“I hadn’t even been in Los Angeles in the 1970s, so a lot of what was iconic to native Angelenos, I had to learn,” Bridgland, who’s originally from London, says. “The producer Joel Silver would take me on little neighborhood tours to places he knew well. We dug into archives, but one of the really useful things was social media, like Tumblr, where I found these Super 8 films, like this footage of someone coming to L.A. for the first time and driving down Hollywood Boulevard, and there it all was — all the sex shops, people hanging out, in color.”
Becoming an expert in all things 1970s porn and sex shops became an interesting facet of the job. The Nice Guys follows two detectives, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe), who search for a missing porn star.
For a scene depicting a sex shop on Hollywood Boulevard, Bridgland had to dress 20 empty storefronts ultra-realistically. If it didn’t come off as authentic, it wouldn’t sell — or distract from — the inevitable CGI they’d have to add in the background to make streets look wider, longer and more lined with palm trees. The sex shop had to be perfect.
“We researched what kinds of sex toys people used in the 1970s, what they all looked like,”
Bridgland’s most difficult feat was recreating 1977's porn magazines and billboards, because, he says, graphics, illustrations and newspapers in a movie are the first things an audience will call out for looking like a prop if they’re not done correctly.
“We had to take ‘glamor’ photos of the girl who goes missing in the movie, so we got out of retirement the photographer Arny Freytag, who did the centerfolds for Playboy in the ‘70s,”
That attention to detail went into the porn illustrations required for billboards and magazines. Bridgland had to track down a man in New Zealand who specialized in that long-gone style of “glamor” illustration. But when it came time to film iconic L.A. architecture, Bridgland thought he would never find the most crucial location, at least not in Atlanta: the Lautner-
“For the interior, I took my inspiration from Hugh Hefner,”
For Bridgland, keying into the world of the film includes something he calls the “smell” of it: so many layers of authentic objects, textures, patterns or memory triggers that you can almost smell that you’re there.
“I love using wallpapers,”
What people may not realize about production designers is that their job extends far past the look or “smell” of the film, spilling into the territory of cinematography and even direction. As locations change, so too do stories and camera angles. Bridgland sometimes slyly backs the director into a corner by creating a particularly cinematic corner of a room; a director can’t possibly turn it down when it's the place to set up a shot. The director of photography, meanwhile, must be the production designer’s best friend: Bad lighting can cancel out all the meticulous work of set design.
Despite the larger budget of The Nice Guys, which allowed him to build in all those layers over the course of seven months in total, Bridgland never forgets the beginner’s spirit — and stupidity — that got him where he is today.
“All those times when the trees have no leaves on them, but it’s summer in the script? Somebody had to go up and put all the leaves on the trees. I’ve never done it, but I have had to shave trees,” he says. “Don’t worry. The trees survived.”
(Thanks to Curbed Atlanta for their assistance in identifying the Dallas Austen house.)