‘White Noise’ production design interview

Production designer Jess Gonchor and choreographer David Neumann talk about turning the film’s end credits into 1980s consumer nirvana.

Supermarkets are wonderful places, although we usually only see what we need to buy. Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” wants his audience to see both the mundane, dingy consumerist side of them and the wondrous cornucopia of abundance and possibility beneath. Set in the fictional college town of Blacksmith, the A&P is a meeting place for the College On The Hill professors, including Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), his wife (Greta Gerwig) and their family, and the film honors it with the sort of aggressive, white, gentle Light and color that would not be out of place in a medieval cathedral.

The A&P is an elevated space, both sacred and profane, and located in the supermarket, where Baumbach can take the themes of Don DeLillo’s novel and take them further. It’s hard for the prose to capture 150 people all dancing in unison to an LCD sound system song. The decision to eventually take “White Noise” into music video territory is interesting, and the number feels like joyful catharsis (or the ultimate act of denial, dealer’s choice) after all the fear of death, helplessness, and Hitler ). studies in film.

The sequence allowed every department working on the film to move, from the actors dancing to the camera whirling around like a bird trapped in the rafters. But the musical number required a lot of advance planning, how the supermarket could support the plot in the film and the closing sequence, how the movement in it could be amplified.

Production designer Jess Gonchor didn’t change much on the supermarket set for the credit sequence. He built a very loud, happy, bright space that wouldn’t look out of place in a Technicolor musical, and trusted that the characters and audience would ignore the joyful possibilities of A&P until the film’s end. “It’s clearly the heartbeat and core of Blacksmith. Everyone goes shopping here. Everyone goes there to see what people are wearing, to see what people are doing, to get information about the city,” Gonchor told IndieWire. “I knew it had to be big and bold and graphic and kind of like riffing on the Rubick’s Cube, which was the big thing in the 1980s. [I even] I overdid it a bit. The colors of the store and the products and all the advertising and everything hit the highest note of the film.”

White noise. (L to R) Adam Driver as Jack, Greta Gerwig as Babette and Don Cheadle as Murray in White Noise. Kr. Wilson Webb/Netflix © 2022

“White noise”

WILSON WEBB / NETFLIX ©2022

Gonchor stuck hidden messages for the characters in supermarket product advertisements and organized those Rubick’s Cube-esque blocks of color down the aisles to talk to the Gladney family, though they probably weren’t listening. “I just felt like everything in this supermarket should try to talk to the characters and either tell them something is good for them when it’s really bad for them [or] tell them they can afford something, when maybe they can’t — maybe you can buy six for the price of seven, all those things,” Gonchor said.

Because Gonchor created a space that bursts with a life of its own and screams its limited-time offers at the characters, the production design team didn’t have to adapt too much for the ending. Some of the color blocks were swapped out to pair with specific characters dancing in specific aisles, and some of the supermarket’s layout had to be expanded to accommodate all of the dancers, but A&P was ready for its close-up – and that’s the point of the Films about American consumption. “It’s so much better to be able to film something that you can create and adjust and craft your own dimensions than obviously compete against it [an existing] Wall. And you have options for lighting and camera angles. It was like working with a jigsaw puzzle and just putting it together,” Gonchor said.

For the actual dancing in the aisles, Baumbach turned to “Hadestown” choreographer David Neumann, who advised him on creating blocks that plunged the family breakfast scenes and some of the lectures into buzzing chaos. Neumann and Baumbach discussed how to increase the musical number differently than in some of the film’s absurd situations to make what’s happening inside the A&P feel distinctive and special. “We talked about it as a kind of celebration, but not as an obvious one to celebrate the complexity of it all,” Neumann told IndieWire. “We were looking for a dance in a vocabulary that mirrored a lot of the movement and a lot of the activity and action and gestures of what we’d seen in the film, of people actually shopping in a supermarket, but slightly exaggerated.”

The Gladney family surrounds a car in one of the A&P aisles in the film "White noise"

“White noise”

Netflix

The language that Neumann developed offers individual choices for each character in the style of the Grand Consumerist. While Jodi Turner-Smith’s cultured chemistry professor moves with an almost knowing, tongue-in-cheek aura that matches the knowledge that defines her discipline, André 3000’s shy history professor had to dance like nobody was looking. “[He said], ‘I don’t think this character grooves very much.’ And I said, ‘Well, if the character liked that music, how would it move? As if he were alone?’ And so we kept working on it, like a smaller vocabulary, and suddenly he found this thing, and it was beautiful. I could watch him for hours,” said Neumann.

One thing that took hours but that Neumann was particularly proud of was working with the small group of professional dancers who mingled with the crowd to pull off a particularly challenging shot. “There’s a place where there’s a dolly shot [of shoppers] Dealing with fruits and vegetables. It might be in the middle or at the end, and it moves in one direction, there’s a cut, we go to another thing, and when we come back, it reverses. We did it all in one. So it took a few tries to get the timing of how the veggies unfolded as part of the dolly movement. But it was also really fun to do because that was all the core dancers in there, and then it was a nice thing to have people die in the zucchini.”

While Neumann always starts with the movement mechanics, for the White Noise credit sequence he wanted to create a sense that the characters were saying something about themselves through their movements and what they were focusing on. “I looked at the choreography of everyday life, noticing patterns of movement and how movement reveals intention, whether conscious or unconscious. These layers are always remembered in the film,” said Neumann.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/white-noise-production-design-1234794801/ ‘White Noise’ production design interview

Lindsay Lowe

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