From 'The Manchurian Candidate' to 'Carlito's Way,' production designer Richard Sylbert shaped the best movie of his generation -without letting Hollywood tame his wicked tongue, refined taste, and implacable will.
December 1993

BRIAN DE PALMA is rehearsing a signature De Palma shot in Carlito's Way, which means it is full of serpentine camera moves -baroque, even. Sean Penn, playing a coked-out, high-octane lawyer in over his head with the mob, enters the dance floor of a club done in sleek neo-deco chrome and black lacquer. His hair is a halo of brown frizz: the Dershowitz look. The camera catches Penn's entrance, follows him as he grabs a skimpily clad waitress and dances her around the floor, stays with him as he exits on the opposite side, and follows him as he follows her into the bathroom for a snort of coke and a quickie, whereupon it picks up the waitress's boyfriend, a hood from the Bronx, entering from the same direction, and follows him back across the floor to a table against the far wall, where he sits down. One shot, two 360-degree pans. It's enough to make Orson Welles weep.

It's enough to make Dick Sylbert weep too. De Palma's freewheeling camera means a lot more work for him -an entire set where part might do. A tall, distinguished-looking man with a full head or gray hair (he’s 65) and dressed for war, as he puts it, in one incarnation of the countless identical outfits he has worn on every show he's worked on since the '50s -matching khaki safari jacket and trousers - Sylbert watches the delicate ballet from a perch on a balcony well above the fray. It's a characteristic Sylbert perspective, one that allows him to indulge his twin penchants: derision and instruction.

Sylbert is the movie's production designer, which is to say he invented the world in which De Palma's camera operates. There is not much Sylbert hasn't seen in the course of his 40-year career, and now, in an instructional mode, he proceeds to describe how Roman, Mike, Warren, and John might have executed this shot. "Roman would have done it hand-held," he says in a loud whisper, while the first AD shouts for quiet on the set. "Mike might have used a dance platform attached to the front of the camera that turns, so you think the people are actually dancing. At one point he would have had to cut to get them into the bathroom. Warren would have gotten to the actors with the waiter who's walking through the crowd, because the waiter covers the motion of the camera. John would have been the simplest of all. He would have shot a static master, then gone to four or five cuts, starting with a wide shot and ending with closer stuff. Whereas Brian did it in one piece. This is an Orson Welles guy. The opening of Touch of Evil."

Polanski, Beatty, Nichols, Huston- Sylbert has worked with them all, and few production designers have had careers as lengthy, various, and distinguished as to allow these reflections. In the first phase, roughly 1955 to 1965, he designed for the best directors then working -Elia Kazan, Martin Ritt, Robert Rossen, John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet- on some of their best movies: Baby Doll, A Face in the Crowd, and Splendor in the Grass with Kazan; Edge of the City with Ritt; The Pawnbroker, The Fugitive Kind, and Long Day's Journey Into Night with Lumet; Lilith with Rossen; and The Manchurian Candidate with Frankenheimer.

But Sylbert was just warming up, feeling out the territory, getting his hands around the job. In the next decade, from 1965 to 1975, he designed many of the major movies in what turned out to be Hollywood's last golden age: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, and Carnal Knowledge for Nichols; Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown for Polanski; Shampoo for Beatty and Hal Ashby. Then, in an unprecedented move, he became head of production at Paramount for a year and a half, before returning to cap the decade with Reds, Beatty's epic tribute to John Reed and the American Left.

"All the people I started with were theater directors," he continues. "Basically interested in the emotional dynamics of the narrative. All their references were to real life. They were not moving the camera; they were moving the audience. I never had a conversation with Kazan in which he referred to another movie.

"The first film school director I ever ran across was Francis Coppola. We were standing on a set, and he said to me, 'This is going to be the Kurosawa shot.' I had never heard anybody say that in my life. Brian's choice is the film school choice. The film school guys come from one man -a genius, who at 25 years old made Citizen Kane. He was a show-off. He said, 'Look at me; I'm the director.' Nobody I worked with would ever have thought of doing that. They all wanted to disappear so you could watch the movie.

"Still, Brian enjoys working with actors. And he's interested in story; he's not just showing off, trying to figure out how to do a 360 with a Louma crane. He has a real signature. Brian is a movement director, like Bertolucci. Writing with the camera. It's very good for this movie because of all these big spaces. Grand Central and Times Square. He really appreciates this set, dreams about it. He walked in the first day, looked at me, said, 'I'm gonna shoot every inch of this fucking thing.'

"But none of my guys were strong visually; that's why I got along so well with them, because I took care of one part of the problem. It's redundant for me to do a picture with Ridley Scott. Or Kubrick. It's better to help someone on their weak side. For me, the ideal director is the blind storyteller, Homer -and I am the Seeing Eye dog."

After Reds, Sylbert could easily have gone fishing, but he went on to do two movies that lived fast, died young, and left extremely good-looking corpses: The Cotton Club and The Bonfire of the Vanities, as well as an eclectic group that includes Frances, Tequila Sunrise, Dick Tracy, and now Carlito's Way. He has been nominated for six Oscars and won two.

But despite Sylbert's stature among his peers and a handful of the best directors, few filmgoers know much about what production designers do, and neither, apparently, do the professionals within the industry who freely award Oscars to what Sylbert acidly calls rent-a-palace movies: those for which production designers do no more than lease an English country estate or a French chateau. "It's appalling," he says. "Lots of movies require a real estate license instead of designing ability. You get a house and fluff up the cushions."

Carlito's Way is being shot at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens. Sylbert likes working in New York. "And I've had the chance to do a couple of sensational sets in a movie that needs them desperately." One of the sets he's referring to is the nightclub where Penn waltzes around. Sylbert has made it look like a ship-replete with portholes, life preservers, and a night sky ceiling with tiny twinkling stars like diamonds flung across a blacktop. A plastic steamship is embedded in the middle of the foyer, and the dance floor is filled with eddies of syncopated light that appear to chase one another like breakers. One of Sylbert's talents is his ability to boil down a script into one or two visual metaphors that express the essence of the movie, and then use them to structure the film's look. In Carnal Knowledge it was the emptiness of sex-as-voyeurism, with every window looking out on another window. Here it is escape. Everyone in this movie wants out; the ship represents a vision of freedom. The fact that it goes nowhere, that it's anchored to the concrete street, is an irony no less effective for its obviousness.

100H-152-016 “Carnal Knowledge” (1971): Ann-Margret with Nicholson in the film.

DICK SYLBERT Is A CURIOSITY in Hollywood -an educated, cultured man who actually reads books all the way through and goes to fine art museums for pleasure. He is something of a polymath, a man who can talk knowledgeably and at length about a startlingly broad array of subjects. He is the kind of person who can read the world in a cobblestone. He knows painting, costumes, music, photography, architecture, design, and furniture. He knows the chemistry of film emulsions. He knows materials, how things are made, and how to make them look like things they're not. At a time when Hollywood art directors were painting cracks on walls, Sylbert came up with a way of inflicting real cracks in Celotex, a substance that perfectly simulates the bruised interior surfaces of New York walk-ups. He is proud of fashioning fake brick that looks totally authentic. He enjoys solving problems and creating illusions, making a space look twice as big as it really is.

Always a bit of a gypsy, Sylbert is at home in any one of four or five countries and has friends everywhere. He has married three times, fathered five children, and embraced the Hollywood lifestyle: bought and sold big houses or lost them in divorces, lived at the Chateau Marmont, lived at the beach, lived in the Hills, and eaten at four decades worth of fashionable restaurants (he even designed one himself).

But that was then; this is now. Sylbert lives quietly in a second-floor rental apartment on a nondescript street in Hollywood. He has designed some of the most sumptuous films in memory and has had easy access to priceless antiques, yet he only owns a handful of well-worn, comfortable items and a small art collection featuring mostly 19th-century American paintings. "Before I was 25, I had made all the decisions about style and what I really needed, and I really needed very little," he says. "I've never had anything to do with fashion, because I don't think it has anything to do with style. Fashion is a disease and a waste of human energy."

And despite (or perhaps because of) the achievement, the intelligence, the lavish talent, there is something restless and dissatisfied about Sylbert, a whiff of bitterness evident in the caustic jabs, the often cruel flick of the tongue that has always gotten him into trouble. "Sometimes that razor wit, especially when it's not around the dinner table but given to the press, is quite startling to someone who considers him a friend," says Anthea Sylbert, who's a partner in Goldie Hawn's production company, worked for Dick as a costume designer for nearly a decade, and was once married to Dick's identical twin, Paul, also a production designer. "He said something about me that almost cost me my life," says producer Robert Evans, an old friend. In the early '80s Entertainment Tonight did a series on The Cotton Club featuring Sylbert, Evans, and the Doumanis, who were wealthy Las Vegas investors. "Sylbert's remark was, 'Evans is a genius. Who else could con people out of $47 million?' When the people in Vegas heard this, they began laughing at the Doumanis, after which I didn't want to be in the same country."

"Paul is the more bitter, more angry of the two," says Anthea. "Someone once put it this way: Dick is more of a diplomat. He will put the ice pick somewhere in your back, you're not quite sure, and you sort of feel tickled; Paul, while facing you, sticks it in your gut. I always used to think that if you put them together, they'd make the perfect person."

"The impulse to categorize, to separate, to discriminate, to divide, to distinguish, most often not favorably," says Dick's second wife, Susanna Moore, "must come from this need to separate himself from this other thing, this egg. He once said to me, 'Can you imagine what it must have been like being born, the two of us in there struggling and kicking and fighting and pushing for air, trying to escape?' I said, 'I bet I know who got out first.' He said, 'Yeah, I did.'"

SYLBERT WAS BORN IN BROOKLYN in 1928, in a Swedish hospital in Flatbush. "As Budd Schulberg would say, I'm Jewish only on my mother's and father's side," he quips. "I used to read on the roof of the building by the lights of Ebbets Field." Dick and Paul went to high school together (same class) and went into the infantry together (same unit). They went to the Tyler School of Art together and shared the same friends, all of them bright, ambitious men who wanted to be painters: David Levine, Aaron Shikler, and Roy Davis. When they got out, in the late '50s, Dick and Paul moved back to New York and eventually lived in the same building on Riverside Drive. They wore the same clothes from the same tailor. They both smoked pipes. They were both tall, good-looking, entertaining -magnets for women whom they sometimes shared or who shared them. Dick got a job painting scenery at NBC to pay the bills. He married Carol Godshalk, who worked in wardrobe at NBC, and had three sons. Paul worked at CBS.

"The connection is slightly eerie," says Anthea. "One will get an ear infection in the right ear, and then four days later the other one will get it in the left ear. Dick stood in for Paul for a week once, and the director never noticed the difference." Adds Levine, "If anything, the number of times they've married indicates a mirror image kind of thing. If one brother breaks a marriage up, the other does sooner or later too."

It was the golden age of television, and Dick met Frankenheimer, George Roy Hill, and Robert Mulligan. He rose quickly through the ranks, and after a year he was designing for William Cameron Menzies, generally regarded as the greatest art director of them all. Menzies encouraged Sylbert to go to Hollywood, which he himself despised. "Talking to Menzies, I got the idea that being a designer was being a principal character," says Sylbert. "He was not the help. He said to me one day, 'Sam Wood never knew where to put the camera. I drew him a picture."

Sylbert worked on a small movie in New York and got recommended to Kazan. "I went to his office. It was above the Astor Theater on 44th and Broadway. Little dump. Couch had holes in it. Kazan said, 'Read the script; come back tomorrow.' It was the script for Baby Doll. So I read it and I came back the next day and he said, 'Draw me some things.' So I drew a porch in an old southern house with a rocking chair next to it. And a tube of ointment that was sort of twisted up. He said to me, 'What kind of ointment is that?' And I said, 'I have no idea.' He said, 'It's pile ointment. I'll see you in Mississippi.' That was my first lesson in specifics." Kazan demanded that design reflect character. "It couldn't look fake, it couldn't look like Hollywood pictures," says Paul, who worked with Dick on Baby Doll and A Face in the Crowd. (Says Kazan: "I liked to work with Dick because there was a sense of fun and pleasure about the guy." Otherwise: "I don't remember a damn thing.")

Sylbert was learning fast, scrambling over the walls of a Brooklyn Jewish upbringing. Like so many in the business, he was inventing himself as he went along. While he was in Mississippi, he looked up William Faulkner. Levine remembers, "When he came back, he distributed bottles of bourbon to his friends so he'd have the right drink when he came, and he went in for fishing in a big way, making the flies, buying the rods. He made a persona by taking pieces from various people he admired."

In 1960 Sylbert did The Fugitive Kind, with Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani, for Lumet. "That's when I began thinking more about designing movies," continues Sylbert. "What most designers do, if they have half a brain in their heads, is design for character. They make up a backstory like an actor would. I said, 'That's fine, but what do you do next?' I started thinking about how a whole picture gets tied together. About patterns and repetition. My ideas are mostly from music."

Charles K. Feldman lured Sylbert out to Hollywood to work on Walk on the Wild Side (1962) at Columbia. Feldman, who had run Famous Artists and was one of the biggest agents of his day, had turned producer, and he encouraged Sylbert, a mere pisher, to make script notes for Ben Hecht, by that time a legend. "Charlie would say, 'Dick, talk to Ben, tell him what you think we ought to do,"' recalls Sylbert. "It was unheard-of. You used to have to get permission to leave the room. He made it very clear that I was a principal."

By the time Sylbert got to Hollywood, the studio system had long since crumbled, and the days of the big studio art departments dominated by one man -Van Nest Polglase at RKO, Hans Dreier at Paramount, Cedric Gibbons at MGM- were over. At Columbia, "they had some jerk whose only interest was placing perfume in some scenes so he'd get the kickback."

"When the studios fell apart, a lot of people began to get into pictures who really didn't have much background," says Robert Boyle, the dean of American production designers. "Sylbert's biggest impact was to reassert the importance of the production design. He contributed not only to the look of a film but to the guts of it."

L.A. designers were accustomed to the hierarchies of the studios; they knew their place. In New York how much you worked depended more on who your friends were. "Directors are your friends," Sylbert says, "and if they're not your friends, then you soon enough make them understand that they wish they were." Part of his bag of tricks was his ability to say "Fuck you" with a smile. "There's always been a lot of ass-kissing that's a substitute for intelligence," he continues. "I don't know how to do that. Brian came to me yesterday, and he said, 'I'm thinking, Is there anything Pacino did to the club when he took it over?' This is an idea you discuss three months before you build. I said, 'I don't think he gives a fuck about the club. He doesn't give a fuck about where he lives. All he gives a fuck about is the cash register. He's not an interior decorator.' And Brian never said another word about it."

In 1962 Frankenheimer hired Sylbert to design his masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate, the cold war thriller that cut through the flatulence of the early '60s like a blast of frigid air. "The look of the brainwash scene was entirely his," says George Axelrod, who wrote the script. "That brilliant 360-degree pan was only possible because of this genius invention he made, moving the set as the camera turned, using a stage technique. Nobody'd ever seen it. To this day, people ask me how it was done."

Sometime in '64 Sylbert was hanging around a coffeehouse called Cyrano, where his attention was caught by a busty, wasp-waisted Playboy Bunny-to-be named Sharmagne Leland-St. John. "One night I got up and went to the loo, and he followed me," she recalls. "When I came out, he was leaning against the wall, pipe dangling out of his mouth, and he said to me, 'I had to get a look at it up close.' I said, 'I beg your pardon.' He said, 'Your nose. It's a Klimt!' " This was the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship (and later, marriage) that has lasted to this day.

Sylbert won an Oscar for designing Nichols's first picture, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Then came The Graduate (1967). "By this time, designing was something I really had a lot of control over," he says. "We were talking about the movie being a version of Romeo and Juliet in Beverly Hills, where they're not enemies, they're friends. The houses were identical. If you were drunk, you wouldn't know which house was yours. Except one was masculine -where the boy lived. So all the openings -doorways, archways, staircases- were square. The other was feminine -where the girl lived- so they were all round."

Then Polanski, whom he had met in London, asked him to do Rosemary Baby. "Roman had great parties and lunches at this big house he had in Santa Monica," recalls Sylbert. "The guy was like-you know those kids who get up at bar mitzvahs and dance and sing? Gimme, gimme, gimme. Drive people crazy. And competitive. You told a joke, he told a joke. But he was a sweetheart."

The parties came to an end one night in August 1969, a few days before Woodstock, when Charles Manson and his gang murdered Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate, and several friends who were at the house she was renting. Sylbert was in London with Polanski and Beatty. "We flew back the next day," he recalls. "Roman was sitting on my lap on the plane, crying. It was the end of the '60s; you could hear the toilets flushing."

That same year Sylbert met Susanna Moore, an island girl from Hawaii who bore a striking resemblance to Ali MacGraw. She accompanied him to Vancouver, where he did Carnal Knowledge (1971) for Nichols. The following year, he designed The Heartbreak Kid (1972) for Elaine May. It was not unknown for him to choose pictures for the fishing -later, he did Frances at least partly because it was filmed in the state of Washington -and there was great fishing in southern Florida, where parts of Heartbreak Kid were shot. "Dick was rarely around," says Michael Hausman, who was the associate producer, "but he had this uncanny ability to show up just when Elaine was asking for him."

Sylbert began Chinatown, for Polanski, in 1973. The story revolves around the struggle over water rights in the L.A. basin, and it takes place in 1937 during a drought. There are no clouds in Sylbert's sky, because clouds suggest rain. The buildings are a bleached-out bone white, because white means heat. If something is green, there's a reason, like the lawn of Noah Cross's house, because Cross (John Huston) controls the water. Nearly every office door is made of opaque glass, creating a sense of clouded vision, an aura of mystery. Sylbert actually raised all the buildings slightly above the eye level of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), the private eye, to dramatize physically the difficulty of his task. Gittes literally has to walk uphill to solve the case.

Polanski kept the camera behind Nicholson, so the audience would not see anything before he did, then got into the habit of staying behind all the actors. Sylbert thought he was overdoing it, but characteristically didn't want to confront him directly. Rather, he forced him into a shot of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and a cop walking toward the camera by leaving the backing off a wall. "Roman comes in in the morning," Sylbert recalls, "and he says, 'Deek! Deek! There's no back!' I tricked him. There was no way he could shoot it. I know what directors want better than they do. I'm the medicine they're gonna have to take. Some people don't like to take medicine. So you have to get them in this position where they're happy to take it. They get better."

In a span of about 27 months, Sylbert designed Chinatown, Shampoo, and The Fortune back-to-back. "I had run out of directors. Mike was gone, Roman was gone, Warren took six years between pictures, Kazan never did another movie, Sidney was doing nothing." He bought a new house, married Moore, and had a child, Lulu-his fourth, her only. "One day I walked into Bob Evans's office at Paramount. He said, 'You want this job? I’m leaving.’ I said, ‘Why not? ' Sylbert replaced him as head of production. It was the first and last time a production designer became head of production at a major studio.

I LOVED TALKING TO WRITERS ABOUT SCRIPTS, and I loved buying books. I gave Cheever money, I gave Anne Rice money, I gave Richard Ford money, I gave Nancy Dowd money, I gave Norman Maclean money." Several of the books Sylbert optioned, such as A River Runs Through It and Interview With the Vampire, are only now being adapted into movies. He backed Jonathan Demme's first studio picture, an oddball film called Citizens Band (a.k.a. Handle With Care). He made Looking for Mr. Goodbar, a hit. He picked up Robert Altman's Nashville, then Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, which he only half liked. "It was this chic Marxist horseshit," he says. "It reminded me of my marriage. Now it works, now it doesn't."

But Hollywood was changing -fast. Sylbert was a man of taste among swillers at the box office trough. "When Eisner came in, the atmosphere at Paramount changed completely," he says. "It was a group of people sitting down at a table, doing what they did for ABC. It was very difficult for me to get with what they made enormously successful, which is manufactured product aiming at your knees."

Although Sylbert green-lighted The Bad News Bears, which was a huge hit, it wasn't his kind of movie and his real passions lay elsewhere.

"Somebody once asked me what it feels like to have a hit," he says. "My image is: There's this huge bird that's a cross between a pterodactyl and a vulture that lives up behind the HOLLYWOOD sign. Every night it goes out to all the studios and feeds on short ends and yesterday's trades. Every once in a while, it has to relieve itself. The studio it happens to be flying over at that time has a huge hit the next morning. When I made Bad News Bears, the bird shit on me."

Sylbert had hired Don Simpson as his assistant. "Dick never played the game you've got to play to be a successful studio executive," says Simpson. "His attitude was, 'I'm the best art director alive. If it doesn't work out, so what."' One day, recalls Sylbert, Eisner enthusiastically described an idea David Puttnam had just pitched to him: "Tristan und Isolde in space!" Sylbert delivered one of his patented one-liners: "You mean the knockwurst Romeo and Juliet?" Eisner was not amused. "Why do you always have to do that?” he asked, a note of irritation in his voice. A short time later, Sylbert vacated the executive suite.

"I felt that job was kind of a trap for him," says Beatty. "He really knows how to make movies, and I hated to see him in an office, leaning back in a chair, smoking a pipe, speculating about movies."

Although Sylbert did indeed have his profession to fall back on, he was too smart and too talented not to be frustrated by its limitations. "If you're a director, you can get one Oscar and retire," he says. "It's not true of anyone below the line; I don't care how many times you get nominated. There's a wall there." Sylbert found himself increasingly surrounded by younger filmmakers with jejune taste, narrower frames of reference -and huge, multimillion-dollar deals. For them, Kazan, Rossen -Polanski, even- were just names in a dusty textbook. It did not improve his disposition. "These guys are being paid $3 million to direct pictures badly. I truly believe, to teach a director everything there is to know about directing -that is, lenses, dollies, cranes, and the center line- if they want to pay attention to it, you could teach an alert chimp in a week. The best I can do is $300,000 a year."

"If you're a proctologist, no matter how good you are, the guy who does heart surgery makes a lot more money," says Evans. "You can only pay a certain amount for a production designer. Dick had the knowledge, the equipment, the foresight, to be as big as anyone in this industry. But when you have the bottom line to meet, you can't be a snob. And you certainly don't get rich doing that. But he didn't care. His manner apparently alienated a lot of people. He's harsh. Most people like ass-kissers around them. He should be bitter. If he weren't, he'd be a moron."

Sylbert got a divorce from Moore in 1978, resumed his on-again, off-again relationship with Sharmagne, and worked on a couple of undistinguished films. Luckily for him, Beatty was finally ready to pull the trigger on a monumental project he had been talking about for more than a decade. Reds was two years in the making, shot in four countries, with 150 sets -just the thing Sylbert needed.

Both Beatty and Sylbert might have been expected to win Oscars for Reds. Beatty did, for Best Director, but Sylbert was beaten by Norman Reynolds and Leslie Dilley, who designed Raiders of the Lost Ark. "I got rolled over by a large round rock," says Sylbert wryly. "It was the moment at which I realized there's a whole other thing going on."

It was a short leap from Raiders to Batman, but production design for its own sake was never what Sylbert was about. For him, it always served the emotional thrust of the narrative. "Somewhere in there, something has been forgotten," he says dourly. "What I've seen in the past ten years is decay; this is the stupidest generation in living memory. Somehow, I have to make the best of it."

Sylbert more than managed to make the best of it on Dick Tracy, for which he won his second Oscar. Ironically, Beatty says Sylbert was slow to embrace the use of primary colors. "He was dealing in all kinds of subtle Cotton Club-y gradations. There was a big production meeting, when I said, 'I want blue to be blue, and red to be red, and yellow to be yellow.' Dick said, 'Oh, you mean ugly.' And I said, 'Yeah. Ugly.' Gradually he came over, and he did very good work on it, as he did on Reds and Shampoo. He always does a terrific job. One shouldn't be misled by his acerbic tone. He's very nurturing, a real friend to directors."

With five children, Sylbert can't afford to hole up in his trout-fishing cabin in northwest Washington. He has to support the M&M's -mouths and mortgages. As his pal, actor Marshall Bell, says, "He's still shlepping." Still shlepping, maybe, but shlepping Hollywood-style. When he and Sharmagne married two years ago, they took what Sharmagne calls a "per diem honeymoon," visiting Veracruz, Berlin, Athens, and Cairo for the production of Ruby Cairo.

Part of Sylbert may regret never having toughed it out as a painter. "I gave it up without a struggle," says Paul. "I'm not sure he did. I think he dreamed more about being a painter. You have to be obsessed. I don't think he was obsessed with it either, but I think he wished he were. Not one of us turned out to be a great artist. We all have to face it."

"DICK IS A GREAT art director," says Brian De Palma. "If you have a great art director, you give him your ideas, and he gives you back ideas that are better. I wanted a two-level club, and I conceived the ground-floor space to accommodate these long, sinuous tracking shots so you could use a Louma crane to go up and down and follow them around. I showed the drawing to Dick, and he designed the club along the lines I had created. When we looked at the exterior, he said to me, 'This building looks like a boat. We should make the inside of the club look like a boat that they're trying to sail away in and can't.' I said it was a great idea, and that's exactly what he did."

Peter Biskind is an executive editor of PREMIERE.