Oral Histories

Interview of Michael Denering

Scenic artist known for work at Warner Bros. and J.C. Backings and for extensive work as a mural painter.
The Crafts in Hollywood: Production Design
COVID-19 Pandemic
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Scenic artist known for work at Warner Bros. and J.C. Backings and for extensive work as a mural painter.
Collings, Jane
Denering, Michael
Persons Present:
Denering and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and two: Denering's home in Los Angeles. Because of the necessity of restricting personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, session three 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. Denering 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 Denering to invite him 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.
6.25 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.
Early life in the San Fernando Valley among industry families, as well as an Italian American community—Work in advertising—Begins scenic work at CBS—Learns techniques for theater sets at the Center Theatre Group—Works at Grosh Backdrops and Drapery—Works at J.C. Backings—The use of dry color and the uses of acrylics—Works with Denis Olsen for Cinnabar—Paints the outdoor billboards at Warner Bros.—Work on backdrops for the movie Die Hard—Significant amount of work with J. Michael Riva-The shift to digital printing at Warner Bros.—Work on The Perfect Storm—Implementation of the Safety Pass Program.
Appreciation of creative freedom on several projects—Work on Baby’s Day Out at the John Hughes studios—Use of scenic art in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End—J. Michael Riva—Impact of changes in copyright law on scenic art—Significant backings work on Congo, Batman, and Planet of the Apes—The Safety Pass Program—Freelance career focusing on murals—Work with Clint Eastwood—Shift from film to TV on Hollywood lots—Work on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Opportunities to learn scenic work at Grosh Backdrops and Drapery—Use of dry color—Develops own acrylic paints with a chemist—A “cousins network” of descendants of Italian immigrants—Immediate cessation of work due to COVID-19—Union work on determining safe working practices going forward—Precautions taken by Denering household—The early panic buying—Cordial relations among neighborhood residents—Sense that culture must work to overcome living in fear.