Kave Quinn Takes Us To 1930s' Hollywood, 1960s' London In "Judy"
Kave Quinn
Production designer reflects on biggest challenges, doing justice to Judy Garland, collaborating with director Rupert Goold

While Renée Zellweger has deservedly received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy (Roadside Attractions)--and Darci Shaw for playing Garland as a child star--production designer Kave Quinn deserves “supporting actors” consideration as both of those performances were enhanced by her work recreating the worlds of 1930s’ Hollywood and ‘60s London that the superstar singer/actress inhabited.

Specifically Quinn helps take us back to London in the late 1960s when Garland is in dire straits, has health issues, can’t get a well paying gig in the U.S. and is struggling with her third ex-husband Sid Luft over custody of their children for whom she can’t suitably provide. Her only viable alternative is the U.K. where she is still revered and can make serious money with a running engagement of live performances before sold-out audiences at The Talk of the Town theater.

The other era in Judy has her as a 16-year-old star who’s cruelly manipulated in the Hollywood studio system. This dark past informs Garland’s present in the late ‘60s. We, for example, see the studio putting the youngster on pills to control her, starting a pattern of addictive behavior that carries through to what has become a brittle adulthood.

Quinn noted that she, director Rupert Goold and cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland “sat down and worked through every scene in an emotional sense,” letting that guide their decisions relative to locations, sets and the feel behind what they were creating. “Rupert gives you a spec of inspiration and it blossoms into something big,” said Quinn, describing Goold as “a real collaborator,” building “a broad picture of exactly what he wants, showing the emotional path he’s leading the film down.”

That path included the MGM studio of the 1930s’ era, the dream factory that played host to The Wizard of Oz. Quinn and her cohorts chose U.K.’s Pinewood Studios as the location where MGM would be recreated, replete with the movie colors of that period (Technicolor, Kodachrome). Among the challenges was conjuring up that world on a relatively small budget for this kind of period piece, related Quinn. “The set had to feel part of The Wizard of Oz world without replicating that world,” she explained, noting that they didn’t have the ownership rights to that specific Oz look.

For 1960s’ London, Quinn and her team had to work to find two locations--for the exterior as well as the interior of The Talk of the Town nightclub. Goold proved integral to that process as an experienced London theater director. He knew the London theater scene, which led him to the Noel Coward Theatre for The Talk of the Town exterior--with famous signage added to the building in postproduction. For the interior, Quinn went with The Hackney Empire, which had just the right period detail, having a Talk of the Town flavor without overtly copying it. 

The space at the Hackney Empire designed and dressed by Quinn and set decorator Stella Fox gave Goold the opportunity to be expansive in capturing Zellweger performing on stage as Garland, shooting big songs in single takes or in as few takes as possible. The design helped the director, DP and crew to work as if they were at a live performance or theater event, adding to the realism of the scenes.

Rapport with set decorator Fox
Fox first worked with Quinn as an assistant set decorator on The Woman in Black, a 2012 release. Production designer Quinn and Fox, as a full fledged set decorator, went on to work on such features as Broken (a BIFA winner for Best British Film, as well as a selection at the Cannes and London film festivals), and 7 Days in Entebbe, produced by Working Title Films and Studiocanal. Quinn and Fox have also recently embarked on the UK TV miniseries Black Narcissus. Quinn said that Fox contributed immensely to Judy, turning out finely detailed work, down to such elements as “amazing wallpaper” in Garland’s London hotel suite. “She pulled it all together,” said Quinn of Fox.

In the big picture, Quinn and her compatriots felt a deep sense of duty to do justice to Garland’s story. “People like Judy and Marilyn Monroe were like puppets to the studio,” used by so many in their personal and professional lives, said Quinn. “What I liked ultimately about her story is her love for a normal life, wanting to be with her kids. It was an honor to tell her story and show that part of her.”

Judy producer David Livingstone said of Quinn relative to Judy, “I defy anyone to not be seduced by the world that she has created.”

Quinn has been working in film and TV since the early 1990s. Early on in her career, she designed Danny Boyle’s directorial debut, Shallow Grave, which won Best British Film at the ‘95 BAFTA Awards. Quinn went on to design Boyle’s iconic feature Trainspotting, which was a Cannes Film Festival official selection, winning a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay and nominated for an Oscar in the same category. In 2005, Quinn designed Layer Cake, directed by Matthew Vaughan who on the strength of the film became a BAFTA nominee for Best Newcomer. Quinn then worked on John Crawley’s Is Anybody There? and later on Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown--both films were selected for the Toronto International Film Festival. Among Quinn’s other credits are Diana directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel for Scott Free Productions, Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd starring Carey Mulligan, produced by Fox Searchlight and DNA Films, The Brothers Grimsby directed by Louis Leterrier for Sony Pictures and Big Talk, and Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit, which premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Fest.

This is the seventh of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020. The 92nd Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.,and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network.  The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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