George Clooney’s “The Tender Bar,” set in the working-class neighborhood of Manhasset, Long Island, spans 15 years starting in 1973. In the film, which bows Dec. 17 in theaters, young JR Maguire, played by Daniel Ranieri, spends his time among family members: his mom (Lily Rabe), grandmother (Sondra James), grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) and uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), the last of whom owns a bar called The Dickens.
The Dickens was a real Long Island establishment, but for the film, based on J.R. Moehringer’s memoir, the period setting was re-created in a number of Massachusetts towns, including Beverly, Braintree, Lowell and Worcester.
Production designer Kalina Ivanov outfitted a bar that reflects its past — not just in the thick hardback books that line its shelves but in the rest of the decor as well. “We decided it should be created in 1928 and rooted it in the history of the town, when it came into its own and became this Roaring ’20s place.”
While the bar’s interiors were built on soundstages, Ivanov found the spot to stand in for the outside of the building at Jacob’s Corner in Beverly, Mass. The facade needed to be aged a few decades. “Cinematographer Martin Ruhe and I discussed how we would treat the exterior — we looked at the awning and the windows,” Ivanov says. Ruhe was leaning toward a neon sign above the awning, but Ivanov decided to change the existing awning and make it all neon. “When the lights turn off, it really helped tell the story that this bar has been there for so long,” Ivanov says.
Similarly, the production established a vintage feel by taking over a mall pizzeria in Braintree to re- create suburban New Jersey’s long-gone Steak and Ale restaurant.
With the family house (also a Braintree exterior), Ruhe and Ivanov discussed the color palette and how it would be shot. Clooney wanted the cameras to flow through the house. Ruhe says he used a Steadicam to follow Ranieri when audiences first see JR in the home. “It was important to stay with him and show it from his point of view,” Ruhe says.
Ivanov looked for a neutral palette that leaned on the warm side, reflecting the family’s situation. “We determined it would be from the 1940s, when [the house] would have been wonderful looking. But by the time we get to the ’70s, it’s very dilapidated,” she says.
Ruhe turned to tools and techniques from the ’70s to keep that warmth and memory. He used lightweight zooms with the Arri Alexa Mini camera and kept his toolbox small. “I didn’t use fancy lighting and stylization. I made sure not to go overboard,” he says. “I didn’t want to make a big footprint with my gear