Family & Companions
A notable production designer of the 1980s and 90s, von Brandenstein has shown versatility in creating sets for both lavish historical films and glossy contemporary fare. She was born in Arizona to Russian emigrant parents. Her education abroad climaxed with two years as an apprentice at the famed Comedie Francaise. Returning to the USA, von Brandenstein threw herself into the flourishing off-Broadway scene of 60s New York at the Actors Studio and LaMaMa as a seamstress, prop maker and scene painter. 1966 saw the real start of her career in design with an eight-year stay creating costumes and sets at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco under William Ball. She also met future husband and fellow production designer Stuart Wurtzel.
Von Brandenstein began in film in 1972, first getting screen credit as a set decorator on the acclaimed drama "The Candidate" (1972). She worked as a scenic artist and later a costume designer, with credits including "Between the Lines" and "Saturday Night Fever" (both 1977). Working with Wurtzel on Joan Micklin Silver's turn-of-the-century immigrant tale "Hester Street" (1975), meanwhile, helped von Brandenstein to move into art direction. Soon she was designing sets for films as varied as the charming teen comedy-drama "Breaking Away" (1979), and Milos Forman's lavish turn-of-the-century period recreation "Ragtime" (1981), for which she received her first Oscar nomination.
By the early 80s von Brandenstein was a full-fledged production designer, assuming supervisory capacities and laying out much of the visual texture of her films. An early gem was the striking, black-and-white "Heartland" (1980), a domestic drama set in the Old West. A second film with Forman, "Amadeus" (1984), brought von Brandenstein an Oscar for her vividly detailed rendering of the age of Mozart. Her most frequent directorial collaborator, though, has been Mike Nichols. Beginning with the riveting biopic "Silkwood" (1983) and rejoining Nichols for the less successful but interesting "Working Girls" (1988) and "Postcards from the Edge" (1990), von Brandenstein has shown both imagination and a sense of verisimilitude in her crisp designs. Von Brandenstein has also distinguished herself with her work on Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables" (1987), the teen musical "Beat Street" (1984), the high society comedy-drama of "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993), and a return to the West for "The Quick and the Dead" (1995).
Art Director (Feature Film)
Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)
Production Designer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Eight-year stay with William Ball's American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco designing sets and costumes
Switched from theater to film; early feature credit, as set decorator on "The Candidate"
Worked with husband Stuart Wurtzel doing art direction on a film, "Hester Street"
Had several feature credits as costume designer, "Saturday Night Fever" and "Between the Lines"
Early feature film credit as art director, "Girlfriends"
First TV-movie credit as production designer, "Summer of My German Soldier"
First TV-movie, "The Last Tenant", credited as art director
Last major TV credit, doing the art direction on "Hardhat and Legs"
First film credit as production designer, "Heartland"
Received first Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction/Set Direction for the Milos Forman film, "Ragtime"
First collaboration with director Mike Nichols, "Silkwood"
Served as visual consultant on the Brian DePalma film, "The Untouchables"