LIVE BY NIGHT
LIVEBYNIGHT | Hollywood production designer Jess Gonchor on Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 1920s-set crime thriller By JAMES MOTTRAM
The production designer of Ben Affleck’s gangster movie discusses the look of the film.
Making a period-set gangster movie stand out from the crowd is no mean feat. Thankfully, the production designer on Live By Night, had it relatively easy.
“I was fortunate to be handed material that did not take place in somewhere like Chicago,” explains Jess Gonchor.
Scripted, starring and directed by Ben Affleck, the film is adapted from Dennis Lehane’s acclaimed novel, set in 1920s Prohibition America. It’s Affleck’s second Lehane adaptation, following his 2007 directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone.
The film concerns Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the gangster son of a Boston Police Deputy Superintendent, who heads to Florida to establish a new power base.
“I’d never seen a gangster movie that took place somewhere other than New York, Chicago, Boston – those type of big metropolises,” says Gonchor. “Two thirds of this movie is set in a tropical environment.”
Gonchor’s past credits include several movies by the Coen Brothers, including the Hollywood comedy Hail, Caesar!, No Country For Old Men and True Grit.
“Live By Night was probably a little bit more historically correct and Hail Caesar! was very theatrical,” he notes, hinting at how Affleck approached the adaptation.
For his first Affleck film, Gonchor says that his boss had a strong idea of how the book should translate to the screen.
“He really wanted to make it as real as possible,” he explains, “for the audience to be able to understand that Boston was a tough place to live back in those days, and the Florida scenes – these people, they were immigrants and they lived a good life, they worked hard and they played hard. So his whole mantra for the whole thing [ was that] he just wanted to make it feel as real possible.”
From a design perspective, Gonchor remembers one transitional moment in particular, when Affleck’s character gets out of jail and heads to Florida by rail: “He’s come from this gangster drab Boston – a cool, monochromatic world – and he gets off the train and it’s bright sunshine, and everything is colourful and he’s just in a different world.”
With its Florida location and such glamorous co-stars as Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana, Live By Night promises to be more exotic than the urban-set Warner Brothers pictures of the 1930s, starring James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
“It was easy to not fall into the same mould as those films,” says Gonchor. “Guys in cars, leaning out of the windows shooting Tommy guns…” Those are yesterday’s movie hoodlums.
Live By Night opens on 13 January.