I Was in Bliss: Steve Sakland on Re-Creating 1970 for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. | Interviews

I know we’re here to talk about “Margaret,” but I have to tell you how much I love your designs for “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”

It was bliss, and in my mind, it was a pure musical.

And in this movie, we got to do four theater scenes. I got to do another musical! I’m trained in theater, so theater is my background. And I worked in New York in musical theater on Broadway for ten years before I moved out west and started doing movies.

Where did you grow up, and what did you study?

I grew up in the Eastern seaboard, in suburban Connecticut and suburban Pennsylvania, and I went to Yale Drama School for theater design. So, you study costume sets and lights. Came to New York in 1981, so about ten years after our story in this film takes place. And I worked most of that time assisting the premier designers of Broadway shows, Broadway plays, and musicals. The hole in my heart is that I’m not in New York now designing theatre. I love what I do, but any show like “Barb and Star” or “Margaret” that can give me a chance to design theater in the movie, oh, I’m in heaven. It’s everything I was trained to do.

One detail from the ’70s I especially loved in this movie was the rec room with that sliding accordion door. I remember those!

We did install that. That wasn’t there. And Kelly Fremon Craig, our director, used it so well because it meant so much when that door creaked open or closed. I was 14 in 1970 when this film takes place. So, I had this visceral memory. And we were living in Pennsylvania at that point. But we would come up to New York once or twice a year. And driving into Greenwich Village and seeing the sort of hippie folk singers on the sidewalks and stuff is something I’ll never forget. It was not quite like it ever shows up in the movies. There was this sort of weird, small-town feeling in Greenwich Village that I remembered. And it wasn’t big and shiny and corporate or expensive like it is today. And so, I felt like the Greenwich Village that the Simon family starts in has to feel warm and special and grubby but full of life, full of creativity. So, that was one of the first sets to solve was that street scene, when the family is moving to New Jersey at the beginning of the story.

We see it from Margaret’s bedroom, and then we see it down on the street when they say goodbye to Sylvia and drive away. It was [originally] a much longer scene, the scene with Sylvia. We finally found a great piece of the street half hour outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. And so, we transformed six facades into what we needed. And between the extras and the cars and the ice cream vendors on the street and everything else, it turned into the thing that was the closest to my memory.

We got so much of Sylvia’s character from her apartment.