The New Orleans-based Beachler, whose recent production designs include “Hateship/Courtship,” “The Culling” and “Worst Prom Ever,” worked closely with Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison to determine the proper look and feel of the film, including tiny details such as changing gas prices in a gas station scene for complete accuracy. In addition to shooting on location at San Quentin (Grant served time for drug dealing), she found the three BART station scenes, particularly Fruitvale, to be an emotional experience for cast and crew.
“I stood next to the left bullet hole in the ground where Oscar was shot,” she said. “This entire project was intense. All of us were passionate about the story and felt we needed to honor Oscar’s memory, his family, his daughter, and his community that rallied around him when he was killed. So there was a lot of pressure on set as we went deeper into the subject matter of race, discrimination and the law which was wrapped around Oscar’s humanity. Making Oscar human was what we were going for in the look of the film.”
Producing the most effective color scheme was also paramount. Attracted to the idea of certain elements failing Grant at the time of his death, Beachler instinctively felt the urge to layer institutional or rehabilitation-tinged scenes in yellow, which instantly conjures images of cautionary police tape.
“All the places that failed Oscar such as the scenes in San Quentin or even a grocery store are drenched in yellow, but the places Oscar felt most comfortable, especially his home, are given warm tones like blue, beige, green and red. And Oscar’s world, his environment, his clothes, contain gray, black and white, suggesting the gray area reflecting the transition of him becoming a man and leaving behind his past.”
Beachler discovered her love of cinema as a young child watching a drive-in double feature with her parents and also being a fan of the many beautifully decorated musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. While at WSU, where she viewed and analyzed thousands of films, she was encouraged to tailor her visual gifts to art direction.
“At Wright State, I was almost headed in the direction of being a filmmaker along with many others, but I always came back to how a movie looked, how it feeds the psychology of the characters, and how color is used to tell a story. My professors, which included Charles Derry, Russ Johnson and William Lafferty, were very vocal and vital to where my career went and how I have been moving within the film industry. Without Wright State I certainly wouldn’t be where I am.”
Beachler admits “Fruitvale Station” was one of the smallest films she has worked on, but it was an unquestionably worthwhile project that challenged her creativity and resourcefulness. She anticipates attending a Friday screening at the Neon Movies downtown and remains grateful to be associated with a movie that has the potential to spark a movement.
“I’m so proud of the film and the work we did. It’s amazing to be part of something that is much bigger than the medium it is on.”