DONALD G. BURT, JR.
DONALD G. BURT, JR.

Sunday evening when the Academy of Motion Pictures hosts the 93rd Academy Awards, former local resident Donald Graham Burt, Jr. could take home his second Oscar. Burt has been nominated for Production Design for the film “Mank,” along with set decorator Jan Pascal.

“Mank” is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Leading Actor and Best Director for David Fincher, with whom Burt has worked extensively during his career. Burt served as production designer for Fincher’s “The Social Network,” “Zodiac,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and numerous other projects. Burt won his first Academy Award in 2009 for his production design on the Fincher directed “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons.” Brad Pitt also won Best Leading Actor that year for his work on the film.

Visiting on the set of Benjamin Buttons, Burt and Pitt discovered they both recalled Neewollah. Pitt remembered, before his rise to leading man, attending Neewollah events while a high school student in Springfield, Mo.

Burt and his sister, May, grew up in Independence where his father, the late Rev. Donald G. Burt, served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. Burt’s mother, Dorothy, still resides in Independence. “I think Don’s talent is in his DNA,” explained Dorothy. “His grandfather was an architectural engineer and I see in Don the same attention to detail and precision. The integrity of design is so important to him.”

Burt credits an Independence High School art teacher, Bill Trotsky, with being the first person to open his eyes to pursuing an artistic career. After high school graduation, Burt attended Arizona State University, majoring in art. Burt’s work on commercials drew attention and he was invited to work on films, building his resume over years of consistent quality design.

In online interviews, Burt appeared motivated by artistic challenges and the joy of working with talented, creative people. Discussing “Mank” he related how he took to heart Fincher’s vision of “Mank” being a sister film to “Citizen Kane.” Burt studied pictures and film of Los Angeles in the 1930s to help recreate the look and feel of the time. He watched archival film of San Simeon, noting the dinner guests appeared to be wearing “bad halloween costumes.” Analyzing the vintage film helped Burt construct the San Simeon set.

Winning awards has never been Burt’s focus. “I’m very grateful for the reception I’ve received. I’m humbled by it,” Burt explained to an interviewer. Asked why he selects a project, Burt replied, “ I need to feel a connection to the script. Art still means something to me.”

Burt’s work on “Mank” has already won numerous awards but awards have never been the focus of his precision, passions and attention to detail. Should “Mank” win for Production Design, it will be the first black and white film so honored in 27 years.

“Mank” can be streamed on Netflix or purchased on various online platforms. The Academy Awards air Sunday, April 25 at 7 p.m. on ABC.