David O Russell’s latest film, JOY, is based loosely on Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop among many other things. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy and Robert DeNiro as her father Rudy. I saw it recently and loved it – it's a great movie. I admit I may have been slightly swayed by the fact that I worked on a few props for it last winter, with propmaster Vinnie Mazzarella. We’ve worked together a lot over the last few years on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Silver Linings Playbook. At one point early on during JOY, Vinnie called me and said “This is gonna sound weird, but back in your day, what did people do before computer dating?” By “your day” he meant the late 80s, when most of the action of JOY is set. I told Vinnie that in that magical time, the back pages of magazines and indie newspapers were filled to bursting with personal ads and ads for dating services. The director didn’t want to use a real magazine for this, so I suggested I make up our own version of the type of free local periodical that you used to see in street corner boxes and by the doors of restaurants. Like Auto Trader, but full of personals. They were so busy filming between epic blizzards in Boston that I was left pretty much alone to come up with this thing. It was fun – writing copy, making up fake ads and putting it together. As with many other movie props, the design part is a careful balancing act. You want to make something that looks good, but it’s much more important that it look convincing. So I closed my eyes and tried to conjure up a mental image of some bad 80s display typography and stock photography… et voila! Long Island Strictly Personals - an 80s freebie rag that never existed.
In the back office of his auto body shop, Joy’s divorced father scours the personal ads and spots a likely prospect.
I knew we’d probably never see the inside front cover on screen (turns out I was right), but I never like to leave pages blank on a prop book or magazine, just in case. So why not make up a bunch of fake dating service ads? I used some 80s pictures of me, my wife, her sister, and my friend Max.
Besides this, I worked on lots of other paper props for Joy – checks, legal papers, notary seals, reams and reams of patents and patent applications, and other stuff. I also doggedly tracked down complete runs of 1988, ‘89’ and ’90 Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler magazines.
Thankfully those ended up not appearing onscreen, but another thing I worked on did – a children’s’ book about cicadas that Joy reads to her daughter. I did the illustrations, designed the interior, and printed and bound the hardcover books. There was a lot of back and forth with this thing – I made several versions. There were more than a few all-nighters and frantic delivery runs up to Boston during howling blizzards, so I’m glad we actually see it after all of that. As a bonus, you see a few shots of a “real” children’s book that I illustrated – Hit The Road Jack by Robert Burleigh.
These spreads are from an early version of the cicada book. In the movie you see huge full screen close-ups of the cicada illustrations.