As a production designer, Bernt Capra has excelled in recreating the great outdoors, especially the flat and dreamy American Midwest and Southwest. He was brought up to be familiar with landscapes, having been raised on an Austrian farm. After earning a degree in architecture, Capra moved to California to attend UCLA on scholarship. He worked designing buildings in Vienna and Los Angeles until the late 1970s when the film industry began to catch his attention. He did a little acting (notably the 1978 NBC miniseries "Holocaust"), but it was the design end of the business which most fascinated him.
Capra's first job was as a set designer on Elia Kazan's "The Last Tycoon" (1976) and he went on to learn his trade designing and decorating sets and creating special effects for Dino De Laurentiis on "King Kong" and "Lipstick" (both 1976) and "The White Buffalo" and "Orca" (both 1977). He was also a production designer on music videos for Tom Petty, Janet Jackson, The Pointer Sisters, and other acts. In the early 80s, he moved to Europe where he acted in experimental films and earned a living by designing for TV commercials and soap operas in Rome and Vienna. Returning to the USA, he worked with Rob Reiner on the classic rock parody "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984).
By this time, Capra was ready to pursue his career and found work in independent films. He served as art director on "Echo Park" (1986), helping to create the dingy look of that film, and was production designer on "Killing Time" (1987). He has twice worked with director Percy Adlon. "Bagdad Cafe" (1987) was a well-received gal-pal film and Capra's art direction of the bleak Mojave Desert sets helped set the mood. Less well-received was "Salmonberries" (1991), which marked the acting debut of singer k.d. lang. Again, though, Capra's work helped to create the world of this film set in Alaska. He subsequently designed "Eat Your Heart Out" (1997), the directorial debut of Adlon's son Felix.
In 1991, Capra made his feature directing debut with the intellectual drama "Mindwalk," in which Sam Waterston, Liv Ullmann and John Heard thrash out the ecological problems of the world and their own difficulties. Adapted from his brother Fritjof's novel, this slow-moving talkfest developed a cult following on the art-house circuit. Capra reached his widest audience with his production design on Lasse Hallstrom's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993). Utilizing the bleak Texas landscape, he created a dead-end town that Johnny Depp's title character dreams of escaping. Capra also recreated 40s-era New Mexico for Matthew Broderick's "Infinity" (1996), a biopic of scientist Richard Feynman. For the fish-and-dog story "Zeus and Roxanne" (1997), Capra had to build a community from scratch in the Bahamas.
Capra has also designed a number of US TV-movies, generally dramas and thrillers such as "Daddy" (ABC, 1987), "The Town Bully" (ABC, 1988), "Out of Darkness" (ABC, 1994) and "Deadly Pursuits" (NBC, 1996).
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Art Director (Feature Film)
Production Designer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Production Designer (Special)
Left architecture and got first film job, as set designer on "The Last Tycoon"
Acted in NBC miniseries "Holocaust"
First TV credit as art director, TV-movie "Daddy" (ABC)
Worked for first time with director Percy Adlon on "Bagdad Cafe"
First TV credit as production designer, TV-movie "Moving Target" (NBC)
Made feature directorial debut with "Mindwalk", adapted from a novel by his brother