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Carol starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mar: How the production designer transformed Cincinnati into NYC

Updated 2/22/16  Here’s why Judy Becker should have been nominated for an Oscar for her production design

I haven’t seen Joy yet but I’m hearing it’s a bit of a mess. What is likely not a mess is the production design by Judy Becker who has two films out this year, Joy which is getting pans, and Carol which is getting—deservedly—raves.  Deadline notes Becker took on New York as a period piece for American Hustle earning her an Oscar nomination for the portrayal of 1976 New York. That’s a very different Big Apple than the NYC in Carol, Becker told the magazine.

“The New York in Carol is really a New York of the 1940s; it’s post-war, pre-Eisenhower. Todd emphasized that he wanted it to look more like the past and like a traumatized city that’s recovering from the war. It’s a little beaten down, and dirty, and gritty. With American Hustle, we were shooting the most glamorous, up-to-the-minute New York of 1976.”
Carol actually was shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a decision partly driven by state tax incentives. 

 “Even when you go to a place like Cincinnati, there’s always modern stuff. So that’s the constant search—for exteriors that can be transformed into the past without costing way beyond what our budget allows. I actually fully believe that we found a better 1952 New York in Cincinnati than we would’ve found in New York.”

The Frankenberg’s department store featured in the opening scene of the movie, studded with a beautiful toy train set and plenty of baby dolls, was among Becker’s most challenging elements. 

She needed to “capture the feeling of  Therese (Rooney Mara) being trapped and imprisoned by this job, while conveying a melancholy feeling to the whole Christmas season that reflects on what’s going on in both the character’s lives.”

I dug a little deeper and learned on Cincinnati.com that the production used two different stores to create the Frankenbergs store. 

The interior was filmed in the vacant second floor of Mill End Draperies, dressed for Christmas with old-fashioned sleighs, Christmas trees, wreathes and huge stuffed animals. 

The exteriors were shot at the former Shilitto’s department store that still boasts Art Deco architecture on the corner of 7th and Race in Cincinnati.

Have you seen Carol? Did you feel transported back in time?