‘Irishman’ Production Designer Bob Shaw Discusses Complicated Shoot

Bob Shaw has scored his first Oscar nomination, as production designer for “The Irishman.” The film looks at U.S. history through the eyes mafia hitman Frank Sheeran and his relationship with Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. The epic entailed 108 shooting days, with several locations each day.

How did you start?

I decided at age 16 that I wanted to design scenery; I was thinking theater. I designed “The Mandrake” at the Public Theatre when I was 20, then at 23, I designed “The Pirates of Penzance” with Linda Ronstadt on Broadway, working with a really won­derful director named Wilford Leach.

The Irishman” spans 50 years. What did that entail?

We built 28 sets and had 295 sets in all. Our locations were all over the place. There were a lot of locations that are only seen for a few moments.

After agreeing to do it, did you have a moment of doubt?

Usually I do. Like most people when they get a job, I often think, “I don’t know how to do this.” But this project came into focus very quickly.

With so many sets, was it complicated to keep things straight?

Popular on Variety

In our job, the first question you need to answer is, “Where are we?” In the script, they go to five different gas stations. But you can’t find any stations with 1950 gas pumps, so you have to find sites that can be turned into gas stations. Also, there were six or seven hotel rooms. When you have a lot of similar locations, you have to make them distinctive.
This was my third project with (DP) Rodrigo Prieto, and there were lots of things that he brought to it. He said the earlier scenes would be Kodachrome, so that suggests a specific color range; oranges, reds and teals pop out more. Then Ektachrome when we got to the ’70s.

Did some sets re-create actual places?
Yes. We built the barber shop for the Albert Anastasia hit. It was based on a real place and there are famous photos of the aftermath of that hit. The look was incredibly specific, with powder-blue barber chairs, and it was just off a shopping arcade in the old Park Sheraton Hotel. We ended up building a set next to a shopping arcade in the Roosevelt Hotel. And all this was for just one shot.

Was your job mostly re-creating actual places?

No, not at all. For example, the real Villa di Roma was mundane; it wasn’t evocative of the ’50s or the mob. So that was invented, a concoction of many res­taurants I’ve been in. Marty [Scorsese] was not convinced we could achieve realism within a set that we built. I heard Bob De Niro say it felt real and lived-in; that’s exactly what we were going for.

What’s the biggest misperception of your job?

People think you just go out and find places, then tell the production crew to show up with a camera. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Our motto was, “We go to extraordinary lengths to bring you the ordinary.”

More Film

  • Nardjes A.

    ‘Invisible Life’s’ Karim Ainouz Drops Trailer for 'Nardjes A.’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    On Feb. 14 last year, Karim Aïnouz arrived in Algeria to trace via the story of his parents the Algerian Revolution which happened 60 years ago – its 1954-62 War of Independence from France. The uprising he very quickly started to shoot, however, was one happening right then, the Revolution of Smiles, whose first street [...]

  • Call of the Wild

    Harrison Ford in 'The Call of the Wild': Film Review

    Dogs, in their rambunctious domesticated way, can lead us overly civilized humans a step or two closer to the natural world. So it’s only fitting that the best dog movies have saluted that unruly canine spirit without a lot of artificial flavoring. Hollywood’s classic dog tales, like “Old Yeller” (1957) or “Lassie Come Home” (1943), [...]

  • Adventures of a Mathematician

    Indie Sales Unveils Trailer For 'Adventures of a Mathematician' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the run up to Berlin’s European Film Market, Indie Sales has unveiled the trailer for Thor Klein’s “Adventures of a Mathematician” which had its world premiere in Palm Springs. The film tells the inspiring true story of a Polish-Jewish mathematician who got a fellowship at Harvard and went on to join the prestigious Manhattan [...]

  • Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE

    How Internet Backlash Helped 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Avoid Box Office Disaster

    It’s not a stretch to say Universal’s “Cats” and Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” had two of the most polarizing movie trailers in recent memory. Both caught fire online for all the wrong reasons after fans on social media torched the questionable CGI. “Cats,” an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, used a new science called [...]

  • Neumond Berlin Germany Restaurant

    Berlin Offers Diversity in Restaurant Scene

    Berlin Film Festival attendees have a chance to sample the diverse cuisine of a foodie city. Some of the top pics for a pre-film repast: Adana Grillhaus  A hugely popular Turkish restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, Adana Grillhaus now has a second location right around the corner. Manteuffelstr. 86 +49 30 6127790 Skalitzer Str. 105 [...]

  • my salinger year

    Berlin Festival's New Selection Committee Takes Off

    Berlin’s new seven-member selection committee — four women and three men — comprises the core of new director Carlo Chatrian’s programming staff, which is led Canadian critic Mark Peranson. Peranson was the Locarno Film Festival’s chief of programming when Chatrian headed that Swiss festival. This year, Berlin is opening with “My Salinger Year,” starring Sigourney [...]

  • Mariette Rissenbeek Berlin Film Festival Executive

    Mariette Rissenbeek Faces Challenges as Berlin Festival Executive Director

    Making her debut as the new executive director of the Berlin Film Festival this year, Mariette Rissenbeek is facing some big challenges after taking over management duties at one of the world’s biggest public film fests. Rissenbeek and new artistic director Carlo Chatrian succeed Dieter Kosslick, who left an indelible mark on the fest after [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content