The creative team Brest assembled to film Meet Joe Black includes some of the most accomplished and talented artists working in films today. The production designer, who created the massive Parrish mansion and offices, is Dante Ferretti, a five-time Academy Award®-nominee for his production designs of Interview with the Vampire, The Age of Innocence, Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Kundun.
Director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, an Academy Award®-nominee for his work on The Little Princess, has also photographed Like Water for Chocolate, The Birdcage and Great Expectations.
Composer Thomas Newman, who previously worked with Brest on Scent of A Woman,
has been nominated for Academy Awards® for his music in Little Women, The Shawshank Redemption and Unstrung Heroes.
Costume designers are Aude Bronson-Howard, who worked with Brest on Scent of A Woman and whose credits include Looking for Richard and Romeo Is Bleeding, and David C. Robinson. Robinson co-designed Donnie Brasco with Ms. Bronson-Howard, and created the costumes for I Shot Andy Warhol.
The editors are Joe Hutshing and Michael Tronick. Hutshing has won two Academy Awards® for his work on JFK and Born on the Fourth of July, and was nominated for Jerry Maguire. Brest previously worked with Tronick on Scent of a Woman and Midnight Run.
Executive producer Ronald L. Schwary, rejoins Brest after serving in that capacity on Scent of A Woman. He has also produced films for Robert Redford (Ordinary People) and for Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Havana, Sabrina).
Principal photography for Meet Joe Black got underway on June 11, 1997 inside a coffee shop on New York's Upper West Side at Broadway and 103rd Street. Here Brest filmed the scene in which Dr. Susan Parrish, played by Claire Forlani, has a chance encounter with a charming young man, played by Brad Pitt, who sets off unexpected sparks. The coffee shop interior completed, filming then shifted downtown to Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street where the unit cordoned-off a four square block area. Shooting on Saturday and Sunday to keep from contributing to New York's already-congested weekday traffic, the unit rehearsed and then filmed a complicated sequence involving a stunt, that had to be meticulously timed, in which Susan and the young man walk out of not only the coffee shop but also, it would appear, each others' lives.
Pitt's first scene as Joe Black involved the character's first time ever encounter with peanut butter and was filmed inside a kitchen in the Cartier Mansion off Fifth Avenue, after which the unit moved to Fifth Avenue's Metropolitan Club. Filming continued around the city and included such locations as Fifth Avenue in Midtown and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side.
Later, the cast and crew took up residence inside a former National Guard Armory in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, which the filmmakers had reconverted into a vast sound stage. The armory's gigantic drill floor (150 by 270 by 80 feet--larger than a football field) provided Dante Ferretti with the necessary space in which to construct the first and second stories of the Parrishs Fifth Avenue triplex penthouse apartment. (The third story, which contains a full-size, functional, heated swimming pool had to wait to be built until the scenes on the bedroom floor of the penthouse were completed and the set struck to make room for the pools construction.)
Ferretti's designs and their execution are magnificent and unprecedented in terms of scale and opulence for sets built on a New York City sound stage. They are also pre-eminently suitable as the home of one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men. Its not only the outsize dimensions of these breathtaking sets and their elegant furnishings that command attention, however; the magic also resides in the details.
Everywhere finely wrought particulars dazzle the eye: beautiful parquet floors with intricate inlaid borders; carved moldings on door frames and on the walls of each and every room, and brilliantly rendered copies on the walls of master paintings found not in museums but rather in private collections; rare antique furniture, silverware, porcelain china, and objets d'art; and bowers of fresh flowers in gorgeous vases everywhere provided daily by the set dressing department. These details attested to the painstaking effort that went, not merely into the design and creation of the penthouse sets, but into every single aspect of filming.
Beyond their beauty and tastefulness, the sets also serve the function of revealing Bill Parrishs characterthe breadth of his taste, his temperament, the complexity of his character, the richness of his values and humanity, all qualities that intrigue Joe Black. Production designer Ferretti, who in addition to his film work has designed sets for the world's greatest opera houses, says of his creations, "Marty and I talked very carefully over every aspect of the set. Before we started working we went to see every penthouse apartment we could get into in New York, visiting the Cartier Mansion and the home of Lady Fairfax in the Pierre Hotel. We even went to see Donald Trump's apartment in the Trump Tower. I took ideas from everywhere and blended them like a cook.
"The pleasure of working with Marty was that he gave me the freedom to do what I felt was necessary. He trusted me, so that when we began building the sets and I told him that we needed to use real materials or else the sets might look fake, he agreed and gave me carte blanche."
But talks between Brest and Ferretti went beyond the physical details of the set.
"We talked a long time about Bill Parrish's character. We knew that we had to show his vast wealth not only in terms of sizenothing could be garishbut in the way he lived. We decided to make him a serious art collector, European art, Cezanne, Matisse, Balthus for the New York penthouse, and the Hudson River School for his country estate. For his office in midtown, we decided on contemporary American and Pop artJim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg, Kandinsky.