Best Production Design

Donald Graham Burt

In designing the production for David Fincher’s Mank, Donald Graham Burt was tasked with not just re-creating the world that could create the world of Citizen Kane, but suggesting something that could be found in the film vaults next to Kane, as if born of the same era. So it wasn’t just about verisimilitude; it was evoking the feeling of the time, and of that masterpiece, in a cinematic sibling.

It was raising the spirit of late-’30s Hollywood in a city that changes radically now and then, and representing the personalities of the legendary studios — the Moderne of Louis B. Mayer’s thriving MGM vs. Irving G. Thalberg’s more worn and traditional Paramount. It was making the ranch house in which the protagonist drinks and writes (and drinks) a dimensional, breathing space that occasionally coughs out desert dust. It was implying the epic excess of Hearst Castle on a budget, filling it with opulent detail and building sets versatile enough to double as multiple locations with a few extra traceries and columns here or one more hallway there.  

But most of all, it was about making these period environments feel lived in. Burt relied on contemporaneous reporting, rather than modern research, to capture the lighting, the atmosphere, the soul of the places. Photographs of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies walking the San Simeon grounds at night held greater sway than any current documentary. All the departments, of course, contributed to the magic trick that is Mank’s summoning of the past, but Burt’s detailed, evocative, clever work set the table for the séance to occur. We are pleased to confer on him LAFCA’s 2020 award for Best Production Design.

— Michael Ordoña