David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco are a husband and wife duo who have worked together on more than 20 films in the past 25 years. They have collaborated with some of the most talented filmmakers today, including Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Michael Mann and recently Damien Chazelle on La La Land, for which they won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Production Design.
For as long as I can remember I have always been interested in watching movies. As a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey, TV was a big thing but I also had access to large scale movie theaters. In fact, the Baroque Rivoli theater boasted the largest chandelier in the world! (Guinness Book of Records). Viewing the first Cinerama movies, James Bond, schlock and "B" horror movies, etc. had me hooked from a very early age.
I'm lucky as well to have been brought up in a modernist household with visual parents. They raised 3 sons as free thinkers and Artists, encouraging us to be creative in a flexible, non linear way. A big influence was my father who was an Abstract Expressionist painter, theater Set Designer, still photographer, hand letterer, ceramicist and metal sculptor. My father was a Renaissance man in a true sense of the word. He was an outstanding still photographer who had Bernice Abbott as his photography teacher and worked alongside Arnold Newman as his assistant post second world war. As a fellow ceramic artist he hosted Bernard Leach at our house.
My Father received an offer to teach Art and Theater Set Design at Bennington High School in Bennington, Vermont where he then moved our family. I was the first class to attend Bennington's brand new High School, designed by Benjamin Thompson from The Architects Collaborative. A memorable highlight while in high school was a one-on-one meeting with Designer George Nelson that was set up for me personally through my father and Benjamin Thompson. We talked for an hour. Mr. Nelson asked what I wanted to do with my life...
As early as 2nd grade, I recall wanting to become an Architect, but watching movies remained a serious pastime. Later in High school, making 8mm movies became a passion. I never really thought of Production Design specifically, but went at it making abstract short movies. The Art Direction for these projects came along unconsciously through the process of making each film.
After high school, I wanted to follow in my fathers footsteps and attend The Cooper Union School in N.Y.C. I was not accepted after my first attempt with their entrance exam. Thinking I'd try again the following year, I ended up employed at various window display jobs in N.Y.C. and eventually gaining a corporate job overseeing visual merchandising at a retail store called Design Research, a boutique 10 store chain owned by Benjamin Thompson. That company moved me around the country from San Francisco to L.A., then finally to Cambridge, Mass. where I met my wife Sandy Wasco. While working at D/R, I met and had conversations with Ray Eames, Mrs. Dione Neutra, Fashion Designer Rudi Gernreich, Architect William Turnbull, Armi Ratia the founder of the Finnish Fabric Co. Marimekko.
It was not until the early 1980's that I decided to pursue movie Art Direction full time, and made a decision to move back to southern California. Through a friend's tip, I interviewed for a position in the Art Department on the first "Beasmaster" directed by Don Coscarelli. 1980 was an odd time in Hollywood. There was a Writers / Directors strike and we were one of the only full scale independent features happening in an unusually quiet city.
The position I held was "Assistant to the Production Designer" where I functioned as a combination Art Department Coordinator / Assistant Art Director. Although I had no formal training, I happily performed my tasks and was employed for almost a year. This entry feature film gave me the opportunity to watch the process from the inside and make valuable connections with fellow Art Directors that I remained in touch with, including the late Tom Sanders and Michael Minor. I also got to watch and interface with the Cinematographer John Alcott, who was working on his very first US movie. Mr. Alcott was my hero and DP on some of my very favorite Stanley Kubrick movies. Movies that were a great influence.
A stint at the indy set building company "Design Setters" allowed me to make more Art Director connections, Leon Ericsen, Michael Erler.... But, at the same time offered me the opportunity to interview and land small art direction jobs that allowed me to amass Production Design credits.
Pure luck would have it connecting me with a few directors that carried me along to Design their early works. Gregory Nava, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson.... On my first outing with Wes, he put me alongside another one of my hero / mentors, Polly Platt who was Producer on "Bottle Rocket".
There really was no "ah-ha" moment when I decided to pursue Production Design, but a series of experiences and mentors influenced my choices and instilled an appreciation and love of design and the process.
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