Designing Movies

Portrait of a Hollywood Artist

by Richard Sylbert and Sylvia Townsend with Sharmagne Leland-St. John Sylbert.


An eye-witness account of movie-making from one of the most influential artists in Hollywood history, featuring interviews with some of contemporary cinema's most famous directors, actors, and artisans.

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September 2006


Pages 256
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/Film
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    Hardcover: £43.00/46,00€/A$71.00

This retrospective on the career of Academy Award-winning production designer Richard Sylbert takes readers behind the scenes of some of the most influential films of the past fifty years.

The Manchurian Candidate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Dick Tracy. The common factor behind these diverse, visually ground-breaking cinematic masterpieces is the work of legendary production designer Richard Sylbert. Basing the book in part on the late designer's Hollywood memoirs, writer Sylvia Townsend, with the participation of Sylbert's widow, screenwriter Sharmagne Sylbert, has enhanced the production designer's original manuscript with candid interviews from some of his most famous collaborators, including Warren Beatty, Roman Polanski, and Francis Ford Coppola. The result is a book that takes readers behind the scenes of some of the most influential and highly acclaimed films of the past fifty years.

This is a portrait of a highly driven, sometimes tempestuous visionary who wasn't afraid to fight for the artistic integrity of the worlds he created on screen. Movie lovers will find in-depth discussions of the making of such modern classics as Reds, Carnal Knowledge, Shampoo, and The Cotton Club. More than thirty illustrations capture Sylbert's creative process from early sketches to completed sets and locations.



"This intimate portrait is composed of Sylbert's unfinished memoirs augmented by interviews with collaborators and leading directors including Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols, Roman Polanski, and Warren Beatty. Aficionados will enjoy the candid observations about this talented, intellectual, often tempestuous designer and the off-camera stories of the making of these films. The book is at its best when Sylbert discusses his designs in terms of metaphor, stylistic structure, restricted color palettes, and authenticity of details....Extensive collections serving upper-division undergraduates and above."Choice

"Sylbert was the late (d. 2002) Academy Award-winning production designer for such films as Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, and Chinatown. At his wife's request, Hollywood writer/editor Townsend edited his unfinished memoir in the third person. Included are his thoughts on production design and art direction, and her assessment of his contributions which went beyond design, and quirks. The book includes photos and drawings of his film sets, and some character- revealing anecdotes by his wife, Sharmagne Leland-St. John- Sylbert."Reference & Research Book News

"When director Roman Polanski was looking for the perfect location for Rosemary's Baby, production-designer extraordinaire Richard Sylbert immediately suggested The Dakota, a classy Upper West Side apartment building. In Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist (Praeger), Oscar-winner Sylbert (posthumously co-authored by Sylvia Townsend, who expanded his memoir) neatly answers the question, What does a production designer do? Townsend also interviewed some of his famous collaborators, such as Francis Ford Coppola and Warren Beatty, to garner a behind-the-scenes portrait of a cinematic visionary. Considering the films Sylbert worked on, such as The Graduate, Reds, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the exceptional Chinatown, there isn't a better candidate to explain why design is so critical to a films success."Encore: The Performing Arts Magazine

"[A] finely written history and an elegant tribute to a great man....[a] fascinating ride through the Hollywood glory days of the ''60s, '70s and early '80s--a candid, pungent, wonderfully detailed tour."Hollywood Elsewhere


"Dick Sylbert was arguably the most gifted production designer of his generation. When he died, he left the kernel of a memoir, which has been used as the basis for this riveting account of his life in the movies."—Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N'Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

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