LOS ANGELES — Since his early life, production designer Donald Graham Burt never really had his eyes on Hollywood.
Burt grew up in Kansas and became a janitor right after college, but after living in Los Angeles for 40 years, he now has the chance at winning his second Academy Award.
What You Need To Know
- "Mank" leads this year's Academy Awards with 10 nominations, including best picture
- This year, streaming giant Netflix received a total of 35 nominations across the board
- Donald Graham Burt won an Oscar for achievement in art direction for his work on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in 2009
- The Oscars are Sunday, April 25th on ABC
“There are so many places in LA that are undiscovered, and sometimes they’re in the periphery and you don’t even notice them because you’re looking at the other things,” he said.
LA, however, does see Burt. In all his glory, like the Huntington Library Art Museum and Botanical Gardens — the gem that helped him embark on a nearly impossible journey to recreate old Hollywood.
“So much of that has been razed and transformed. To make a film about LA 90 years in the past is a challenge at best,” he said.
Burt teamed up with director David Fincher to create “Mank,” a story about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his time spent writing the cinematic classic “Citizen Kane.”
Burt and Fincher had six successful projects together, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” that earned Burt his first Oscar.
Teaming up again, the duo created what is this year’s most nominated film at the Oscars with 10 nominations, including best production design.
Working on “Mank” became Burt’s biggest opportunity to showcase his craftsmanship to date as he immersed himself in research, predominately at the Academy Library. He wanted to live and breathe 1930s Hollywood.
“I don’t feel like I was ever walking around LA in the present time. It was always with the blinders of the 30s,” he said.
Then he had to create correct period movie sets. Not so easy in present day LA.
“Copious notes of all the things that aren’t period correct: doorknobs, fire hydrants,” he said.
Combine too many contemporary details all around us with a smaller budget, meaning travel was out of the question, and Burt had to really search high and low in LA for shoot locations.
That is when he found the Huntington Gardens.
“Huntington has a natural elegance to it. It provides us with this mausoleum. This piece of architecture that felt like it would belong at San Simeon,” he said.
The perfect way to create the exterior grounds of Hearst Castle.
From his time cleaning floors to his time cleaning out any trace of modern day from “Mank’s” movie sets, Burt’s life has really come full circle.
He thinks his success really is linked to the work ethic he learned scrubbing floors back in the day.
“To just do the research was enough, and then to be able to be a part of executing it with a director like David Fincher. I think it’s the pinnacle of my career,” he said.
And to think, he may even win an Oscar to boot.