Moviehole had a chance to sit down with Patrick Lumb, production designer for ”A Nightmare on Elm Street”, who is bringing Freddy Krueger’s nightmarish world to reality. Lumb has worked as production designer on ”Valkyre”, ”The Omen” and ”Flight of the Phoenix”. As an art director, you can see Lumb’s work in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and Michael Mann’s latest release, ”Public Enemies”.
[This is the kind of penultimate set of the film. It’s the final scene in the basement there where Nancy confronts Freddy, finally, and becomes Fred Krueger and she pulls him out of the nightmare world and they have a big confrontation.]
Q: Can you talk about your inspiration for the look and feel of the film, did you go back to the originals?
Patrick Lumb: I did, I went back to the first one because I remember seeing it when I was a student and really enjoying it. So I kind of just wanted to look at it to see what it was all about because it was a long time ago since I saw it.
But we didn’t take any inspiration from it. There were a few little places where we’ve pulled little bits so fans of the film will, if you notice, Nancy’s front door is the same color and the same number. A few little things like that, I won’t tell you all of them, but a few little things like that where we just kind of tipped our hat to the original just so that people can have a relationship to the first one. But that’s the only one I really watched.
The inspiration for the film really came from the script. With all films, when I design them, it normally starts from script, which was kind of fun on this project particularly because at the time the script was good but it’s been quite fluid, there’s been a few changes throughout and the director, Sam, is very creative which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do the job. He’s visually very sophisticated. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his commercials or music videos but it’s one of the reasons why I thought it would be exciting.
So when we got the script, both of us worked – with the DP as well – to try to find places to make it interesting as possible visually. So one of the things that happens in this story, which is really appealing to me, is the difference between reality and nightmare. The film kind of flips and slips and slides in-between the two, you’re not quite sure. And when they do slip into the reality or the nightmare, there’s quite interesting transitions, which we got to play with quite a lot. So there’s parts where people are in one environment and then something happens and all of a sudden they’re in another environment, which is hopefully quite surprising to the audience and strange.
Q: One of the things the original did was, it would sometimes sort of trick you where it would pull some of the elements of the dream into reality or reality into the dream. Sometimes you wouldn’t know if it was a dream or reality, is any of that here?
There’s a lot of that. One of the key things at the end, there is definitely a lot of that so you’re not quite sure – it’s kind of a blurring of the lines between. One of the basic things the director really wanted to do was try to make the film as real as possible, if that makes sense. So rather than it being very fantastical, everything’s sort of based on reality so there’s a believability about it. Like Freddy’s glove, for example, is something he could have fabricated himself.
Q: Some of the visuals, especially in the sequels, took off Freddy’s clothing – is there any of that happening here?
I didn’t see any of the sequels. I just saw one of them, I saw the last one, which is based on where they’re making the film and the glove comes to life etc. No, we’ve gone back to the original, so he wears the fedora and has the striped sweater and the glove – so it’s all sort of classic Freddy moments.
Q: Is Freddy himself still comedic in nature or toned down to a darker level?
No, it’s a darker level, yeah. So it’s almost a – thriller is too strong of a word – but it’s a little bit suspenseful as well. Suspenseful. The story is a little more sophisticated so, I mean it’s a horror film so the whole point is to be scared – which it is pretty scary. The director made a small cut that we had to show to the studio the other day, and I know what happens because I made it, but it’s still scary, which is good.
Q: So should we not be expecting Freddy’s classic one-liners?
I don’t know if I can tell you that or not (laughs).
Q: Are there any other horror films that you look at for inspiration outside the original? Any particular looks you admire?
It’s almost the opposite, really. We try to make it so that it’s not a-typical, and that’s what we try to do all the way through. Like for example, this basement set, which you’ll see right now, we could have made it all gray and concrete and dripping walls and, you know, loads of rust all over the place – that you would imagine in a horror film – so we’ve tried to do something a little different. It’s still a spooky, scary environment but the walls are fluorescent green – they’re not now because we’ve aged it down – but you try to make things slightly different. And again, the closer things are to reality, I think the scarier they are.
I remember one of the horror films that I saw when I was a lot younger when I was a kid, which I can’t remember the name of, but you can see if you can figure it out for me – that’d be great. It was with Mia Farrow and she plays a blind lady and she’s in a country estate in England. She’s blind and she’s staying at this quite wealthy household for one weekend – while she’s there a murder comes in and keeps killing all the people.
She’s blind so she doesn’t realize everyone’s dead. So she’s wandering around the house and goes to get in the bathtub, and she’s running the bath and someone’s dead in the bath she’s JUST about to get in, then she doesn’t. Then she goes to sit down in an armchair in the living room to listen to the radio and she’s JUST about to sit down on another dead body. But it was the fact that it was so real, it wasn’t kind of like people leaping around on Unicorns – so that’s what we’ve tried to do here.
There isn’t really any other parts in there specifically, I mean, “The Shining” is hard not to get away from…
Q: The set we were just in, the basement, because that set wasn’t really highlighted or maybe even shown in the original, can you walk us through your steps of putting that together, and are there any little sort of hidden things in there. I was trying to look at his videotape collection to see what he had in there –
Oh Right, yeah
Q: There’s work gloves on the table, can you sort of talk about –
Yeah, the story of this one, it’s NOT a remake. Don’t come and see it expecting to see the first one just word-for-word, updated. It’s a different story, some of the same characters, and it kind of explains how Freddy came to be Freddy and hopefully why he’s so terrifying – so the whole story progresses. Again, I keep barking on about reality but basically the whole takes places in places that are real: the high school, the kid’s houses, the preschool where Freddy was the gardener.
The one place that isn’t a “reality place” at any time is the boiler room. Which again, is something that is taken from the whole franchise – so there’s this huge boiler room we found which plays a big part in the film.
This basement there is actually, within the story, I don’t know how much you know about the story but Freddy is the caretaker at the preschool where the kids were attending. And that’s how they kind of tell the story – of course I don’t know how much I’m supposed to tell you, so I won’t tell you the whole story but part of that, as the custodian of the school, he has a basement underneath, which is where we’re at now.
So as the story unfolds, the characters return to these same environments repeatedly and it kind of brings them all together, so there’s a common thread and one of them is the basement, which is almost like a portal to the boiler room – so there’s a relationship to the boiler room. It’s almost like the boiler room becomes their nightmare version of the basement.
Q: What’s the set you’re most proud of, or most excited to put together?
I think one that’s visually really exciting, quite interesting I think, is the classroom scene where one of the characters is in the classroom at the very start of the film and it’s a regular day-time high school and she falls asleep and when she wakes up she’s in the same classroom but the classroom is now burned, smoldering, and she sees Freddy there and tries to escape Freddy and runs toward the door and goes into another classroom, which is a mirror image of the burnt classroom but this time the classroom is water-logged, it’s actually under water. Everything’s dripping and all the pipes are broken, so that’s quite cool.
Q: Do you have the stairway that people fall through; you know where Nancy’s trying to get up the stairs?
No, there is no stairway. There’s a stairway in this set but that’s the only one.
Q: And what about the bedrooms of the kids, how do you keep them from looking dated? Like I’m sure you don’t have Jonas Brothers posters up on the wall but…
I did quite a lot of research, I have teenage kids myself, so I know what their rooms look like but we did quite a lot of research to try to make sure they’re current and up to date. It’s actually quite interesting, making movies now gets more and more litigious every year and it makes it almost impossible to show posters of real bands or photographs or any products unless you get clearance, so we’ve actually made a lot of the stuff ourselves. It’s more sort of generic, rather than being specifically a picture of, like you said, the Jonas Brothers or that kind of thing.
Q: What about Nancy’s artwork?
So two different people have made it. An artist in New York City, who’s studying at NYU created a lot of the work for Nancy and there’s another artist, also in New York, an illustrator and he made some of the work as well.
Q. So that sort of decorates her room?
Yeah, her room is full of her art. And we get to see it quite a few times in the movie, not just in her bedroom but in her house downstairs. And also she has a sketchbook, which at one point falls open and you see all of her artwork.
Q: Are these mostly practical sets or some of the nightmare stuff green screen?
It’s mostly practical. There’s a few bits of green screen augmentation to make some corridors longer but we really try to keep most things in-camera, so then you can have more control of it and you know what’s happening when you’re doing it.
It’s just more augmentation of things, really. There’s one scene where there’s some statues that turn their head and when the heads turn, that’s been done in-camera but we’ll make the eyes move or something to give it a little edge, but it’s not heavy CG work.
Q: You’re scouting another location?
I am, we’re almost done but there’s one more location we’re still trying to find which is a road. On the last part of the gig they fall off the side of a road before they get to the preschool so that’s where we are at.