Share & Connect
New movie ‘Savages’ begins in an idyllic California dream, and as it progresses, that reverie becomes a nightmare. “There wasn’t one wild idea that Oliver [Stone] didn’t get excited about,” says production designer Tomás Voth. “Because it’s ‘Savages’, it’s a slightly different view of reality. Early on, we agreed that there’s a subtext of hypocrisy: who calls who a savage and the notion that anybody can become one. Plus, there is a complex weave of Americans and Mexicans in California. There’s a border, but they are so much a part of each other that you almost don’t notice it. The idea was to translate that into visuals, so we had potent, vibrant colors. We wanted a hard edge and didn’t want the film to be monochromatic. That freed me to do wilder things than usual.”
The peripatetic production began at a Malibu beach house but traveled to such locales as Pyramid Dam in the mountains north of L.A., Dana Point and Laguna Beach to the south, the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley and Pacific Palisades, and downtown L.A. Voth had to rapidly refashion each site into a ‘Savages’ set.
“I’ve done a lot of stage work, but that didn’t feel right for this film,” he says. “The locations became so much a part of the design. Oliver and I were inspired by the locations when we saw them. He would start seeing the scene in a slightly different way because of the layout of the house or the geography of the landscape. The distribution of each space affected the dynamic of every scene.”
Producer Eric Kopeloff adds: “If we have to build, we try it on real locations. We did one day on a stage because we wanted to incorporate four different locations and that was the only way to do it. But 95 percent of our sets were practical locations, as close to what the script described as possible. So when you look out the window, there’s the actual ocean and the sun going down. You’re fighting the elements, but when you shoot that shot and the birds are flying by, it’s real…and helpful for the actors.”
While the company lensed for a week in Laguna Beach and Dana Point, aspects unique to production impacted the time spent there. “Our plan was to shoot a third of the movie in Orange County, two-thirds in L.A.,” says the producer. “We needed to make the movie in the spring and summertime because of the weather and light we wanted. We hit a lot of roadblocks—places that weren’t excited about us shooting there because of the content. And then we got into simple logistics. Laguna makes its money during the summer through tourism, so our footprint there had to be mitigated to after Labor Day. We came down for a week to establish the look and then came back after Labor Day to access the beach shots that required our actors.”
Image Courtesy of Savages