'Sleepy Hollow' intent to feel right rather than be right

Either as a set designer, art director or production designer, Rick Heinrichs has been working with director Tim Burton dating back to their student days at CalArts. Heinrichs, whose work on “Sleepy Hollow” earned him a nomination from the Art Directors Guild and the Motion Picture Academy, is currently working on Fox’s “Bedazzled,” helmed by Harold Ramis and starring Brendan Fraser.

Over years Tim and I have developed a pretty good design shorthand understanding of how to approach a lot of things like this. On “Sleepy Hollow,” there’s a lot of the same kind of influences you can see apparent in a lot of the things we’ve done together: expressionism, a very graphic two-dimensional approach to treating three-dimensional space, so that even though it’s a three-dimensional environment, it has a pictorial quality to it. So all of that is background to “Sleepy Hollow.”

The other aspects of “Sleepy Hollow” were its period — how faithful do we remain to the period? — and the answer is not that faithful. It was really 18th century, early republic. It’s all leftover from the colonial period.

Feeling over accuracy

Actually, our intent was for it to feel right rather than necessarily be right. We had scouted in upstate New York, up the Hudson, in historical Tarrytown — there are historical parts of it, the historical Sleepy Hollow is there; Phillipsburg Manor and places like that. They had a wonderful quality to them but it wasn’t quite lending itself to the sort of expressionism that we were going for, which wanted to express the feeling of foreboding.

There are several different kinds of anthropomorphic motifs going on there. One of the feelings of the town was of this fearful gathering, almost like a herd of sheep in a way. We did have a herd of sheep right on the grounds there.

We ended up actually shooting the movie in London, to the northwest in a stage there at Shepperton. The town of Sleepy Hollow was built from the ground up in a preserve between Marlow and Henley to the west of London. So the town was built there, there was an actual hollow. We were trying to get a kind of rigorous design that was softened by the environment to a degree — a kind of a stylized naturalism, if that makes sense. Something that gave us continuity for stage work.

Quite a bit of the film was exteriors onstage, so our goal was to not have an obvious place where you go, “Well that’s outside; that’s inside.” We wanted it all to live in its own sort of netherworld, and part of that was accomplished by the way it was lit.

Continuity of lighting

There was a continuity of the lighting that the d.p., Emmanuel Lubezki achieved, which was just superb. He actually lit the exteriors on location. They had a feeling of a vast set onstage in a certain way at night. One of the advantages of being in England was we were able to get the constant cloudy skies they have there; that worked really well with the look that we had going onstage as well. So we were very concerned from the beginning about continuity between the exteriors onstage and exteriors on location. In fact, there’s a direct cut from the graveyard on the location and the graveyard onstage, and it works pretty well.

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