallpaper and curtains that clad the walls and retro-style lampshades brings a vintage touch to the interior. 

In an interview with the American Film Institute, production designer Lee Yong Ok revealed that she procured most of the period furniture and decorations through yard sales and flea markets. “Even though I didn’t have firsthand experience of immigrant life in the ‘80s, I do remember how that period was like back home in Korea. I looked up some of my parents’ and grandmother’s photos to get a sense, as well as doing research on American cultural references.”

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Above Promising Young Woman is Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut feature

3. Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut feature, Promising Young Woman, has created quite a buzz since its theatrical release. The comedy thriller film prominently uses bright and bold colours to portray the film’s off-kilter approach and the protagonist's path of vengeance.

Fennel worked closely with costume designer Nancy Steiner and production designer Micheal Perry to reflect the film’s protagonist, the personality of Cassandra "Cassie" Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan). Cassie’s workplace, a coffee shop where she spends a large part of her time, features a pastel colour combination with a striking neon sign. The sign’s phrase lends a snide undertone, referencing the backward stereotype of a woman’s place in the kitchen. 

In an interview with Variety, Perry revealed that he deliberately designed Cassie’s parent’s house to radiate an atmosphere of being “trapped in time”. Retro decor pieces like vintage chaise lounges and eclectic decorative lamps decorate the space, with gold accents and ornate details tacking on the old baroque style.

The deliberate contrast between the dated house and other modern spaces reflects Cassie’s state of mind, of being stuck in the past after the key incident that have set her plans for revenge into motion. 

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