Backdrop Recovery - Saving Film History

Mark Morris - Cinematographer | Filmmaker JC Backings, the owner and curator of thousands of scenic backdrops dating back to the 1930′s, when the scenic paint building was first constructed at MGM, moved out of their home on the Sony lot. The building where all of the backdrops were painted is being re-purposed. The sentimental, artistic and historic value of many backdrops, painted for iconic film classics, can’t be denied. But – thanks to the advance of technology – backdrops are created digitally now, not hand painted as they were for decades, by highly skilled artists who could draw and paint their scenes to look like photo-real shots for the camera. (The story of these artists is published in the ultimate book on the subject “The Art Of the Hollywood Backdrop”) So many of these backdrops don’t have any commercial use. They are old and worn, and the company couldn’t afford to keep them. To keep them from going into the trash, one of the authors of the book, Karen Maness, teamed with JC Backings and Tom Walsh, President of the Art Directors Guild to create the “Backdrop Recovery Project” to identify, catalog and photograph these artifacts of film history. Mark was lucky enough to be part of this effort by documenting/shooting the labor intensive process performed by volunteer art directors and production designers. SINGING IN THE RAIN

Tom Walsh and Karen Maness comparing the “Fit As A Fiddle” scene in “Singin In the Rain” to the original backdrop that was discovered.

Mark Morris – following in Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s footsteps

The logistics of the process were inspiring to watch. The 207 backdrops ranged in size from 6′x 10′ up to 30′x 100′. Most were fastened to wood battens that were up to 40 feet long that took three men to carry. Some paintings weighed hundreds of pounds and in total there were TONS of art. Hauling piles of these drops through the Sony lot to Stage 23 elicited amazed stares from studio veterans, and looks of wonder and interest from young artists curious about them. more from Mark Morris on his experience with the Backdrop Recovery Project ›