The women behind those immaculate (and immaculately pink) Barbie sets are setting the record straight.
No, they didn’t cause a global shortage of pink paint by splurging on so much for Barbie Land.
“There wasn’t enough pink paint [to begin with],” production designer Sarah Greenwood clarifies, acknowledging it was her own “off the cuff” comment to Architectural Digest (“The world ran out of pink paint”) that sparked a flurry of headlines among Barbie mania this summer.
“Yes, we found this color after lots of investigation into the perfect pink. So we go to Rosco, this amazing film company that makes this beautiful pigment … but of course, nobody was using pink until we came along. And so therefore, there wasn’t enough pink paint. We said, ‘Oh, we want 200 liters of your pure pigment.’”
Chimes in decorator Katie Spencer: “Nobody’s ever asked for that. And so it was quite funny. Then you had Warner Bros. executives calling the executive of paint companies, saying, ‘We need pink paint.’”
“And then everybody pulled together and we found pink paint in every sort of backyard workshop,” continues Greenwood. “We did get there in the end. But no, we didn’t cause the world to run out of pink paint. There wasn't enough in the first place.”
Pink paint controversies aside, it has been a heckuva ride for Greenwood and Spencer. The veteran British designer and decorator have been longtime collaborators and have shared six Oscar nominations for their work on Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Anna Karenina (2012), Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Darkest Hour (2017).
It would be a massive shock if they didn’t earn a seventh nod for Barbie, and almost as big of a surprise if they don’t leave Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre with their very first Oscars in hand.
Rarely has a practically built film set inspired such awe. Barbie stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling raved about Greenwood and Spencer’s life-size recreation of Mattel dollhouses; but the soundstages where they built Barbie Land were so buzzworthy that even actors working on movies close by, like the casts of Fast X and Aquaman 2, dropped in for a look.
Viewers, of course, ate up the scenery as well; Barbie became 2023’s highest-grossing movie with more than $1.4 billion worldwide.
While their work on Austen- and Tolstoy-based period pieces was surely rewarding, there were unique joys to working on Barbie — like the fact that their offices began to resemble a 7-year-old girl’s playroom.
“We bought a dream house, because we’d never had Barbies or anything when we were young,” Greenwood says.
“And we did play with it,” Spencer adds. “We assembled it and we played with it, and everybody played with it when they came. We had a Ken and a Barbie in there. It’s very funny what they were doing overnight, when we’d come back and find them.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. “We use a lot of reference material, which were very broad, but for pallets, [for] Americana, for the contrast between real L.A. and our Barbie Land. So it’s a journey of discovery. When it’s finished, you look at it and you go, ‘Oh, that’s quite simple.’ But actually to arrive at that simplicity was incredibly challenging.”
Ultimately, Greenwood and Spencer credit co-writer and director Greta Gerwig with engineering her vision with every facet of the production, including its simple-looking-but-very-complicated look.
“The key things that Greta said were she wanted it to have a beauty. She wanted it to be beautiful,” Spencer says. “She wanted it to have the excitement of, it's Christmas Day and you're opening your present and it actually is the present you want. It's not the slightly disappointing one.
“And the other thing she spoke about was the authentic artificiality of everything. You had to believe. You had to believe it was real. That we were going on a journey.”
Barbie is currently available to buy or rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube and other digital video providers.