PRODUCTION DESIGN // "THE AGE OF INNOCENCE" (1992)
Interview With Location Manager Patty Doherty
Patricia Anne Doherty’s earliest credits (as a second assistant director, PA or location manager) included REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, RAISING ARIZONA, JACOB'S LADDER and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. She was credited as both location manager and assistant production manager on THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Doherty: It actually was the first time I had worked with them [Scorsese and De Fina] although I'm very good friends with a fellow named Joe Reidy, who is the first assistant director [We've worked on a number of movies including JFK]. I wouldn't say that Joe was exactly responsible for getting me the job I had also worked with Bruce Pustin [the unit production manager] before on another movie where he was production manager, and it was actually Bruce who brought me to the project. But I think that Joe's vote of confidence was something that made Marty and Barbara feel better, and the credits I suppose that I've had. So I was hired basically as the assistant production manager/location manager.
I was called about the job originally a year ago September when it was at 20th Century Fox and then it went into turnaround and I didn't think that the movie was even happening. And sometime in November Bruce gave me a call that it looked like it might be going at Columbia. I was in Chicago, this was just before Christmas, so I flew back to New York and in a heartbeat we set up, we resurrected a lot of the research that had been done.
Robin Standefer had done a great deal of research as [had] the New York State film office, and a location person named Amy Herman who did a lot of the initial scouting on the job, and those files and that research was pretty much where I picked up, with one kind of big problem which was the Opera House. They were looking into an opera house up in Troy, because they had decided that Troy was really the best place for their exteriors, they had already made that determination by then but the way the schedule the budget and everything laid out, they'd have to find a music hall up there and the best one was the Troy Music Hall but it really didn't fit the bill of what Edith Wharton had been writing about.
I should back up and say [production designer] Dante Ferretti did a projection of what it would take to make the Music Hall look like they needed it to look like and it just cost a fortune, so we then initiated a search nationwide just to find if compared to what it was going to cost to make the other one usable we could afford to send a crew somewhere else. So I was working with people in Washington D.C., at the American Theatre Historical Society and all around the country. I mean, we called up places in Baraboo, Wisconsin, you can't imagine. We researched over 900 theatres in December. We narrowed it down to a field of about 2 or 3, [though] we actually knew from the very beginning the Philadelphia Academy of Music was really the only choice because it looked a great deal like the New York Academy of Music did before it was torn down.
They had not had a film there before, however, and I think that when they first inquired about it, it wasn't available and they were turned down. Dante was really adamant about reinitiating contact with them. Dante and I jumped on an Amtrak train one day and went over there and we talked to a fellow named Hugh Walsh who is very nice, but their schedule was solidly booked for the time we were to be in production from March through June.
So with that we tried to extract a day or two here and there to see if there was any window of opportunity at all and I have to say that Hugh Walsh was a really, really great ally because what he did was, bit by bit, he relocated events and performances during that period and he dug out the better part of a week for us [at] Memorial Day, which allowed us to film, and in my opinion it was one of the most extraordinary locations in the film, and said more in just what it is and what it looked like than what we could ever have done. You couldn't recreate this place, I mean it was just that spectacular. It was real, real important and I think that was the first real triumph because it really started making everything else fit together, so the schedule came together with the Troy locations and we were still scouting right down to the wire, even up in Troy and certainly in New York, everything started to gel.
What was the time line for your work with locations?
The first scout with Marty was in December. Then we went on a hiatus for Christmas. [Afterwards], we really got into it and it was more evident that we were going to be green-lighted (because we weren't a green light in December), and at the point when we were green-lighted that's when Dante and I really got down to business finding the locations.
I was kind of wearing two hats for the first two or three months of the film, and then along about February I started a location manager in New York to manage the locations that we had already found. We were still looking for one or two.
Who was that?
A fellow named Joe Iberty, who did a wonderful, wonderful job on the movie, very experienced, really a great guy. And he stayed in New York and I pretty much set Troy up, got all those permissions together with a fellow named Mark von Holstein who was my assistant up there. Dante was basically commuting between Troy and New York. I had to do Philadelphia and after Memorial Day finished up in the spring time in some of the exterior locations like the old Westbury Gardens, the places where we needed to see them outside.
So that's pretty much basically how I came to the project and what happened. But it was my first time working with Marty which was needless to say a very memorable experience. We got along well, so that was a plus point.
Do you come to your New York location work as a native NewYorker?
No. I was born on Long Island and moved away when I was quite young, when I was about 9 years old, and lived in a number of different places I lived in Tuscan for a long time, Chicago and Colorado. So it was a real shock to come back 10 years ago, but I've been living in Manhattan ever since, and pretty much when I came and started in film in New York, I somehow or other just gravitated towards locations. I can't even really say how or why; it's not like I decided that's what I came here to do, it's just what I ended up doing.
But I'm sort of a believer in that you gravitate toward what you're good at or what you like. I was an architecture student at one point and abandoned that so I think that my interest in film together with kind of an old interest in architecture subconsciously was a natural direction for me to take, to head towards doing locations, because it really is kind of a marriage of both those elements.
Was this your first period piece set in New York?
I worked on a movie called HOUSE ON SULLIVAN STREET which was a 1951-era movie with Kelly McGillis and Jeff Daniels. Michael Ballhaus as a matter of fact was the DP on that. That was actually enormous in a lot of ways from a location standpoint, in terms of what we were recreating. I worked in Chicago on this TV series, CRIME STORY, which was [set in] the 1950s. I had never worked on something, which was this far back in time, so that was particularly interesting to me, because it's one thing to do the '50s or the '30s, but when you go all the way back to 1880 that's a whole other deal altogether it's so far removed from what's familiar to us.
Does that free you up, because it's so unfamiliar to an audience?
Except in the 1880s if something is wrong it's really wrong! It stands out like a sore thumb.
I mean, if a building were constructed in 1892 but you happened to really like it, you could still use it in an 1880s movie, right? Most people wouldn't be able to tell if it were an anachronism.
That's very true, although with Dante that's not so easy. I mean, he's really a stickler not only about the year something was constructed but the architectural style. And when it came down to each character Ellen's house vs. Mrs. Mingott's it really boiled down to wanting the architecture to represent the characters, which is in fact true, especially in high society New York in the 19th Century. The types of houses they constructed really were a reflection of the circles that they were running in and the kind of money they had, and (more importantly) the kind of background they came from.
And how long they'd had their money.
Exactly, and how they got it and how flamboyant they are, like the Van Der Luydun house was really a location that we labored over because, although the Van Der Luyduns are extremely influential and extremely well-respected, they're not flamboyant people. And the Old Merchant's House idea of having something be more spare in its architectural detail and elements, it's a kind of a contradiction to somebody who's not as familiar with how different people's backgrounds relate to the type of architecture they live in they are influential in the money, they didn't have a great big house, because everybody reveres them so, but in fact that is not true.
We were going to film in the Old Merchant's House down on 4th Street, almost in the East Village. It's now a museum and it's a really beautiful little house, and we really loved it, and Michael Ballhaus really loved it as well, but we wanted to do a camera move a lot of the details, the way Marty zeroed in on design and on character and on defining who these people were and the way they lived was by zeroing in on elements, and dressing up, customs, all the little details of their house and what they would do so consequently Michael Ballhaus was really given a challenge. He was in these locations and examining in very intimate and intricate ways in these people's lives, slightly voyeuristically just going through their houses and watching them eat and watching them serve and watching them do this and that, in a very penetrating kind of way. He really needed to have the freedom to make moves with his camera not in disturbing ways but just so he could penetrate a little bit deeper than just having a PBS piece, because what Marty's camera was doing was a little bit more than just being an objective eye. So at any rate this room and rooms didn't really lend themselves to that particular shot that they had in mind.
Marty is really wonderful to work with because he's so specific; he had made the movie in his mind already by the time you show up on location.
You're trying to marry all those constraints and all those elements: that it be the right period; that it be the right feel; that it be available; that they let you do what it is you need to do, because these are historic places, museums, and they're very, very delicate or they're people's houses that have been restored for zillions of dollars within an inch of their lives. And if you need to make changes, and Dante made changes everywhere, he wallpapered, he draperied, he set dressed, he just went to town to really create very specifically the characters and the places that Marty and he wanted to create. So when you have all those constraints working against you to find just the right place where you can do just what you need to do that's available when you need it to be available . . . it's difficult!
We ended up going to the Americas Society on Park Avenue, because it has that same feel and that same spareness but they were slightly grander rooms in terms of size and gave us the ability to do those kinds of movements, but their house I guess the point I'm trying to make is their house as compared to the Mingott house, it's like such the other end of the spectrum I mean, Mrs. Mingott's ridiculous, everything about her, her home and her life is so over-the-top. If you don't have a Victorian or a 19th Century eye you certainly know when something is flamboyant or not but you really, scouting these things you really start to appreciate
A lot of things obviously in the Victorian Era were very ornate anyway, so to have a discerning eye over what's ornate and what's really like Mrs. Mingott is, you get used to it after a while, and your eye becomes trained as to what's more and what's less.
Doherty has since worked on THE PELICAN BRIEF, ANGELS IN AMERICA, GET SMART and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN.
copyright 1992, 2009 by David Morgan
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