The Malibu Film Society (MFS) will kick off its fourth annual Awards Season Screening Series this Saturday with Steven Spielberg’s newly released historical film “Lincoln,” followed by an audience question and answer session with new Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Oscar award-winning art director Rick Carter.
“Lincoln,” which was over 10 years in the making, focuses on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency—a time that required all of his powers of thought and persuasion on the political tightrope to end the Civil War, reunite the country and pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery.
As with any historical film, details such as set design and costumes for the actors took on increased importance in “Lincoln” in order to strike an authentic chord with the audience. For the extremely sensitive task of production design, director Steven Spielberg turned to Rick Carter, with whom he had collaborated seven times previously.
In a telephone interview this weekend with The Malibu Times, Carter broke down his approach to the blockbuster film.
“When you do a historical piece, you have to create the feeling of being in that time and place,” Carter said. “You’re running it through a filter of your own mind and the director’s mind to create something the audience will believe.”
Carter did extensive research on locations as well as old archives to create the film’s sense of historical accuracy. “Lincoln’s is the first presidency ever recorded photographically,” he said. “We found two photographs of Lincoln’s office, and the office we created for him specifically is based on all the research there is—the documents and everything in his world. The office was the heart, the mind and the center [of Lincoln’s operations]. Its clutter and sense of disorder represents what the Civil War brought to the country and the depths to which the country had to go to be unified.”
Carter said no photos of the White House upstairs living quarters were found for that time, so the designers tapped an unusual source of inspiration to approximate that setting: the Virginia house of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
“It is still intact and it allows you to get a sense of what it was like,” Carter said of the house, noting that the time period contained clues such as similar furniture, rugs and other decorations.
His team also looked at White House photos taken almost twenty years after Lincoln’s presidency and did research at the Library of Congress.
Some of the props used in the film, such as photos of slaves, were real, said Carter.
Although the interior sets were filmed in a warehouse, much of the film’s actual location work was shot in and around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. “It was great to be in Virginia in and around Richmond,” Carter said, “A lot of the Civil War was actually fought in that 90 miles between Richmond and Washington, D.C. We were able to use old Petersburg as the national capital. We dressed the whole area and did a lot of our exterior work there.”
When asked what mood he tried to create for the film, beyond being historically accurate, Carter said, “The person who plays Lincoln (actor Daniel Day-Lewis) is crucial, and I create the context for that person. It’s a portrait movie; there’s an awful lot on Lincoln’s plate. We create a palette based on reality and the mood of our nation.” Due to high demand and limited seating capacity, the now sold-out screening is limited to members of MFS, AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) and all film industry guilds. The screening will be held on Saturday, November 10 at 9:30 a.m. in the Malibu Cinemas at Cross Creek Rd. MFS memberships can be purchased on-line at www.malibufilmsociety.org.