"While We’re Young" is a tale of two Brooklyns for Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomie Watts) and Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). For Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), who just finished "Bridge of Spies" with Steven Spielberg, it was a return to home in New York after five years of working elsewhere. But with a different character-driven design approach.
"The idea was to go find it, so I started way before we officially began looking for locations," Stockhausen said. "I was at the Bushwick Open Studios in Brooklyn, where artists in the neighborhood open their doors. And so many people are living and working in the same space that we get to peek inside their lives. And I actually walked into the apartment that we ended up using for Jamie and Darby’s apartment in Bushwick. It was really beautiful and had been a storage facility. It had this long, open layout and this huge wall of glass that looked back towards Manhattan. It wasn’t Soho, it wasn’t Tribeca, it wasn’t fancy. It had a kind of rough and fun feeling that the whole neighborhood has and you walk right out the door and you’re in the heart of Bushwick and all around you are the beautiful street paintings and graffiti of that neighborhood.
"And Noah really wanted that continuity of truth of place. You could be in the apartment, you could go outside and be in the neighborhood without cutting together all these pieces from disparate locations. It all had this integrity to it."
They ended up using the front of the building and around the corner they shot the street beach with all existing local painting. Josh and Cornelia’s story, meanwhile, is much more about Cobble Hill Carroll Gardens, a whole different side of Brooklyn. "And by the way, this was all really fun for me because I live there and we kind of fit into these stories. It’s much more traditional and established but it’s not the Upper East Side."
And so the design was about discovering connections between characters and lifestyles: Josh reads The New York Times on his iPad or listens to music on his iPhone, while Jamie reads books and listens to vinyl, which is more of an appropriation of his elders’ cultural legacy than claiming a cultural identity of his own.
As for the "Arthritis" clip, in which Josh struggles to keep up with Jamie as they race on bikes and can no longer hide from middle age, it was about conveying the pulse of the city for Stockhausen.
"One thing that was really fun about this sequence was using real traffic in every one of those shots. It actually starts right before the biking down the street with Josh buying a hat inside a hat store in Williamsburg looking up at the bridge and seeing traffic and the subway coming over the bridge. And then we go and buy and bike in Bushwick and they’re riding down Fulton, which is a very busy street in Brooklyn, and right there in the middle of traffic, which is pretty amazing. And then we go to the doctor’s, which is up in Central Park West. But in the office there’s a window behind the doctor and you can see the traffic moving, which, from a design point of view, is fun to do when you get to feel the city moving around through the shot."
That’s world-building at its most organic and revealing.