For Elizabeth Keenan, the biggest challenge as “News of the World” set decorator were the buffalo hides. She specifically needed green hides, which are hides that have been salted on one side, but haven’t been tanned.
“These characters back then just chopped their heads off and threw them on nails and put them all over buildings. It was a sport for them and it was awful, and we really wanted to depict that” Keenan told deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley in Variety’s Screening Room Series presented by the Toyota Mirai. “Organizing all of that just to get that authentic, gross, awful look, that was challenging.”
In addition to Keenan, Riley spoke with composer James Newton Howard and production designer David Crank. The trio dove into their roles in developing an 1870s-set world. Based on the bestselling novel by Paulette Jiles, Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World” follows Civil War veteran Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) on his journey to deliver a girl (Helena Zengel) to her aunt and uncle after she is taken by the Kiowa people. Their trek across Texas becomes a fight for survival as they encounter danger at every turn.
Crank noted the difficulties with not shooting in continuity. They moved from place to place with their small crew and had about five days to turn the location into a new town.
“It’s logistical. It’s like bringing the army in somewhere. You got to be ready,” he said. “You got to stay on your toes all the time and you can’t stop until it’s over.”
Specific to his role as composer, Howard found scoring the film’s shootout to be the “most hair-raising” because “you could screw up in so many ways.” He spent nearly a month on the piece, which was originally 16 minutes long, but got shortened.
“I think part of the challenge was the sense that Paul was waiting to see what I was going to bring him,” Howard added. The others agreed. As Crank explained, Greengrass built them a nice framework, but it wasn’t part of his process to dictate exactly what he wanted.
“He wants to see what you’re going to bring him,” Crank said. “It’s a little weird at the beginning because you don’t feel like you’re doing anything…It’s really hugely complimentary.”