May 26, 2019

A designer’s dream come true

Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press

Imagine Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and host of the upcoming Oscars airing Sunday night, walking up –– and giving you a pat on the back.

For Fresno State alumnus Roy Christopher, this scenario is not imagination, but reality.

“Of all the years of doing this and of all the hosts I have worked with, Stewart is the only one that has ever complimented my design,” Christopher said.

Christopher is working closely with Jon Stewart because Christopher is the set designer for this year’s Oscar ceremony.

He said Stewart just came out one day and said to him that he loves how he has “brought back the nostalgia of old Hollywood but yet gave it a contemporary twist.”

This ceremony will mark his 18th time designing the set for the Oscars, since he first began working on the show in 1979. Christopher said this year’s design will be more bold, masculine, and futuristic as compared to the design he created the last time he designed an Oscars set in 2006.

“It’s huge, nearly 40 feet tall, and I have been told by producers and artistic directors that this set reminds them of the old silent movie ‘Metropolis,’” Christopher said.

His most recent set was a direct nod to his hometown of Fresno. The 2006 Oscars set was a replication of Fresno’s Tower Theatre. He said he created that set to evoke the feeling of how fun it is to go to the movies. For him, Fresno’s Tower Theatre is where all his exciting memories of American cinema were generated.

“I was just a farm boy from Fresno who would go to the Tower Theatre to watch movies that I loved and think to myself, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do with my life,’” Christopher said.

These dreams Christopher envisioned in his youth became a passion as he studied theater here at Fresno State. He at first was pursuing a career in acting, and after graduating in 1961, moved with his wife, fellow alumnus Dorothy Christopher, to Hollywood.

While working on a few small productions, Christopher said he began getting recognition for his set design work. His wife then encouraged him to maybe switch career goals.

“She told me, ‘I know it’s not acting, but it’s something, and think this could really work out for you, I think you have found your niche so to speak,’” Christopher said.

So Christopher sent out resumes and eventually got hired at NBC as a scenery designer. After working on a few television shows, he finally understood that set design is exactly the type of work he was looking for.

“While working at NBC, I felt at home and realized that this type of work is perfect for me,” Christopher said.

Since then Christopher has won seven of TV’s most prestigious prizes –– an Emmy. He’s also had 17 Emmy nominations for designing the look of Oscar presentations. He has been nominated for 19 other Emmys, winning twice. His TV work has included the series “Frasier” and “Murphy Brown,” and specials starring Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore.

Christopher’s distinguished career was recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, presented by Fresno State at the 2007 commencement ceremony. He also won a Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Award for set design of the 2007 run of “Can-Can” at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse.

Christopher is very grateful for his success and feels blessed, crediting the sometimes unusual direction life can take for how he happened upon this very exciting and promising career.
“We often never really know where life will take us and luckily the direction that life lead me was the best and most fulfilling,” Christopher said.

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