The fact that production designer Dennis Gassner and costume designer Colleen Atwood both hail from the American Northwest probably had little to do with the fact that they were both hired for “Into the Woods.” But it turned out to be a very smart idea.
“Whenever you meet someone you’ll be working with, it’s like a date — you have to find a connection somewhere to start the relationship,” says Gassner (who shares his Oscar nomination with set decorator Anna Pinnock). “We both had these roots that were close to nature; this movie took me back to my youth and where I grew up, which was basically in the woods.”
The pair had worked together before, on 2003’s “Big Fish.” On “Woods” they had to trust one another to be of like mind without much direct face-to-face contact. Gassner and his team were literally among trees for a good portion of the prep. “They were in their own forest world for a lot of it,” says Atwood, who used those same muted nature tones to inspire her costumes.
“We both had very short prep times,” says Atwood, who had about three-and-a-half months; Gassner had about four, “so it had to be a quiet, seamless collaboration as opposed to a full-on daily chat.”
It worked. “Every week or so I’d run down to see how she was doing, and in a few seconds it was, ‘Oh, that’s great, that’s going to work,’” says Gassner. “It was about like-mindedness in a way, but it all goes back to (director) Rob Marshall and the story. We’re all serving the story.”
Both agree that Marshall was a very involved director, though not a micromanager. “He comes in and he enjoys what we’re doing, then goes and directs and comes back and checks on fitting — he does everything a director should do, but it’s not like he hangs out,” says Atwood.