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Back to Black Production Design Secrets

Side profile of girl
Amy Winehouse - Screen Insider

Happy Back to Black opening weekend! Back to Black tells the story of the life and music of English singer and songwriter, Amy Winehouse. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and told through Amy’s eyes, the film explores and embraces the many layers of the iconic artist and the tumultuous love story at the center of one of the most legendary albums of all time.

To celebrate its release, we've compiled a list of production + set design secrets that showcase the creative inspiration and unique set pieces of this new biopic.🖤


Secret No. 1

Production designer, Sarah Greenwood, and set decorator, Katie Spencer, jumped straight from Barbie to orchestrate the set for this Amy Winehouse biopic. The two are two-time BAFTA nominees who have worked alongside each other on many films and tv series.

two women sit on a couch
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer

Secret No. 2

Greenwood and Spencer did a lot of research, including watching Asif Kapadia‘s 2015 documentary, Amy. Amy is a collection of archival footage, interviews, and testimonials that re-tell Amy's story from her youth, music career, and to her tragic passing. Greenwood and Spencer referenced these various pieces of unseen footage for their production design work.

girl and boy kneeling on street
Screen Insider

Secret No. 3 

The art department for this project was fairly small, consisting of the five art directors, two set decorators, and a small props team. The art department on a large-scale feature film can typically employ the most crew members. Hundreds of employees can make up several divisions, including illustrators, construction, graphic artists, woodworkers, set decor buyers, and more.

A woman sings into a microphone
Screen Insider

Art Directors for film and television are responsible for the visual style and aesthetic of a production. They work under the supervision of the production designer and collaborate closely with the director, cinematographer, and other key personnel to create the look and feel of the sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, and costumes.

Set Decorators for film and television are responsible for selecting, designing, and arranging the objects that furnish a set. Their role is crucial in creating the environment in which the story takes place, ensuring it looks authentic, supports the narrative, and reflects the characters' personalities and the time period.

Props Teams / Prop Masters for film and television manage all props in a film or TV production. They work with the director and production designer to identify and source necessary props, ensuring they fit the setting and characters. The prop master maintains an inventory, ensures props are correctly placed on set, and keeps them in good condition. They track prop use for consistency and adapt quickly to changes in filming needs.

Secret No. 4 

Spencer was fascinated with how analogue Amy was. She doodled and wrote lyrics in a journal; never a computer in sight. The production designers recreated her journals and had Marisa Abela, who plays Amy, doodle on the bedroom walls.

A girl sitting beside her bed
Screen Insider

Secret No. 5 

Amy’s previously owned jukebox, AMI, was featured in the film. Katie and Spencer listened to the track lists while dressing the set. The jukebox is a 1959 Automatic Musical Instruments' (AMI) J-200 stereo jukebox.

Now resting at the Amy Winehouse Foundation, the 1959 audio equipment still includes some of Amy's favorite tracks, including I Got A Woman – Samuel Davis Jr., Body and Soul – Ella Fitzgerald, and I Feel the Earth Move – Carole King.

A woman standing next to a jukebox
Sam Taylor-Johnson - The Guardian

Secret No. 6 

Key continuity props included white mugs, faux cigarettes, lanyards, and card holders.

Continuity props are items that remain consistent from scene to scene in a film or television production. These props help ensure that the timeline appears linear and grounded in both time and space for the viewer. For example, if there is a scene where Marisa Abela, portraying Amy Winehouse, is holding a mug, it is crucial that the same mug is used throughout the entire scene. This consistency prevents any distractions or confusion that might arise from noticeable changes in props, thus maintaining the illusion of a continuous and cohesive story.

A cardholder, white coffee mug, pack of cigarettes, and blue landyard sit on top of a blurred photo from the movie Back to Black

Why is Production Design So Important?

A production designer is head of the art department. On board from the beginning, they work with the director + producers to help bring the writer’s script, director’s vision + producer’s plans together as a visual whole. The production designer researches or "scouts" locations, eventually securing + preparing it for shooting. They budget the cost of materials, track expenses, and typically oversee the art director, set designers, illustrators + scenic painters to develop a specific visual style for a production. From minute details to overarching themes, a production designer must consider every aspect shown on screen, regardless of budget, they must be resourceful and think on their feet. Although the art department for Back to Black was a small crew, there is a lot of time and energy that goes into a production of this scale.

We hope you enjoyed uncovering some of these production design secrets and are looking forward to a great Back to Black opening weekend! 🎦



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