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During their research to create Ben and Chon’s business for the movie ‘Savages’, director Oliver Stone and production designer Tomás Voth visited existing grow houses in the L.A. area. “They were everywhere, from the Valley to downtown,” the designer says, “but they are basically just plants with lights on them. If you didn’t know it was marijuana, there’s almost nothing to it. I started to wonder how we would make a grow house cinematic. I went back to an idea I had about using a regular house with a swimming pool. So, in Pacific Palisades, we found this wonderful house from the 1960s that had a covered courtyard with a pool that was perfect.”
This residence is perched at the peak of a winding, narrow hill in the Palisades, its sprawling backyard overlooking the Topanga Mountains and the ocean. Although that setting proved to be challenging in terms of staging support vehicles and gear, it offered the perfect venue for a high-end marijuana nursery. The props and set decorations required for this scene were quite specific to master growers Ben and Chon: jars of dope, centrifuges, a gas spectrum meter, drip system, grow lamps and, of course, the pièce de résistance, an indoor swimming pool filled with a prodigious amount of fake pot plants.
Filling the area with fecund cannabis was another unique challenge for Voth and his crew. It wasn’t as if they could rent a cache of marijuana. Voth explains: “For legal reasons, we couldn’t have a single real pot plant. For months, we developed a way of making the fake ones look ok for the wide shots. When you’re dealing with plastic and silks, it’s sometimes hard to make it resemble a living plant. For the tighter shots, we used a combination of several materials, after a lot of trial and error.” He adds, slyly, “none of which I would recommend smoking.”
The effect was so realistic that it fooled the cast and crew for a split second. Says art director Lisa Vasconcellos: “It was the coolest thing to watch people come to the set and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ People would walk up to the plants and smell them, knowing they were fake. That’s the fun of this film. We saw how far past the edge we could go. We could always come back, but if we didn’t try, what’s the point?”
Image Courtesy of Savages