While the production design of every movie ever made faces numerous complications, those complications become even more complex when it comes to a murder mystery like “knives.” Production designer David Crank, for example, had to convert three filming locations into a single mansion that serves as the film’s gory crime scene.
when crank and his team started, director rian johnson and his location team had already found a couple of mansions that would serve as the domain of harlan thrombey, the billionaire mystery novelist played by christopher plummer, whose bloody demise sets the events of “knives out” in motion.
the exterior of the house was a gothic revival mansion built in 1890 and located on the outskirts of boston, but the interior scenes were filmed at the ames mansion, a 20-room historic site located in the massachusetts frontier state park . The Ames Mansion, previously seen in Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller “Shutter Island,” was used in “Knives Out” to film the tense fights Harlan would have with his family’s greed, and the intense questioning that private detective Benoit Blanc (daniel craig) would pass that same family on after harlan’s death.
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“rian wasn’t looking for a specific type of architecture,” crank told thewrap. “The general rule was that both the interior and exterior of the house should resemble the type of house that Harlan would describe in one of his mysteries. the moment we walked into the mansion we knew right away she had the personality we needed.”
but neither ames mansion nor gothic revival could provide the floor plan needed for the most important room in johnson’s script: harlan’s office. The script for “Knives Out” called for various characters to enter and exit the house and go up to Harlan’s inner sanctum, a cozy red study with a low, curved ceiling that allows for intimate conversations between Harlan and his nurse Marta, played by Ana. of weapons.
to accommodate the script, crank built the office and connecting hallway on a soundstage, working with johnson to align the characters’ movements in the script with the actual layout of the houses and sets used for filming . In doing so, they were able to help the editors create a smooth transition as the trombeys slink through the halls of their patriarch’s domain.
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“We had about three weeks to prepare the office for the shoot, so we had to work really fast,” he said. “The funny thing is that the way the office hallway and upper floor that we built on set was designed, it wouldn’t have fit the actual house you see in the movie. but it was made for these scenes where people are sneaking around trying not to be seen and I’m really proud of how it ended up looking in the final cut.”
another important task for crank was to fill the ames mansion with the kind of novels and trinkets befitting harlan’s personality. But despite one of the cops in the movie joking that Harlan “lives on a clue board,” the famous board game or Tim Curry movie it inspired was not the main inspiration for the set design. /p>
Instead, the main influence was “Sleuth,” a 1972 Oscar-nominated mystery film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine that also served as Johnson’s main inspiration for “Knives Out” as a whole. like “knives out”, the film takes place in the luxurious home of a famous crime novelist who is a collector of automatons or moving dolls. in honor of the movie “knives out” features dozens of automatons and dollhouses around the mansion.
“there’s a big dollhouse you can see over daniel craig’s shoulder which I thought was a really fun addition,” crank said. “The automata were rian’s nod to ‘detective,’ particularly a sailor figure by the door, but they also really fit the character of the mansion because they were so mysterious and creepy. we found a collector who provided them to us and tried to put them in rooms where they felt like they belonged there.”
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But the biggest prop in the house is the ring of knives in the Thrombeys’ living room, all set in front of a chair and positioned so that the knives appear to be pointing right at the head of whomever is sitting in the chair. When asked if the Iron Throne from “Game of Thrones” was an inspiration, Crank laughed.
“It wasn’t, but I can see why people might make that connection,” he said. “Actually, it wasn’t originally meant to be like this. initially it was a rectangular structure and the knives were pointed. finally, after several versions, we arrived at the final version that you see in the movie. rian wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted with the knives, but he knew what he didn’t want, and once we got to the ring of blades pointing inward, he finally clicked.”
you can see david crank’s work on “knives out” now in theaters. For more of his production design, check out his portrayal of Civil War-era Washington in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and his design of amoral oil tycoon Daniel Plainview’s residence in Paul Thomas’s “There Will Be Blood.” anderson. crank also just finished filming two 2020 movies starring tom hanks: the WWII movie “greyhound” and the paul greengrass western “news of the world”.