Oral Histories

Interview of Martha Johnston

Set designer with credits that include Comes a Horseman, Wild and Free (1978), and Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Part III (1999). Worked in Universal Studios art department.
The Crafts in Hollywood: Production Design
COVID-19 Pandemic
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Set designer with credits that include Comes a Horseman, Wild and Free (1978), and Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Part III (1999). Worked in Universal Studios art department.
Collings, Jane
Johnston, Martha
Persons Present:
Johnston and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Session one: Johnston's home in Woodland Hills, California. Because of the necessity of restricting personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, the second session was conducted by phone.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, principal editor and interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Johnston was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections made were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.Some months after the oral history interview was completed, the UCLA Center for Oral History Research recontacted Johnston to invite her to participate in another interview session documenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the film and television industry. The final session thus focuses primarily on the personal, professional, and industry-wide effects of the pandemic.
2.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series of interviews was undertaken in collaboration with the Art Directors Guild. Its aim is to document the lives and work of Guild members and staff who have made a significant contribution to film and television history. Interviews capture the work of title artists, set designers, art directors, production designers, and many other categories. The contribution of labor unions in shaping the conditions of the work is also addressed.
Family history in the motion picture industry--Family’s liberal politics--A summer job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM)--Begins work at Warner Bros.--Joins Local 847, set designers and model makers--The Universal Studios art department--Johnston’s work process--Union classifications--Working schedules--More on working process--The continuing demand for “pencil people”--Work schedule as a mother.
First news of the virus--Work on Paramount Pictures production shut down--Gradual loosening of self-isolation--Encounters with those unconcerned with the pandemic--Participation of Local 800, Art Directors Guild, in crafting safe working guidelines--Political divide around pandemic response--Supports universal health coverage--Plans for social distancing going forward.