July 18, 2019

How Forrest Gump’s Production Designer Brought Vietnam to South Carolina

It's been 25 years since "Forrest Gump" graced film screens. The movie's production designer looks back on a pivotal scene and shows how he made the movie come to life.  

When was the first time you saw Forest Gump? I was too young to see it in theaters so I remember sitting on the top of the staircase, watching the movie after my bedtime while my parents enjoyed it, unbeknownst to my presence. Now the classic film is coming to Blu-Ray as a newly remastered edition. It will be Ultra 4K and released by Paramount Home Entertainment. 

The movie spans decades, so Production Designer Rick Carter had lots of work to do to keep things consistent. Check out Rick Carter explaining Forrest's arrival in Vietnam in this video from Vanity Fair

Set Design

As you can see, attention to detail is the most important part of production design. But the hidden aspect is thinking on your feet. When he got the script and realized he had to build a set that doubled for Vietnam, Carter worked with the military advisor and even VFX people to bring it to life. 

Instead of shooting in Vietnam, they brought Vietnam to South Carolina. 

Carter describes his job as a "collage artist," taking images and adding depth. To do this, he works closely with the director and cinematographer to see how they framed the scene. This one's pretty straightforward. We're using Forrest and Bubba to sketch the point of view. They are the audience's window into the story. 

Credit: The Movie District

Carter got lucky on Gump because he was a child of the 1960's and new the sights and sound of that era personally. His research was mining his memories along with consulting and sketching. 

He took classic Vietnam iconography and American staples, like the Budweiser, Barbecues, Coke, and people grilling, then juxtaposed it against the palm trees and flying helicopters. He sat with the film's military advisor and set the entire camp up like it actually would have looked in Vietnam. 

These juxtapositions add emotional depth. They draw the audience in and then punch them in the gut to alienate them. It looks inviting and then we are reminded these men are at war. The activity in each frame keeps it engaging. The background makes the setting feel authentic and never takes you out of the story. 

Props

We tend to think of production designers as people who build sets, but they also have a say in the props. 

My favorite part of the video is when Carter talks about having Lieutenant Dan carry toilet paper and smoke his cigar. The toilet paper gives him and his walk a sense of urgency. He has to be somewhere. It's comical, but it shows you Dan has lost all sense of decorum from the old world. 

Credit: Paramount Pictures

This is war, manners are the last thing on his mind. 

The cigar becomes the character's calling card. This is where it's introduced in a subtle way. Just like the array of dog tags he wears on his neck. 

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