BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — For Birmingham native Sarah Rose Mouyal, her interest in visually telling a story through film came while watching “The Holiday.”
“I loved how Kate Winslet’s little cottage in England contrasted with Cameron Diaz’s modern house in L.A. and I just remember becoming aware of set design after watching that movie,” Mouyal said.
She ventured into the trade of crafting stories through sets by enrolling at Auburn University and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theater design and technology.
“I painted almost every set there, helping build the sets, studying how to make design drawings and all sort of the basics of theater. That was really my foundation,” Mouyal said. “So I started in theater, fell in love with it, but I knew that I wanted to work in the film industry so it was sort of my stepping stone.”
Mouyal then continued her education through an MFA program for theater and film at San Diego State, gaining experience and connections to build up her career — working on sets for “Criminal Minds,” “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” and “Modern Family.”
After wrapping up her work on “Bosch: Legacy,” Mouyal flew out to Savannah, Ga. to work on the dark comedy and psychological horror film “The Menu.”
As an assistant art director for the film, Mouyal primarily focused on designing the exterior sets that were away from Hawthorn restaurant, such as chef Julian Slowik’s cabin, the bunker where the kitchen staff lived and the dock.
“I would survey and measure the locations, make ground plans. I would lead and manage while they would load in the sets to those locations, making sure everything matched our drawings, fit perfectly right and looked right,” Mouyal said.
“The Menu” was filmed over the course of eight weeks, with a straight six weeks spent filming exclusively in Hawthorn’s dining room, according to Mouyal.
When it comes to a scene that was the hardest to perfect, Mouyal noted the film’s fiery finale.
“When we had to figure out how to do the s’mores scene – the larger-than-life desert scene, because we had to have those giant chocolate spill shapes all over the floor,” Mouyal said. “We were like, ‘How are we going to achieve this [with the] whole crew and actors walking around the set?’ We can’t have actual chocolate on the floor, plus the cleanup would have been really difficult.”
After spending a few weeks working through different ideas, the answer relied on the craft of art design.
“For the tight shots, we did have the actors pour actual syrup on the floor. But for the top view wide shots, we ended up making them out of like, a cured rubber resin,” Mouyal said. “They were just like floppy shapes that we would lay out and we used a black light marker to go in and mark where they should be exactly so that we could then go in and like reset it.”
When it comes to her favorite prop used in the film, Mouyal goes with the plot points of the narrative — the food.
“There was like a prep kitchen offset where they were always testing and prepping what the food props were going to look like,” Mouyal said. “Just going by to see what everything looked like was so fun every day. Half the time, I couldn’t even tell what it was they were making because it was so high-end and weird, which I think was the goal.”
In describing the role of an art director, Mouyal says it’s a “jack of all trades” that requires equal parts of research and communication combined into one.
“You have to have knowledge of architecture, building, construction and paint. You need to know computer-aided design (CAD), model-making and 3D modeling,” Mouyal said. “You may be designing a small piece of scenery or communicating with construction about how something needs to be built and how it needs to look.”
In Mouyal’s opinion, successful art design is the spice to telling a story — whether on-set, while filming, or on-stage in a theater.
“I think it’s all about telling the story and being true to it and the characters,” Mouyal said. “It’s about really analyzing [those elements.] What would their home look like or what did their office look like? What would Chef’s kitchen look like? I think successful design comes through when you’re paying attention to the story and being true to the script.”
When it comes to what’s next for Mouyal, she noted that she’s worked on the set of “Jess Plus None,” an independent comedy flick that will hopefully be coming to streaming services by the end of 2023.
When asked to name her favorite character from “The Menu”, Mouyal picked Golden Globe winner and lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy.
“She’s so amazing and I just love all of her work. I thought she was perfect for the role and, crazy story, she is actually married now to someone that I went to [Mountain Brook High School] with,” Mouyal said. “They met in L.A. and are now married, and I worked on the film that she was in, so it’s just a really interesting connection — small world!”