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Exclusive interview with 'American Hustle' production designer Judy Becker

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Examiner.com was on the red carpet for the World Premiere of "American Hustle" presented by Grey Goose and Vanity Fair at the Ziegfeld Theater on Monday, Dec. 8. We had the opportunity to interview the film's production designer Judy Becker, who has an impressive list of credits including "Garden State," "Brokeback Mountain," "Shame," "The Fighter," "Shame," and "Silver Linings Playbook," to name a few. This is her third time collaborating with Director David O. Russell.

Q: How did you first get involved?

Becker: I've been working with David for quite a while, I did "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook" so he sent me the script maybe almost a year before we started prepping. The script evolved and it just started...I've been dying to do a '70's movie with him cause we talked about it a lot. It's such a great story and such great, amazing characters, so that was how I got involved.

Q: Tell me a little about the aesthetic you were going for and what were some of your references for the production design?

Becker: I like to come up with my own look like I don't look at other movies and say, 'Oh it should look like this.' Even photography, we didn't have a lot of references…one thing that was really clear was that this was a New York City that you don't often see in period movies--in '70's movies because it was Midtown Manhattan. It was sort of a cleaner New York City at that time and I kept really trying to emphasize that to my crew and to the people I was working with - that not everything was filthy and covered in garbage and graffiti and homeless people. That this was a different, more glamorous New York. It was Studio 54, cool lucite furniture and chrome furniture and this great wallpaper…it was kind of more of a disco verging into the '80's aesthetic and it wasn't the early '70's kind of cliches that we see so often. I did watch "King of Comedy" because that was a movie that was shot almost around when our movie took place in Midtown Manhattan and just to show people the architecture and this is what it looks like and this is what we're gonna try to get in our movie and…New York wasn't always dirty in that time, it also had this very clean Midtown '70's look, so that was a good source because it was shot at the time. And then I had a huge collection of interior design magazines from the time.

Q: How did you get the magazines?

Becker: One of my research assistants found...I think there were 150 of them and he found them on eBay and we just bought the whole lot for $100, it was great.

Q: Can you tell me about working with David for the third time?

Becker: I love collaborating with him, he's been a wonderful director to work with. He's very loyal and one thing I love about working with him is how he emphasizes character and the humanity in all of us. In all my movies I'm very character driven and I like to create a realistic world that supports the characters and supports the story, that's what David needs for his movies so we're so on the same page about the role of production design in a movie.

Q: How did you get your start in this field?

Becker: I worked my way up the ladder. I started as a P.A. and holding a spit bag on commercials for Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials. If you don't know what that is I'm not gonna get into it.

Q: Then what was your progression?

Becker: I started working in props and then I started working in set decoration and then I designed a movie and then I went back and forth doing a bunch of different things. At a certain point I was just like, 'I want to be a designer. I know that now.' I just started designing really low budget movies in New York. I live in New York, and I think New York's a great place to get started because there's a huge independent film scene. So I was part of that and I was really lucky and I think I made good choices and I got some lucky breaks. It was just a combination of those things. There were certain movies that were really important for me and my career that were kind of stepping stones in a way.

Q: What were some of the most important films in your career?

Becker: "Raising Victor Vargas," a wonderful movie that we did on almost no money and I had all interns as a crew. "Garden State" was an amazing movie that I got to do, it was my first union movie I remember how excited I was about it. I worked on some wonderful movies that we made for almost no money. After that I got "Brokeback Mountain" and that was a big deal.

Q: What's next for you?

Becker: I'm doing Todd Haynes movie, "Carol," it's shooting in Cincinnati. We're starting in January starting preps.

We also spoke with the film's screenplay writer on the red carpet Eric Singer.

Q: How did you come to work on the script with David O. Russell?

Singer: I started on this movie about 15 years ago. This was originally mine. It had been gestating for a number of years and then about five years ago, I was working with this man over here, Chuck [Charles] Roven and Richard Suckle, who were truly my family. Chuck's the dad, Richard's my brother. And we just finished one movie and we were all trying to find out what we're gonna do next and I said, 'Well I got this story.' And they heard it and they flipped out and that's how it all started.

Q: Tell me a little bit about why Christian Bale is perfect for this role?

Singer: Christian Bale is perfect for any role. Christian Bale can do anything. And so basically we hit the jackpot with everyone. It was kind of miraculous. I'm not that guy who believes in lightning in a bottle, I've always been very cynical about that. But this was one of the few occasions where it actually happened and it was amazing to watch and watch everyone work and it was just incredible.

Q: Since this was in the works so many years, what was that process like?

Singer: I didn't start writing it until five years ago. But it was one of those things that was gestating in the back of my head...this would make a great movie. And it was when I sort of brought it to Chuck and Richard and we were looking for that next thing to do together that it all sort of came together and I started writing it. It was a great collaboration with everyone and I think it's a really highly entertaining movie and I'm really proud of it.

"American Hustle" hits theaters Dec. 20.

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