Hidden away in an empty retail space next to Los Angeles’ Landmark Theater, sitting slap in the middle of the expansive white floor, is a small wooden shed. Its rough outer walls and peaked roof give it the look of a child’s treehouse somehow transported to this unlikely spot. Or perhaps this is a pop-up gallery and the shed is a piece of art?
The truth is, the shed is a sort of art, since it required an incredible amount of thought and creativity to bring it into being. This shed is actually the room from the set of Room–in which Brie Larson plays Ma, a woman abducted and held for years along with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). The room in the story is both Ma’s prison and Jack’s whole world for the first five years of his life. Now the original structure has been brought from the Canadian set to L.A.
Walking inside the shed is a somewhat eerie experience. It’s a testament to the power of the film that the beautifully-detailed set seems like a real place in which Ma and Jack spent years in captivity. “It’s like you’re visiting the scene of a crime or something,” director Lenny Abraham says. “On Sunday we brought people in here who had just seen the film and some people were really emotional and teary when they came in.”
“I think about this room as you’ve taken two lives–Ma’s and Jack’s–and you’ve got the boy’s exercise, his schooling, his bedroom, his play area, the kitchen, and you’ve condensed them into this one small space and you’re trying to preserve traces of all those habits of behavior. Even the grease pattern of their heads against the wall, because that’s where they would have sat so many times together. Everything was thought about.”
The structure was set up slightly differently on the original set to allow for camera movement, says Abrahamson. “We built it on a platform because we wanted to be able to get the camera absolutely everywhere without cheating. The lens was always inside the space, because that’s your eye effectively, and we wanted to be able to say, ‘This is shot for real in the room.’ But to be able to get the camera low, high or to the edges of the walls, we could remove panels.”
Something else that adds to the strangeness of “room” is that the sound inside is completely dead, with no echo whatsoever. Abrahamson gestures to the cork tiling and homemade soundproofing lining the walls. “All the things we used to construct it are things we thought he (the abductor) could have got cheaply where he’s from. Ethan (Tobman, the film’s set designer) just went into a hi-fi store and said, ‘Hey if I want to make a shed in my garden to listen to really loud music what would I do?’ In a way it’s like a recording studio in here,” he says.
Much care was taken to depict accurate aging of the surroundings. “We looked at how wear and tear happens and how the sunlight would move through the room,” Abrahamson says, “and that allows the designer and the D.P. to think about lighting. I wanted it to pass across the pillow, (so Ma would) be waking up with that hard light. We thought, ‘OK, which tiles would have been more faded by the sun?’ “
Outside the room are tables neatly laid with accoutrements from the film: Jack’s favorite cereal spoon, known as “Meltedy Spoon,” a mobile made from string, Sweet’n’Low packets, and toys made from toilet rolls, egg cartons and eggshells. Tobman saved and cleaned trash so that Larson and Tremblay could make “trash” toys together for their characters–just one part of the efforts that went into getting this set just right. It seems only fitting it’s been made into something of a museum piece.
To see the trailer for Room, click play below: