Santo Loquasto on Shooting – and Staging - Bullets With Woody Allen

Santo Loquasto, scenic designer for Bullets Over Broadway and long-time collaborator with Woody Allen, talks with Playbill.com about working with Woody and his attempts to design a psychiatrist’s office to his liking.

Santo Loquasto
Santo Loquasto (Photo by Aubrey Reuben)

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Among longstanding artistic collaborations, that between director-writer Woody Allen and designer Santo Loquasto holds a special distinction. The two have worked together dozens of times, both on Allen's films and stage projects. The professional relationship in both mediums began roughly at the same time: with Allen’s Broadway play The Floating Light Bulb in 1981, and Allen’s film “Stardust Memories” in 1980. 

Their current project, Bullets Over Broadway, may have inspired some déjà vu on the parts of both men; Loquasto designed the 1994 film and now he’s back for the Broadway musical, nabbing a Tony nomination for his work. The designer talked to Playbill.com about Bullets and working with Woody.

As far as I can tell, your current assignment on Bullets Over Broadway is unique. You were production designer on the original film. And now you’ve gotten to recreate that same story on the stage.
Santo Loquasto: I actually didn’t think about it. It’s certainly happens the reverse way, from stage to film.

Did this project present special challenges? Did you have to rethink the whole story in visual terms?
SL: For a time, I didn’t even go back and look at the film. It was when I got into it that I wanted to see a couple scenes. I remembered it very vividly. It was a big and wonderful project originally. But, it’s different on stage. You do a musical, and it’s about transitions — as I was explaining to Woody when he said, “Oh, it should be so much easier.” And I said, “Are you serious!?” (Laughs.) Are there any designs in the musical that are patterned after a set in the film?
SL: Well, I supposed Olive’s apartment, which was a black and white apartment — and was a real location, in fact — I kept that all black and white. Otherwise, not really. The nightclub is very different. The nightclub in the film was in the old New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street, downstairs. That still exists, pretty much. We did a lot of work on it. It was all dirty peach-colored. I’ve tried on stage to underscore the gritty speakeasy world of the whole period, and that was the overriding spirit of the design.

During the rehearsals for the play within the movie, did you use a particular theatre?
SL: The exterior is the Belasco, and the interior is the Cort Theatre. I did Fences in the Cort recently, and the back wall, it still had the paint on it from “Bullets.” We used that back wall as the set.

You have a unique collaboration with Woody Allen. You’ve worked on many projects, both on stage and on film.
SL: The first thing I did with him, I did costumes for three movies. I did “Stardust Memories,” “Zelig” and “Midsummer Night’s Sex Company.”

So, those predated The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway.
SL: The Floating Light Bulb happened around the time of “Zelig.” It was somewhat simultaneous. Ulu Grosbard directed Floating Lightbulb and I’d already worked with Ulu.

That was just serendipity, then, that you ended up working with Allen on that project?
SL: Yeah, exactly. And then he asked me to do a film, which unfortunately didn’t work out and they pulled the plug. And then I went off, and unfortunately missed out on doing “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” I had gone off to do something else. Then I finally started designing for him on “Radio Days.”

Obviously, you two have some affinity. How do you two work together?
SL: Well, it’s the normal convention: You read the script, you talk, you assemble some pictures. His films are largely location driven. So you really do spend a lot of time with the location department. And there’s such a body of work, you can relate to an overriding aesthetic. It’s unavoidable with Woody. I try to mix it up, but he really has a kind of look that he creates with his compositions and his camerawork, and the palate he works with.

And in the way he looks at New York.
SL: Yes, but also with San Francisco.

Yes, that recent film, “Blue Jasmine,” was a nice change of pace for you, locale-wise.
SL: Yeah. I haven’t done any of Woody’s European films.

Was that just a matter of logistics?
SL: It was logistics. I had family responsibilities when it first started happening. As much as it would have been wonderful to work in Barcelona and France, you should have people who know the language. I did shoot segments of his other films in France and Italy and it all went well. But I always have too much happening to go away for several months like that.

Has Woody ever expressed to you what he likes about your work?
SL: No. (Laughs) That is not a surprising answer to me.
SL: Oh, I would be so uncomfortable. He certainly makes fun of me when I fail. That’s what I hear about. The thing is, even though you like to keep him informed, you’re on your own to a certain extent. He can arrive and it’s not quite what he had in mind. I have never done a psychiatrist’s office to his satisfaction.

And there have been so many!
SL: And there have been so many! I just take it up until a point and then say, “Just round up the furniture and Woody will arrange the room.” Because, this is certainly his world. I have to assume, to a degree, he trusts me. But he wants to trust me, because he doesn’t want to have to worry about it. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliments. But that’s what it is.