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Can Set Design for Devil in the White City Recreate the Columbian Exposition?

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We're excited about the possibilities of the forthcoming Devil in the White City movie, so much that we've already created our dream cast for a film that's still a long way from shooting. But we won't let timing get in the way, especially when it comes to the most important part of the movie: the set and production design. While the film press has been focused on Leonardo DiCaprio stepping forward to play the role of serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes and once again collaborating with director Martin Scorsese, we're more interested in seeing who Scorsese entrusts with the role of reproducing the White City, the grid of white stucco structures and electric lights that became a centerpiece of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Over the course of his many film and television projects, Scorsese has worked with some of the best in the industry, which suggests any digital or physical reproductions may live up to the high expectations of architecture fans. That's an especially challenging bar to reach, since any film portrayal of the exposition would have to convincingly showcase a site that covered more than 600 acres and included almost 200 separate buildings.

When looking at Scorsese's work for a hint of how this problem may be approached, perhaps the closest project in terms of scope and style might be Boardwalk Empire. Scorsese directed the first episode of HBO's Prohibition-era Atlantic City drama, which featured a massive boardwalk set built in real life on the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint. Production designer Bob Shaw oversaw the construction of the steel-reinforced set, which took three-and-a-half months to build, a realistic setting that helped filmmakers create a digital/physical hybrid for the final product. Scenes filmed on the faux boardwalk were enhanced post-production with the addition of computer-generated backgrounds and multi-story structures, a compromise between accuracy and expense that might be the best way to recreate the White City without actually rebuilding it. Even better if Shaw is involved in the recreating Chicago in 1893, Boardwalk Empire occasionally had scenes set in Chicago, meaning he has experience evoking the look and feel of that city's neighborhoods, a nice asset for the H.H. Holmes storyline. Shaw and Scorsese have also teamed up on other large-scale project: shooting The Wolf of Wall Street required 150 different locations.

Scorsese has also called on the talents of Dante Feretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, a husband/wife production designer/set decorator duo who have established a reputation as industry legends. Longtime collaborator Feretti worked with Scorsese most recently on the forthcoming film SIlence, also helped create stylish facsimiles of former eras of Las Vegas and New York for Casino and Gangs of New York. Feretti is renowned for his meticulous research; during the filming of Hugo, set in '30s Paris, he rebuilt the famous glass studio of cinema pioneer George Méliès. While it's not a direct matchup in terms of styles, it does show hime working with some of the Beaux-Arts architecture that would dominate the White City. While nothing is confirmed, considering his past collaborations, it looks like Scorsese will have a deep well of creative designers to assist with recreating this iconic setting.

· Devil in the Details: Can DiCaprio & Scorsese Recreate Devil in the White City? [Curbed]