Friday, August 21, 2009

interview with Johnny Breedt

It isn’t often that you can be watching a horror movie and lean over to your spouse to say, “That is the light fixture I want for the kitchen?” Or “I love the beams on the ceiling!” Yet that was what I found myself doing all throughout Last House on the Left.

Now, Steven and I loved the original version so, of course, we saw the remake right when it came out. Which is pretty rare for us since we have 4 kids and don’t get out very much. We immediately fell in love with the gorgeous farmhouse. We could not wait for it to come out on Blu Ray so we could see the house again. Thankfully, the movie came with a digital copy so I could capture some great screen shots of the movie.

I decided to dig a little further and found that the seemingly historic house, with all its gorgeous patina, was not old but, in fact, new. Modeled after an existing house in Martha’s Vineyard, the house was the creation of production designer Johnny Breedt. The house was built in Cape Town, South Africa in a reserve, which accounts for the drop-dead gorgeous scenery!

Of course I had tons of questions for Johnny. Imagine my excitement when he replied to my email, with pictures of the under-construction Last House! Johnny was kind enough to participate in some Q&A with me. I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did…

Sarah Beth:
The kitchen you created feels very "attainable." By that I mean, it seems like something anyone could readily afford. You didn't go for the $1000 Shaw apron front sink, and instead, a simple stainless. Can you tell me a bit about your thought process on this? Did you have a particular family in mind when you designed this, and if so, can you elaborate on their lifestyle?

When designing a film one must take the characters into consideration. This together with reference material on similar styles, will determine the outcome. The sink was probably the closest "American" sink we could find. Obviously we had some input from the American crew members on certain items, but most were selected by myself and/or the decorator.

Sarah Beth:
I love that the kitchen has a lived-in, family feel. Many kitchens, in design magazines and movies, feel very sterile. The Last House kitchen has many things that make it feel more "real," such as the wooden spice racks, tin canisters, knick-knacks, etc. How did you go about finding these treasures? Did you have particular objects in mind, or did you find random things to include?

Once again we did try and match certain styles from references, but often we would find something in a second hand store or from a rental company that was just perfect.

Sarah Beth:
I do love the paint color in the kitchen. It is very similar to the pale robin's egg and duck egg blues and greens featured in the design magazines this Spring. But I assume you have more of a theater or production background than interior design. Can you share a bit about your background, and how one becomes a production designer?

My background is theatre and film. I studied a theatre design course for five years and a film course for 2 years. I also did various short courses including SFX make-up and wardrobe design. I cannot recollect the exact colour used in the kitchen, but I think we may have based it on a "Martha Stewart" colour. The colours were all chosen from a local paint range called Dulux.

Sarah Beth:
I love the beamed ceilings. I have noticed this in several rooms of the Last House. How much of the house were you responsible for? Was everything your idea?

As I said before, I was responsible for the entire look and design of this film. The beams were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also were a necessity for structural purposes as the upstairs was a fully practical set.

Sarah Beth:
I absolutely love the vintage stove you chose. For once, I feel a kitchen has some flavor and retains the vintage feel.

The stove was a thing of beauty. It was a collectable that was hired from someone in Cape Town and I haven't seen many like that one that still works.

Sarah Beth:
The patina on the barn-red boathouse is amazing. I watched the movie, sure that you must have found an existing home to film in. When I read that it was completely new, I was in awe. Can you tell a little bit about the process to make everything look aged? (Without giving away any of your industry-secrets!) What the house built fully functional? What became of the house after the movie was finished?

Thanks for the compliment. We aim to achieve authenticity whenever we create sets and I guess I have to give my crew most of the credit for that. My head scenic has been doing ageing and scenic painting for 36 years and is probably one of the best in the business. All of the sets were created from new materials and were then aged by the scenic dept. The house was built in a nature reserve and had to be removed after shooting. The materials were salvaged and donated to homeless people whilst most of the furniture and fixtures were sold to recover some costs.

Further information on Johnny’s Last House on the Left, Excerpt from The Last Broadcast, The Last House on the Left Making Of:

“After weeks of fruitless searching, the team discovered a pine-forested parkland reserve that was conveniently located 45 minutes outside of Cape Town. The last house on the left—as well as guesthouse and detached garage—would need to be built from scratch on the reserve property.

The plans for the Collingwood house and guesthouse were loosely based on a century-old updated farmhouse nestled on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Careful consideration had to be taken with every detail of their design and execution. With hundreds of researched photographs scrutinized, Breedt and his design team imagined the ideal American getaway.

At a rapid pace, the crew constructed the Collingwood compound—main house, guesthouse, detached garage and extensive grounds—in just a few months’ time. To top it off, every surface needed to look as if it had been gently weathered from years of exposure to Mother Nature.

Through years of trial and error, Breedt and his staff came up with ingenious techniques for creating the illusion of antiquity, which they utilized for the compound. “If you give a house history, it gives a film layers,” reports Breedt. “It’s quite an old house, and it’s been renovated throughout the years. If you look at the exterior of the house, it’s aged very cleverly. It looks like it’s been painted repeated times, but in fact it’s only been painted with a base coat and a final coat. We have a technique to use plaster that you trowel on. Then you paint it, scrape it all off and lightly touch it up with a magic brush. When people came to the reserve and knew nothing about the house, they thought it had been here forever.

With snapshots in hand, the production designer sent his team scouring the secondhand shops and flea markets of Cape Town in search of quintessential American building materials, household furnishings and accessories. Although the crew combed the city in search of familiar Americana, much had to be shipped over from the States. Tiny details, from light-switch plates and plugs to blankets and dishtowels, would make the difference to the audience’s belief they were in America.”

Stay tuned... I will be studying several of the rooms from Last House and giving all the gory details here!
under construction photos courtesy of Johnny Breedt
still captures are from the film


Carla said...

How happy must you be that he let you talk to him!

Leave a Trail... said...

This is totally fascinating. I, too, was obsessed with that house in the movie. I'm not one for thrillers, but like you, the house kept my attention!

Anonymous said...

Very proud to say that my uncle Johnny Breedt is the best in the business! A marvel to look at his work!