Santo Loquasto - Writer

Production Designer and Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 26 July 1944. Education: Received B.A. from King's College in Pennsylvania; attended Yale School of Drama, majoring in design, 1969. Career: Worked in regional theater, late 1960s; worked as set designer for Broadway and off-Broadway productions, 1970 to the present; worked as set designer for opera, including the San Diego Opera, Opera Society of Washington, and San Francisco Spring Opera, 1970s; worked as costume and set designer for contemporary choreographers such as Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor, 1970s-80s; began working as a costume designer and production designer for films, 1975. Awards: Tony Award for Costume Design, for The Cherry Orchard , 1977; Best Production Design British Academy Award, for Radio Days , 1987; Tony Award for Costume Design, for Grand Hotel , 1990.

Films as Costume Designer:


Sammy Stops the World (Shapiro)


Simon (Brickman); Stardust Memories (W. Allen)


A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (W. Allen)


Zelig (W. Allen)


Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman)

Films as Production Designer:


Rancho Deluxe (Perry)


The Fan (Bianchi); So Fine (A. Bergman)


Falling in Love (Grosbard)


Desperately Seeking Susan (S. Seidelman) (+ costume designer)


Radio Days (W. Allen); September (W. Allen)


Big (P. Marshall); Bright Lights, Big City (J. Bridges); Another Woman (W. Allen)


"Oedipus Wrecks" ep. of New York Stories (W. Allen); She-Devil (S. Seidelman); Crimes and Misdemeanors (W. Allen)


Alice (W. Allen)


Shadows and Fog (W. Allen); Husbands and Wives (W. Allen)


Manhattan Murder Mystery (W. Allen)


Bullets over Broadway (W. Allen)


Mighty Aphrodite (W. Allen)


Everyone Says I Love You (W. Allen)


Deconstructing Harry (W. Allen)


Celebrity (W. Allen)


Sweet and Lowdown (W. Allen)


Small Time Crooks (W. Allen)


On LOQUASTO: articles—

Seebohm, Caroline, "Everybody but Santo Loquasto Thinks He Is the Wizard of Sets," in Connoisseur (New York), July 1986.

Hickox, Fayette, "Set Design: Santo Loquasto," in Interview (New York), September 1987.

Smith, Wendy, "Cameos: Santo Loquasto, Set Designer," in Premiere (New York), December 1988.

Albrecht, Donald, "Cinema Paranoia," in Metropolitan Home , November 1991.

Pinsker, Beth, "Woody's Point (of View) Man," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 9 December 1994.

Oppenheimer, Jean, "Team Woody Fires Bullets over Broadway ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1995.

Berman, Avis, "Setting the Scene: Production Designers' Cinematic Sources in New York, Los Angeles and Budapest," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1998.

* * *

Santo Loquasto is one of the most imaginative and sought-after production designers for stage and screen. The hallmark of his work is his attention to all details no matter how large or how small and his ability to capture the mood of a script by the establishment of a physical context.

What has come to be recognized as "The Loquasto Style" was introduced to Hollywood in 1980 when Loquasto served as costume designer on the Marshall Brickman film Simon. But it is with his work with director Woody Allen that he began to take on the challenge of making the physical elements of a film operate on the same level as the emotional ones. Starting as a costume designer on Allen's early work, culminating in Zelig for which he received an Academy Award nomination, he graduated to the role of production designer on Allen's 1987 Radio Days. According to Allen, "What distinguishes Santo is his degree of inspiration." Unlike other designers, he does not simply do the job but brings an exceptional level of creativity to it. Loquasto interprets his role of a production designer as being responsible for everything that the camera sees other than the actors. He credits his primary influences as being the films of Hollywood's classic years, particularly the films of Fred Astaire. He feels that these films incorporate such vital elements as pattern, sculpture, and illusion into a very definite sense of style. Another influence on Loquasto is the work of cinematographer Gordon Willis with whom he collaborated on the film Bright Lights, Big City. For this film Willis took the "hip" personal style of the main character and reinforced it through the physical and visual elements of the setting. Through this experience, Loquasto developed the belief that scenery can subtly convey real stature and emotion, without intruding on the story itself.

The diverse group of films Woody Allen has directed in the 1980s and 1990s has provided an opportunity for Loquasto to display his own creative talents in a multiplicity of settings. His sets have embodied the periods from the 1920s to the 1990s, yet they share one unifying characteristic: all display the many faces of New York City. Loquasto has used various aspects of New York to create a World War II ambiance for Radio Days ; an FAO Schwarz fantasyland for director Penny Marshall's Big ; a yuppiefied Manhattan for James Bridges' Bright Lights, Big City ; silk-stocking and net-stocking Manhattan for Mighty Aphrodite ; a period literary vision for Bullets Over Broadway ; contemporary literary Manhattan and attractive suburbia for Deconstructing Harry ; upper East Side upper-middle-class Manhattan for Manhattan Murder Mystery ; gentrified Manhattan for Everyone Says I Love You ; a more funky, freewheeling downtown for Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan ; and an array of New York uptown and downtown environs and outer-borough ambience for Celebrity. But Loquasto is equally adept at designing a non-New York film. Sweet and Lowdown , set in the 1930s, may be the rare Woody Allen feature with an outside-the-city storyline, yet Loquasto richly evokes a believably authentic time and place.

In preparing for a film, Loquasto compiles background information on all the principal characters. He then creates environments that would be compatible with the personality of each and imbues them with a sense of complete reality. As a production designer, he works to create a mood for the film but he instinctively understands the truly collaborative nature of film work. In his view, the power of the film is ultimately in the hands of the director and cinematographer. Yet, Loquasto believes that he can give the cinematographer the raw materials—tonality, visual character information, and the physical composition of the settings even though the final decisions are not in his hands. Nonetheless, because he has collaborated over and over with Woody Allen and Carlo Di Palma (the cinematographer of the majority of Allen's films he has designed), Loquasto has a sense of their design requirements and can almost instinctively provide them with the "look" they need.

Loquasto considers his forte to be period stories and particularly enjoys the opportunity to go into what he terms "real spaces." For example, in Radio Days , he found a small Hebrew school on New York's Attorney Street which had a crumbling brick facade that worked perfectly to convey an old-world feeling. For the Dianne Weist character in Bullets over Broadway , an apartment setting was needed that did not include views of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building—no small requirement when the financial status of the character and the available buildings in her price range were taken into consideration. As a result of his never-ending travels around the city, Loquasto found an ideal apartment in lower Manhattan that both reflected the character's personality and status and maintained the "period" feel of the rest of the film. What is interesting about using actual locations, Loquasto reflects, "is how much further visually many of the places are decorated than I would have taken them, the sort of thing you would never do yourself because you think, 'well, this is too much."'

On his period films, Allen prefers to employ a brighter color palette than on his contemporary works. For Radio Days which portrays New York in the 1940s, Loquasto designed vibrant greens, yellows, and oranges mixed with bold period patterns. In Bullets over Broadway , he switched to bright reds and yellows to vividly depict a literary world of the city a decade earlier, populated by gangsters, molls, and pretentious theater types. Both films were bathed in a golden hue because Allen and Di Palma insist that this type of lighting works best for period pieces and provides added texture to the characters who inhabit this world.

Loquasto admits that working on Allen's films requires a great deal of spontaneity and "on the spot" creativity because the scripts are not always completely fleshed out. A significant example is the 1992 Shadows and Fog. The script, which recounts the story of a night-stalking strangler who terrorizes a city, provided no description of the various locations. As Loquasto began to prepare for the film, there were only two pieces of information that the production designer could count on. The first was that the story took place around the general time of World War I in an imaginary Eastern European city, and the second was that Allen wanted a place that was full of anxiety and paranoia.

Loquasto began with a scaled-down model of what he thought the city would resemble but Allen was not happy with it. Finally, the designer put together a full-scale city complete with a flowing river and crumbling Gothic church. The finished product consisted of winding streets, jagged rooftops, and leaning facades to give physical form to the disorientation of the main character.

A second challenge was the fact that the film was to be shot in black and white, which raised issues of color and contrast. If the actual colors of the sets were too close in value, they would wipe each other out. The sets, props, and costumes were tested both individually and in relation to each other to ensure that the proper contrasts were achieved in the finished film.

In the final analysis, Loquasto's strength is his close attention to the small details of setting and decor which, while only a small aspect of what the camera sees, can make or break a film in terms of mood and character development. In Shadows and Fog , these details consisted of worn stone stoops, wrought-iron grills, and appropriately weathered signs. For Bright Lights, Big City , the details consisted of such things as old school notebooks and a Dartmouth sweatshirt lying on the floor. Although there is every chance that these items might not be picked up in the camera sweep, Loquasto must create total reality for every period that he is asked to re-create. Because he is able to think small, his collaborators such as Allen and Di Palma can weave their grand designs.

—Sandra Garcia-Myers, updated by Rob Edelman

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