BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARS

February 20
8:37 2013

BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARSBroadway production designer Derek McLane, who received the 2009 Tony Award for his scenic design for "33 Variations" has been selected by producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to design the set for the 85th Academy Awards.

The talented designer has been responsible for some of Broadway's most visually stunning and memorable sets including that of The Heiress, Follies; Anything Goes (Roundabout on Broadway & current US national tour); How to Succeed in Business; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo; Million Dollar Quartet; Ragtime; 33 Variations; I Am My Own Wife; The Pajama Game; and A Lie of the Mind. This spring, his designs will be featured in an all-new production of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffanys.

In addition to the Tony, he has received Obie Awards in 1997; Lucille Lortel Awards in 2004; 2004, 2005, 2007; a 2009 Hewes Award; and a Drama Desk Award in 2011.

McLane took a break from his busy Oscar rehearsal schedule to speak exclusively with BWW about his illustrious career, and even gave us a sneak peek at what we can expect to see on Sunday night's big event!

What were your initial thoughts when you were first asked to take on the monumental task of designing the set for the Oscars? Did you have any reservations?

I didn't have any reservatations. I was thrilled but as soon as I said, 'yes' I realized how nervous I was about it. So thrill and terror I would say were both things I experienced! But you know to be honest, I like projects that are a little intimating and a little terrifying, so that's why it really excited me.

Did Neil [Meron] and Craig [Zadan] have a vision in mind for the show?

Well they had some very strong ideas about some of the themes of the show. One of those is 'The Music of the Movies' and that's not just film scores, that's also songs in films and also movie musicals. So they knew early on that they wanted to celebrate that during the show.

But one of the other things that Neil and Craig said to me when they asked me to do this was that they really wanted this to look like my work, and they didn't want this to look like any other Oscar show. They encouraged me to think along the lines of some of the Broadway shows that I had done that they thought really interesting, like '33 Variations,' and the show that I did with them, 'How to Succeed in Business,' and also 'I Am My Own Wife.' And they sited those designs as things they thought were really terrific, not that it should look like those shows, but they thought that kind of thinking would be exciting for the Oscars. And that was very encouraging because it made me feel like, 'Ok, I don't have to become somebody else to do this job.'

What have been some of biggest challenges you've come up against?

The schedule for the show has been really, really intense. The whole thing happens very, very quickly. I started working on it the beginning of October, so it's not a huge amount of time. And there's so many people involved, really the sheer numbers of people involved in the show is kind of mind-boggling. I got the latest contact sheet the other day for the show and it doesn't include any talent, it's just people working on it, and it's 64-pages long! It's really amazing. Of course I'm not involved with all of them but there's an awful lot of them that I do interface with. That's one of the challenges of the show.

And another big challenge is that we only get one shot at it. Unlike a Broadway show where we get many previews and then we open, and we continue to perform, this is really just a one shot deal. We do this once in front of a live audience.

And a much larger audience at that!

And an enormous audience - exactly!

What are some of the differences between designing a set for the TV camera and
designing a set for a Broadway show

Probably the biggest difference regarding the camera is that it operates from a long shot, which is sort of what the Broadway audience sees, but it also gets a close-up. Obviously Broadway audiences stay in their seats, they don't zoom in on the actors. So that's a real difference. The scenery has to look great both from the house, a long shot, but also it has to look great when you zoom in on an actor and you're just seeing little fragments of the scenery over the actor's shoulders.

BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARS

Roundabout Theatre Company's ANYTHING GOES (2011)

Turning to your impressive Broadway career, do you have a favorite set that you designed?

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Caryn Robbins Caryn Robbins is a features editor for BroadwayWorld, and Managing Editor of BWW's TV, Film and Music spin-off sites. Her original musical comedy DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT (follow @DearStudent) has been staged in two NYC theater festivals and was performed as an Equity Staged Reading in New York City in 2015. This June DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT won 'Best Ensemble Show' in Chicago's Premier Premieres Festival. Follow Caryn on Twitter @CarynRobbins
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