Every now and then, directors describe the city their film is set in as one of its main characters. This claim can only come off as pretentious, but it does make a point: settings have a substantial impact on films. Not just the city, planet, or age in which scenes unfold either—interiors also play a key role in the action. In order to see how the layout of a setting elevates it to more than mere window-dressing, though, it helps to look from a different angle.
Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian are champions of the relationship between architecture and action. The two come from different backgrounds—Ahi is a project designer at BCA Architects, while Karaoghlanian is a filmmaker—but they’ve found a way to bring these focuses together. Their online journal Interiors presents settings of films from an oft-neglected viewpoint: aerial. Much like the sitcom apartments we saw this past summer, Interiors brings the background to the forefront with floorplans of movie settings.
"There isn't a lot of critical analysis about the relationship between film and architecture," says Ahi. "We wanted to start a new conversation."
His and Karaoghlanian’s magazine, which has now been active for over a year, focuses on just one film at a time. It starts out with a detailed essay on how space is used in a setting—perhaps the house from Up or the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey—and continues with blueprints from specific scenes (which the creators also sell as posters). For film buffs, it’s a chance to take a new look at some beloved atmosphere; for architecture aficionados, it’s a chance to measure films for verisimilitude.
"Certain scenes are either shot from above or there is enough information on the screen for us to dissect every angle of the space," says Ahi. "There are times when we have to make educated guesses, but these guesses are usually based on architectural data. We often use a door, window, or a character as a reference point for measuring an entire space."
Ahi and his partner are trained to watch movies closely enough to appreciate the commitment certain directors make to realism and precision. "A shot that lasts for less than 10 seconds in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might require days of research and analysis on our part," Karaoghlanian says. "Simply because [director David] Fincher is very detail-oriented in the design of his scenes."
Preferred directors aside, the pair decides on which films to explore in the magazine based on two factors. Any scene they focus their attention on must be one that is integral to the narrative of the film, and it also must contain a vast wealth of information that lends itself to analysis—tracking shots and a variety of angles, for instance, provide them with a solid sense of the space in question. Sometimes, however, they have to do more in-depth research.
"Some of the scenes we’ve analyzed are filmed at actual locations, so we want to make sure that we look at all of the information available," Ahi says. "A Single Man was shot primarily at the Schaffer House, which is a John Lautner Residence in Glendale. We were able to get actual architectural drawings from the film's art director, Ian Phillips. He explained to us that some of the rooms within the house were created to look like other spaces. For instance, a bedroom had to be created within the house's living room, so that the camera had enough space to film."
Apparently, though, collaborations like this one are just the beginning. Karaoghlanian adds, "In the future, we plan on working more closely with filmmakers to start analyzing entire films with their support and notes."
Have a look at more of the interiors in the slides above.