By MCN Editor

Tributes To J. Michael Riva

On Friday June 1, 2012, while on location in New Orleans, production designer J. Michael Riva was preparing to head to the studio when he suffered a severe stroke. He passed away yesterday afternoon surrounded by his family.

Michael’s family has returned to Los Angeles and a service of celebration to remember his life is pending.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a contribution to H.O.P.E. Haiti or  A Place Called Home.

Michael was a beloved and respected member of the film community who found great joy in making movies. He was an adoring father to his four sons, Jean-Paul, Mikey, Daniel & Adam and a devoted husband to his wife Wendy.


Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman, Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Michael Riva was a great friend and a tremendous talent, able to tailor the look and mood of a story to the emotion in the script. We are stunned and saddened by his passing.”

Michael Lynton, Chairman & CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Amy and I worked with Michael Riva many times over the years, most recently on The Amazing Spider-Man. He will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, his friends, and his family.”

Harvey Weinstein, The Weinstein Company

“J. Michael Riva was an amazing talent and we were lucky to have him work on Django Unchained. His creativity enhanced every frame of the film.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, Producers of Django Unchained

“We are devastated by the loss of our friend and colleague.  His exceptional talent was exceeded only by his kindness and his love of life and his family.”

Marc Webb, director The Amazing Spider-Man

“Michael Riva was a wonderful collaborator, brilliant designer, an emphatic perfectionist – but most of all he was a great friend. He was a gift from the universe and I will miss him like crazy.”

Gary Martin, President of Production Administration, Sony Pictures

“The industry has lost an incredible talent and the studio and I have lost a true friend. We worked together frequently over the years and as an artist and filmmaker, Michael was in a league all his own. He was truly one of the most extraordinary and gifted production designers I have ever seen and his passing is a terrible loss to the creative community.”


Riva was an Academy Award® nominee for his work on Steven Spielberg’s THE COLOR PURPLE.  His credits include A FEW GOOD MEN, DAVE, ORDINARY PEOPLE, BRUBAKER, and the cult favorite, BUCKAROO BANZAI.

He also designed the LETHAL WEAPON series, CHARLIE’S ANGLES 1 & 2, as well as the immensely popular Dick Donner/Steven Spielberg classic, GOONIES.  In recent years he designed THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, and 7 POUNDS, with Will Smith, as well as the incredibly successful IRON MAN 1 & 2.

He completed work on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, directed by Marc Webb and had been working on DJANGO UNCHAINED for director Quentin Tarantino. A few of the directors Riva worked with include Robert Redford, Rob Reiner, Sam Raimi, Dick Donner, Steven Spielberg, Bob Rafelson, Frank Marshall, Gabriele Muccino, Oliver Stone, Ivan Reitman, Jon Favreau and Hal Ashby.

Among his television credits is the Emmy Award-winning telefilm Tuesdays with Morrie and the74th Academy Awards, for which he received an Emmy nomination. A few years later he won the Emmy for his design work on the 79th Academy Awards.

He was a Writers Guild of America nominated writer for his original screenplay, LILY IN WINTER produced for Showtime.

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2 Responses to “Tributes To J. Michael Riva”

  1. Gerry Speno says:

    I sadly just learned of Michael’s passing. I had the great honor or shall I say good time to have worked under this tireless genius once. It was some time ago and maybe his second picture. After we wrapped, he asked me to help organize his grandfather’s stuff out in Slymar after he died.. Michael, his famiy, were just what one would expect from such storied origins. Rudy, his grandfather had owned this chicken ranch and scattered about sheds and shacks were virtual gateways of movie history..on a everyday kind of scale..Who saves old Dom bottles dating back to 1921..But I can only imagine what happened as they got empty and just who might have emptied them…Rudy lined his driveway with old green glass french water bottles to keep folks from driving into the flower beds. I guess after the wine course.. Deep inside one shed I found all of Michael grandmother’s magnesium recording masters..A treasure I hope found it’s way to Michael’s or Peter’s house..A treasure I would love to have heard.
    Michael was a one of a kind whose brain was the kind of movie factory one could not acquire. It was how he thought, ingrained, instinctual, After all it was his life .. All his life. He was the kind of guy that doesn’t much populate Hollywood much anymore. Like he was born on a backlot..I guess he was.

  2. Lynn Gatlin says:

    Thanks Michael for Django…I loved the set so planning to design my personal home in that flavor.. the Candie’s Plantation “rest in peace..good and faithful servant”..WELL DONE!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon