Interview with Production Designer Maria Djurkovic (Oscar Nominated – The Imitation Game)

maria_djurkovic.jpgMaria Djurkovic is one of the most talented Production Designers in the industry today. She has created a multitude of worlds in many critically acclaimed movies and TV shows, including: Sliding Doors (1998), Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002), Mamma Mia! (2008), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), and Gold (2017).

Matthew Toffolo: Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Maria Djurkovic: Yes – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I also was very pleased with The Invisible Woman. I dont think you can tell we had a very small budget.

PHOTO: Still from the film”The Invisible Woman” (Director Ralph Fiennes)

the_invisible_woman.jpg

MT: What is a director looking for in a Production Designer?

MD: I am certain each director is looking for something different. Wes Anderson will be looking for very different qualities in a designer than Ken Loach.

MT: What is a Production Designer looking for in a director?

MD: I am certain that everyone is different. I like to work with directors for whom visuals are very important. This may seem obvious in such a visual medium as filmmaking, but believe me it isn’t.

I will meet a director for a job with a very clear idea of how I see their film. I actually like to stick my neck out, because I really don’t want to spend the next 6 to 9 months arguing. If a director likes my ideas I will get the job. If they don’t, or if they are not looking for an opinionated designer, I won’t.

The best working relationships for me are the very collaborative ones. Tomas Alfredson is my dream director. We practically finish off each other’s sentences. I enjoy working with directors who are unafraid of bold visuals and who dont get caught up in stuff that actually doesn’t matter. Those who are comfortable cheating locations and are not too literal.

Obviously the material they are wanting to direct has to be good and I have to like their work.

A sense of humor is hugely important to me. We will spend hours and hours in cars, looking at locations. We need to get on.

MT: You were nominated for an Oscar for The Imitation Game (2014). How was the Oscar experience? You didn’t win, but is it just as good being nominated? Or, did you really want to win!?

MD: It was crazy from beginning to end. I knew I would not win because I was up against “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that year. Knowing that I wouldnt win actually made the eremony much more relaxing. The year I was nominated for a BAFTA for “Tinker” I was a nervous wreck during the ceremony and had an anaphylactic shock during the dinner.

I was working in Boston in the coldest recorded east coast winter when I heard about my nomination. I had one Saturday to find a dress. Flew to LA one weekend for the nominees luncheon, the following weekend to London for the BAFTAS and the one after for the actual Oscars.

I was tired and jet lagged but the whole experience was quite extraordinary, and i am thrilled to have had it. Hair/ Make-up / the biggest celeb count on the planet, all huge fun.

PHOTO: Still from the movie “The Imitation Game” Directed by Morten Tyldum:

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MT: How early do you come into pre-production before shooting starts? When do your hire and bring on the rest of your key team members?

MD: I come on board very early, normally after the producer and director. The amount of prep I get varies from project to project. Anything from 10 to an incredibly generous 24 weeks I have had on the movie I am working on right now. The Art Dept. has a massive pyramidal structure and I try to secure my supervising art director and set decorator as soon as i am allowed, everyone else follows.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

MD: Probably Kusturica’s films.

MT: Do you have a Production Designer mentor?

MD: No

MT: Do you have any advice to kids currently in high school or in university who want to be a Production Designer?

MD: Be prepared to work insanely hard, be a monomaniac and really want to do it. Take every opportunity and be persistent. Be prepared to take knocks. Keep immersing yourself in visual culture, refresh your resources. I am always shocked how ignorant many students are about period. Period knowledge should run in your veins

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into the film industry? Was this something you always wanted to do?

MD: I grew up in Harrow, wanted to be a Production Designer from about the age of 8 – this is the Monomania I was talking about. Made period clothes for my Barbie dolls and loved going to the v& more than anywhere else.

My dad was an art director and hated the idea of me following in his footsteps. Said that the film industry was full of shits. He was right, but I persisted.

Studied fine art at Oxford. Did a post grad course in theatre design. Started at the BBC the day after I graduated. Stayed there for 3 years before I went freelance, built up my career step by step alternating between set decorating bigger films and designing small TV things and working my way up. I designed my first film in 1995…..

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist James Doh (Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Drive)

 James Doh is one of the most sought after Storyboard Artists in the industry today. His imprint is on most of the top action movies in the last 15 years. In 2016 alone, he worked on “The Conjuring 2”, “Suicide Squad”, and “Star Trek Beyond”. He’s currently working on the upcoming blockbusters “Ghost in the Shell (2017”, “Aquaman (2018)”, and “The Predator (2018)”.

Go to his website at http://www.jamesdoh.com/

It was an honor to chat with him about his craft:

Matthew Toffolo: You have worked as a Storyboard Artist on over 30+ productions in the last 15 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

James Doh: It is sometimes rare to work with other storyboard artists, but through the years I’ve had the good fortune of having met some great colleagues.

That will probably be what I remember most from my work experience.

I’ve been fortunate to work with and meet some wonderful people.

PHOTO: James’ storyboard from X-Men: Origins:

storyboard_xmen-origins.jpg

MT: The film DRIVE (2011), is a very stylistic film, but not the conventional action/thriller film that you work on. How was your experience working on that film?

JD: That show had a great crew from the top down. It was a low budget production, but the crew were all top talents.

Credit to the EP for bringing together such a great team.

They wanted to bring me in for the car chases and sequences that required production prep.

When I read the script, it was one of those that you rarely get as a storyboard artist. Hossein Amini wrote a great screenplay.
I was also a fan of Nicolas Refn’s Pusher series of films, so I thought it was an exciting combination of material and director.

Interestingly, Nicolas was batting around different ideas for that elevator scene where Driver stomps the hitman to death. He had me board a different version that certainly was more brutal, but I like the elevator because it works so well for the entire sequence.

MT: How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for the action and fight scenes?

JD: Storyboards have several key roles. One of them is a communication tool for the production. It’s a visual script of those sequences.

It’s important to get the sequence down, to allow various departments to prep.

Boards are also important early on for budgeting, and to start developing what the sequences will look and feel like.

There are amazing fight and stunt choreographers, whose ideas we will integrate into the boards if they are involved at the time.

Other times, the boards are a jumping off point for the stunt/action team and a way for the director to convey his ideas on action sequences.

By the way, 2nd unit also can have their own storyboard artists to plan out their sequences too. Again, for communication, a drawing is a fundamental tool.

They are especially important for VFX intensive films, where costs and feasibility have to be looked at and planning is vital. Storyboards put everyone on the same page.

On Furious 7, we had the tragic death of Paul Walker and had to go into some very specific VFX planning to make the film work. There was some innovative work there and the storyboards were a part in planning those shots and sequences.

There are a multitude of uses for storyboards, so it can be a very powerful tool for directors to utilize.

PHOTO: James’ storyboard from Fast & Furious 7:

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MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

JD: Very early. Many times we are the first ones on the show, months ahead of production many times. Often they circle back in post, and need storyboards once VFX gets into the nitty gritty of creating shots.

The working relationship is different with everyone but it’s really about developing the ideas or getting the boards to convey what the director is looking for.

MT: What are you looking for in a director?

JD: Good communication, convey vision, intent, style of the sequence. I’m looking to get as clear a vision as I can for the sequence.

Sometimes it’s wide open and they want you to run with it, and other times it’s very specific. Many times it falls somewhere in the middle.

I have been fortunate to work with directors that love to collaborate, encourage creative contributions, and understand the process of storyboarding.

MT: What does a director look for in a storyboard artist?

JD: To translate their ideas into a viable sequence. Directors look to you to visually lay out the sequence with creative solutions, in a way that they can shoot.

I also think it’s important that you have a good working relationship, because you can spend a lot of time hashing out ideas.

For storyboard artists, the fundamental key is visual storytelling.

You need to hash out the sequence and make it work for the director.

MT: What advice would you have for people who would like to do what you do for a living?

JD: Translating scripts to visual sequences can take a lot of time. If someone wants to become a storyboard artist, 1. Watch a lot of films. 2. Think about where you are placing the camera 3. Be able to draw anything at any angle. I know that sounds so broad, but if you learn to draw the human figure, you will be alright with everything else.

Most importantly, don’t be precious about your work. Things can and will change often for a multitude of reasons.

Storyboarding is a process. Sequences are developed. Things are culled, new ideas crafted, budgets change… you have to roll with that and adapt.

Did you see the Amityville flashback sequence in Conjuring 2? Look at the basics. Look at how he staged and told the story inside the house. He had a house, and a few actors to work with.

How do you tell that story in a way that’s fresh? That is film school. The Conjuring and Conjuring 2 are film school.

I would tell people to look at movies, and see how they tell the story. See what it takes to make simple things interesting.
Ask a lot of questions while you watch a film. It’s about decisions. What setups are you choosing and why?

Push yourself to improve. Always be a student of film and be a good listener.

I think we all push ourselves every show to do better, and push ourselves creatively.

MT: What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

JD: Aliens (extended edition) and Heat (Michael Mann) are ones i’ve seen a million times.

I love genre films and Korean films.

Korean cinema is tremendous, and I would encourage anyone to give it a try.

So many films on heavy rotation in my library! Tony Scott’s work, Gareth Evans…

BTW, one of my favorite scenes of brilliant acting is Christopher Walken in Catch Me if You Can. The scene in the restaurant when his son (DiCaprio) tries to give him a Cadillac. That is just masterful. Every moment tells you a story, and within a couple minutes you deeply know this man. It’s amazing, most of it unspoken.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into the film industry?

JD: I had always been interested in design and film.

My introduction to art in film was with my college teachers Tim Flattery and Warren Manser who are brilliant concept artists and designers in their own right.

They really sparked the possibility to enter the film business.

My first job was with RGA/LA (now Imaginary Forces) a main title company. I learned an appreciation for typography and graphic design there.

Then moved on to feature film storyboarding because that is where my passion was.

MT: Is there a type of film that you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

JD: What is rewarding for me is working with great directors and crew. The projects rarely get me more excited than the possibility of working with great people.

It’s not so much the material itself as the director’s take on the material that gets me excited.

And by the way, it’s not just directors but all the other departments you interact with as a storyboard artist. Those professionals are at the top of their respective fields.
You are working with the absolute hallmark people in every department and that’s really exciting to see.

The challenge to board for these directors is in pushing the creative solutions and coming up with ideas that work for their respective visions.

PHOTO: James’ storyboards from Suicide Squad: 

storyboard-suicidesquad.png

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Set Decorator Ute Bergk (The Dark Knight, Enemy at the Gates)

Ute Bergk answered the set of questions I emailed her on the airplane on her way to Budapest, Hungary to complete the television mini-series “Emerald City”. Based on the “Wizard of Oz” universe, Ute promises that the series is “going to be something else” and that director Tarsem Singh is a delight. Two months in Hungary and they are wrapped.

She was happy to answer these questions on the plane and send them my way. In fact, I might have this interview posted before she lands.

ute_bergkMatthew Toffolo: You were the Set Decorator on the action/comedy “Grimsby”, which is currently at a cinema near you. How was your working experience on that film?

Ute Bergk: Yes ‘Grimsby’ came out a few weeks ago. I have been working with Sasha BC before- we build the stage for ‘FunkyZeit’ in Berlin for him /for the movie ‘Bruno’. It’s was just an introduction to the madness of a comedy. Sasha is very mesmerising – it’s more like a life event working with him , really. ‘Grimsby’ was scripted like a feature film, but that didn’t mean anything. The writers were on set all the time and creatively made changes continuously. Now- in hindsight- I can say, that one needs to have quite a team in the background to serve the needs. There is a lot of running around! My experience- interesting but very stressful and full on speed!

MT: Is there a difference when doing set decoration on a comedy film in comparison to a straight up action or drama film?

Ute: Yes- I guess there is. Every comedy I have worked on is always reassuring the moment (of laughter) and rightfully so. But on film all has to be managed the same way like a drama / action pic. The Set Dec. Challenge with Sasha was to decorate cool as always but at the same time having in mind, that certain furniture or dressing actually have a ‘role’ too. A sofa needs to be big enough to walk on or a curtain strong enough to swing from..

PHOTO: Sasha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong in GRIMSBY:

grimsby.jpg

MT: How was the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight experience? You helped create a more grounded and unique comic book world that set the tone for this genre. When working on #2 specifically, did you know that you were going to be a part of such an iconic film?

Ute: Well, well – I am very thankful to have had the opportunity!

When we first arrived at the ‘stage’ where we build ‘Gotham City’ on “Batman Begins”, it took 15 minutes for the door to slide open. I was aware that this is going to be …big. But the process is the same ..you take your piece of chalk and start outlying the sets onto the stage floor. ..Here is we’re the monorail will cross, here it’s ‘leg’ , a little further down ( a few mins walk..) the entrance to the opera.. We walked a lot!

On #2 we mainly did all stunts and action sequences there – the ‘stage’ was big enough to allow that. Not to forget the iMax cameras zooming by on wires every now and than.

PHOTO: Gotham City in BATMAN BEGINS:

gotham_city

MT: “Enemy of the Gates” is such an underrated film as the production design felt so real, almost like we were in 1940s WWII Russia fighting off the Nazis. What are your memories working on that film? Was the entire Art Department shocked that you didn’t receive an Oscar nomination?

Ute: I am really glad you are asking me this! It’s a long way down on memory lane but this was the greatest experience so far. I was very early into my career and it just happened that I was asked to join the team. We shot it in Berlin and the former East Germany. The set was enormous! Well… I thought so being a youngster. But truly it was. It was the biggest movie in Germany at the time. The logistics required to make it happen were just ..thrilling ..I would say now. The whole art department worked together and I can not recall any ‘counterproductive activities’ amongst us. I developed a close bond to the Russian community and still maintain friendships from those days. The Designer Wolf Kroeger came up with these amazing designs all drawn on paper – sometime a drawing would be up to 4/5 meters long ..on a paper roll. We had to create Stalingrad , destroyed by the war and did a lot of research on bricks and rubble. Wolf insisted to have bricks from a special factory in Russia and so we had lorryloads after lorryloads coming in. Container full of rubble! I earned my nickname ‘rubble-queen’ there- and if I may go to question 10 from here- if you find it thrilling to find yourself in freezing conditions somewhere far from home trying to explain to a Russian speaking lorry-driver on overtime to dump his bricks carefully – I guess you would make a reasonable good member of the art department!

PHOTO: The grand set design in ENEMY AT THE GATES:
enemy_at_the_gates

MT: Describe the working relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?

Ute: The Designer works very close with the Director. The Decorator works very close with the Designer, but the roles are quite different, I’d say. The Designer has a passion to create using his vision. The Decorator depends more on actual facts than fiction. Is a decor ..available. Do we need to make? Fabricate? What are the practical lighting requirements ? In what I am doing now this has become quite a concept..as ‘Emerald City’ is lit by the ‘Two Moons..’ But generally the Decorator has to be quite ‘realistic’ at some point and the Designer occasionally has to compromise , which they normally don’t like doing.

MT: How soon before production begins does the Set Decorator begin working? What is your initial task?

Ute: At least 3 months prior to the shoot and not long after the Designer is on board.

Initial task? Doing the job with full passion and ability.

MT: What does the Art Department look for in their Production Designer?

Ute: Not always does the Art Department choose with whom to work. An Art Department sometimes can consist of a lot of people and I cannot answer on behalf of all those involved. For me the person I work closely with has to be artistic, visionary, funny, entertaining, always switched on and human. At the end of the day it’s just a movie.

MT: What does the Production Designer look for when working with their Set Decorator?

Ute: You have to ask a Production Designer this .

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

Ute: Movie seen the most- u mean more than once? Probably “Mulholland Drive” cause I tried to figure out the architecture (there is none..!)

After having worked on “13 hours” – I thought the movie “Timbuktu” is just wonderful, but I have only seen it once- the soundtrack in on my Spotify playlist!

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the Art Department in the film industry?

Ute: If you enjoy all things weird and wonderful you have found your space. But only experience can tell if you succeed. It’s competitive and not easy to break into – if there is no other place in the world for you than go for it. Just like the Giant in ‘BigFish’ – see if you like it.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Director/Production Designer David Hackl (SAW Franchise)

David Hackl was the production designer and second unit director for Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV, as well as for Repo! The Genetic Opera. He then went on to direct Saw V to critical and financial success. Recently, he directed multiple episodes of the TV series “Real Detective”.

I was fortunate to sit down with David to talk about his career and what’s next:

Matthew Toffolo: You have worked in the Art Department and Directed over 25 films, is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

David Hackl: I’m very proud of the Saw franchise and feel grateful to have had the opportunity to work on it. It a piece of cinema history now. I also have a real fondness for Outlander as it was one of the most epic projects that I’ve done. I had to research it like crazy and learn everything about viking architecture, culture, weaponry etc. We had to build everything, weaponry and huge sets that included a viking village with 22 buildings and an 80 foot Viking ship that was fully practical. The craftsmanship from the whole crew was outstanding in every department. I’ve always loved viking stories and would love to direct a viking feature now.

PHOTO: Still shot from the film OUTLANDER (2008):

outlander.jpg

MT: Tell us about your first Production Designer assignment in “Jerry and Tom”. Kind of an underrated film with a lot of camera movements and set/scene transitions. Some very inventive cinematic designs too. How did you get that assignment? Would you agree that this film really jump-started your career?

DH: “Jerry and Tom” was a fantastic first experience as a Production Designer. I had been designing and directing commercials for 10 years by then but I wanted to get into long format. I’m good friends with Saul Rubinek and we were location scouting another film when he told me about Jerry and Tom and I said “that should be your first film”. The story was written by Rick Cleveland (West Wing, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, House of Cards) and it sounded so great. The film we were on fell apart but then Saul called and said the Jerry and Tom was green lit.

We wanted to create a visual signature for the film and Saul brought up the idea of transitioning between scenes seamlessly rather then cutting. I loved what they did in Red Rock West and I took the idea and ran with it. The crazier an idea was the more Saul wanted to do it. So I wasn’t going hold back. I was thrilled to work with suck a stellar cast (Charles Durning, Ted Danson, William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Joe Montegna) and I think I wanted to show off a bit. It’s definitely an underrated film, though when I look at it now it seems so dated.

PHOTO: Still shot from JERRY AND TOM  (1998):

jerry_and_tom

MT: What is the biggest difference when Production Designing a TV series in comparison to a feature film?

DH: When you’re production designing a TV series everything tends to move a lot faster and on a shorter timeline then features. I love the pace of TV and the fact that you plough through so much work. I’m very comfortable with working fast and I’ve always been lucky to have great teams to support me. Features, on the other hand, give you the chance to develop ideas more,not because you have so much more time but because you generally start with a more solid script and singular focus. But both features and television are starting to feel similar on all aspects.

I love the more cinematic quality of television we’re seeing where the bar is getting raised constantly.

MT: How would you describe your SAW experience in one sentence?

DH: Wow that’s tough, one sentence? Working on the SAW franchise was fantastic creative challenge.

MT: What was the biggest thing you learned when you directed your first film SAW V?

DH: I learned how frigging hard it is to direct a feature. As a production designer you often have people lined up at your door to ask hundreds of questions a day. But as a director it’s more like a thousand questions. Designing is a good place to prepare yourself for directing and my directing now informs my PD work better as well.

PHOTO: Meagan Good in the film SAW V:

saw_v_meagan_goode.jpg

MT: From an outside perspective, the SAW franchise seemed to work like a corporation. Someone creates an idea, then as you grow people at the top move onwards while the key production heads move up the ladder of responsibility. Gaffer to DP. Art Director to Production Designer. Production Designer to Director (YOU). They really helped the growth of a lot of careers. Is this a true assessment?

DH: It’s true SAW gave a lot of people wonderful opportunities but I don’t know if that was a strong intention as much as a next natural progression. I think the producers felt more comfortable about keeping it in the family and it was certainly a nice gesture of gratitude. We all had such a great shorthand that it seemed to make sense to keep it in the family.

MT: Some argue that SAW V is the best of the franchise. Is there a reason why you didn’t direct SAW VI?

DH: I was originally in talks to direct Saw IV but the very day they called to make me and offer I had just found out my wife had cancer. (She’s clear and great now) But the producers suggested that I direct Saw V and VI instead. But after Saw V Kevin Greutert was keen to direct one and rightfully so. He had edited every one of the Saw films from the beginning. Few people knew the franchise better then Kevin. At the same time the producers decided to do a 3D Saw film and asked me to direct it. They asked me to stay on for the whole year and learn everything there was about 3D filmmaking and how we could best use it on a Saw film. Unfortunately 3 days before we shot SAW 3D the producers exercised my pay or play deal bumping me off the picture and exercised their 2nd picture option with Kevin Greutert forcing him off Paranormal Activity 2 when it was announced that it was going to open the same day as Saw 3D.

Welcome to directing!!

MT: What are you currently working on?

DH: I’m busy building a slate of films for my company with a few optioned novels and scripts for both TV and features. I’m writing a lot and working with writers, which I love. I’m also pushing hard to move into television directing.

MT: What film, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

DH: That’s easy. Apocalypse Now and Bladerunner. My two favourites films

MT: What is the future of the horror franchise?

DH: If you’re asking about SAW 8: Legacy it’s coming. Writers were just announced. I’m excited see what they’ll do next.

In more general terms horror franchises are all about an idea that has legs and I’m certain there’s going to be a new one any minute. I have a couple myself. (…he says with a smile!)

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Art Department Interviews

Read interviews from top people working in the Art Department in the movie industry today. Production Designers. Art Directors. Storyboard Artists. Costume Designers. 

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Anne Seibel (Midnight in Paris, Bonjour Anne):https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/19/interview-oscar-nominated-production-designer-anne-seibel-midnight-in-paris-bonjour-anne/

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Michael Corenblith (Apollo 13, The Blind Side):  https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/04/interview-with-oscar-nominated-production-designer-michael-corenblith-apollo-13-the-blind-side/

Interview with Costume Designer Ginger Martini: https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/17/interview-with-costume-designer-ginger-martini/

Interview with Graphic Designer Tina Charad (Maleficent, Fifty Shades of Grey): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/25/interview-with-graphic-designer-tina-charad-maleficent-fifty-shades-of-grey/

Interview with Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/02/02/interview-with-storyboard-artist-stephen-forrest-smith-star-wars-harry-potter-the-dark-knight/

Interview with Art Director Jeremy Woolsey (Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/19/interview-with-art-director-jeremy-woolsey-pitch-perfect-million-dollar-arm-dirty-grandpa/

Interview with Storyboard Artist Kurt Van der Basch (Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII): https://matthewtoffolo.com/2016/01/23/interview-with-storyboard-artist-kurt-van-der-basch-star-wars-episodes-vii-and-viii/

The ART of ART DIRECTION and PRODUCTION DESIGN in the movies. https://matthewtoffolo.com/2015/05/13/the-art-of-art-direction-and-production-design-in-the-movies/

Interviews performed by Matthew Toffolo from WILDsound. 

 

 

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Anne Seibel (Midnight in Paris, Bonjour Anne)

Anne Seibel earned an Oscar Nomination for “Midnight in Paris”. Based in Paris, she has worked with some of the top directors in the world today, including Steven Spielberg, David Frankel, M. Night Shyamalan, Sofia Coppola, Clint Eastwood, and 3 Production Designer assignments with Woody Allen.

Go to her website: www.anneseibel.com

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Anne to chat about her career.

Matthew Toffolo: Film fans always get Production Designer and Art Director mixed up, thinking they are the same position? Can you tell people what the difference is? 

anne_seilbel.jpgAnne Seibel: The Production designer is the person in charge of the sets, the mood and look of the film collaborating directly with the director and Director of Photography.

The Art director is their right hand, supervising the art department and the making of the sets for the production designer.

I always compare my team as an orchestra.

Production designer is the condutor with a musique partition (script). They perform the story with their own vision and in harmony with the director. Their 1st violins are the Art Director and Set Decorator. The orchestra is their art and construction teams.

Matthew: You’ve worked in the Art Department in over 40 productions in the last 20 years. Is there one or two films that you’re most proud of? 

Anne: “Marie Antoinette”, directed by Sofia Coppola, and “Midnight in Paris”, directed by Woody Allen. Plus, “Road Movie”, directed by Dev benegal

PHOTO: Anne designs the Queen’s bedroom in Marie Antoinette:

anne_siebel_marie_antoinette_creating_queens_bedroom_plan.jpg

Matthew: Who is your Production Designer mentor?

Anne: Rick Carter is definitely my mentor and my friend. He has guided me since we worked on “Munich” together.

He is very talented and a wonderful human beeing. His advice has always been a real teaching not only on the technical point of view but as well on a philosophical point of view.

Matthew: Is there is a Production Designer working today that you haven’t yet met that you’ve a big fan of?

Anne: I really like Sarah Greenwood and Eve Steward. Would love to share and experience with them.

Matthew: The film “Bonjour Anne”, which you were the Production Designer on, just wrapped. Can you give people a sneak peak of the Eleanor Coppola directed film?

Anne: “Bonjour Anne” is a lovely Road Movie.

I met Eleanor on “Marie Antoinette” and remained in contact with her.  For more than 5 years she struggled to raise the money to do the film. Difficult to be Francis Ford Coppola’s wife. Roman and Sofia’s mother had the desire to do her own creation, her first feature film. Eleanor is a wonderful person and a great artist. She has got her own vision and a great eye . She is a director noticing and caring about the smallest detail in the film. She created an family atmosphere, evryone loved her.

Matthew: How did you get started in the film Art Director world? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Anne: Growing up, I was not aware that I would be a Production Designer for movies. I nearly went to study medicine but failed at the Baccalaureat and then went to study Architecture the following year.

3 years later,  I met someone who took me on a feature film shoot. I discovered there was a world I didn’t know.

My family is not in movies at all, but, since I was very young my cousin and I were doing muppet shows for the family, shows for family weddings with sets and costumes. In fact I did my first set when I was 13 for a dance show I was dancing in. So I could say that I always wanted to do that job but did not realize it existed and the job found me anyway. I couldn’t be a doctor…

PHOTO: Anne recreates a Paris cafe from modern times to the 1970s in Munich:

anne_siebel_munich_recreating_paris_1970s

Matthew: You have worked with Woody Allen on three films. How is his process with a Production Designer? Does he give you a lot of creative freedom?

Anne: Woody gives me a total freedom and is even open to ideas of locations how we can make the script better. Like in “Magic in the Moonlight”. We found this amazing Observatory in Nice and he liked it a lot. Then we used it for the scene when they run to protect themselve from the rain in the night. It is magical moment in the film and inspired the tittle.

PHOTO: Anne creates a “mood board” for Midnight in Paris to lead her to her Oscar Nomination:

anne_siebel_mood_board_midnight_in_paris.jpg

Matthew: You have worked on a lot of fantasy films? Do you prefer working on that genre in relation to drama?

Anne: No I don’t have any preferences.  I really choose films with my heart and gut feeling, either because of the script or because of the director.

Matthew: What type of film would you LOVE to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

Anne: A film where everything has to be created. A world which doen’t exist. Films where your imagination is taking you far away from the real world. Like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam movies.

Matthew: What film, besides ones that you have worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Anne: “E.T”. I always cry. And “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Frank Capra

Matthew: In a typical studio film, how many crew members are on the Production Design team?

Anne: It all depends on the scale of the film. I’ve worked on small independant movies where my team was 10 to 15 people, like “Bonjour Anne” by Eleanor Coppola or “Road Movie” by Dev Benegal.

Most big films there are around 250 people, if you include the construction teams.  Some films can reach enormous figures in the 1000s in the art depatment, like Star Wars.

PHOTO: Anne’s original sketches for “Magic in the Moonlight”

anne_siebel_magic_moonlight_sketch.jpg

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Michael Corenblith (Apollo 13, The Blind Side)

A production designer is the person responsible for the overall look of a film. They ave a key creative role in the creation of motion pictures and television.

What an honor it was to talk with the amazing Production Designer Michael Corenblith. His resume is filled with some of the best movies in the last 20 years, including: Saving Mr. Banks, The Campaign, Game Change, Dinner for Schmucks, The Blind Side, Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13.

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked as a Production Designer in 35 productions over the last 30 years. Are there one or two films that you’re most proud of?

Michael Corenblith: There are countless ways to measure my affection for all of these projects.  There have been so many valuable collaborators and shared experiences that each film has its own special place.  “Apollo 13” will always remain one of the most exciting, and I’m so pleased to see it aging so gracefully.  Other times the work that we do on a film can have a benefit of bringing a good cause to the public’s attention, as we were able to do with “Dolphin Tale” and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium,and now with “The Finest Hours,” and the Coast Guard boat maintained by the Orleans Historic Society.  After the release of “Saving Mr. Banks,” Disney fans enjoyed seeing Walt’s Office circa 1961, that The Disney Archives, after 50 years, have restored Walt’s office suite in the Animation Building to a remarkable effect.  So sometimes the thing you can be proudest of is accidentally doing some actual good in the world.

Photo: Re-creating the 1970 Space Station in Apollo 13 (1996). Actor Ed Harris:

Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks
Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks

Matthew: What is a director looking for in a Production Designer?

Michael: Initially, a director is seeking a Partner who shares his passion for the project, and regards it from a perspective that adds visual continuities that help tell the story as a whole.  Good Directors are always seeking the better answer, and asking the better questions, and it’s during this interaction that the film begins to take shape.  Later on, a Director is looking for supportive team play from the Art Department, and good communication with the Costume Designer, Cinematographer,and their teams, ensuring that the shooting days are about performances rather than these Crafts.

Matthew: What is a Production Designer looking for in a director?

Michael: The Directors who I’m attracted to are gifted storytellers, with strong character and dialog skills.  Because of their storytelling orientation, they are enthusiastic about making the visuals work in a more orchestral way.  I’m looking for someone who is full of ideas, and then figuring out how to create an overall scheme that incorporates these individual ideas into a cohesive whole.

Matthew: When working on comedies, are your tones and styles different in comparison to working on dramas?

Michael: My philosophy is that comedies are best visually supported when the environs and decors create a plausible canvas for the comedic events to occur. In formulating a visual scheme for a film, it’s more important that the story’s entire arc be considered, and the audience be more involved with the comedic predicaments of our protagonists.  Sometimes, the screenplay will call for the Scenery to become part of the Physical Comedy, which seems to support this theory by not “telegraphing” the gag or stunt.  Other screenplays will call for the protagonist to interact with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment, and in this case I remain true to the overall arc, but increase the vividness of these new decors.

Photo: Dinner Scene in the comedy film Dinner for Schmucks (2010):

dinner_for_schmucks

Matthew: You have worked on a lot of movies that were based on true stories. In fact, you just completed one that is about Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonalds. Do you enjoy the research process of re-creating historical times? How far can you go to stretch the “truth” in design for the sake of the story and themes that are being presented in the film? I’m sure it’s a fine line. 

Michael: One of the great treats of being a production designer is the opportunity to explore such a variety of eras and remarkable true stories…..and meet people who brought great knowledge and insights either through their presence or their scholarship.  Films that stand out in this regard are “Apollo 13,” ”The Alamo,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” and recently, “The Finest Hours.”  Each of these films aimed not only toward archival re-creation, but also had to temper a finished look that communicated the film’s emotional truths.  Ray Kroc and the story of McDonald’s offered another wonderful opportunity to research something that is so fundamentally American, and then create a wonderful replica of the 1954 Golden Arches franchise.  But while being respectful of the archivists and historians, the fundamental idea is for the audience to experience the film’s real emotions and sense of place, even if it means measured and thoughtful deviation from some known historic truths.

Teaser Photo of “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton (left):

the_founder.jpg

Matthew: You also like to work on political movies. In fact, you went back to back with director Jay Roach on Game Change (2012) to The Campaign (2013). Are you a political person yourself? How was it to re-create that infamous 2008 campaign? 

Michael: Political films have always interested me, particularly Michel Ritchie’s “The Candidate,” which was really the first time that the confluence of Media and Celebrity and Politics came together in a modern way.  And in many ways, “Frost/Nixon” was an intensely political film that played out in a different arena.  “Game Change” and “The Campaign” were made more or less back to back, during the Republican primary season of 2011, so it was great to see the foibles in our screenplay occurring in real time on CNN.  McCain’s 2008 was an absolute blast to re-create, as it was so well branded, and so well documented.  The most interesting challenge was in re-creating the Vice Presidential debate with Joe Biden, which required great precision for the split screen between the archival footage and our new footage, but when we reached out for the drawings from the original debate, found them to be somewhat “classified,” and had to resort to a very deep bag of tricks to creating our matching set.

Matthew: I have a funny feeling that you and Jay will be back for Game Change 2 after this political season (and of course after the book is written). Are you looking forward to re-creating the campaign worlds of Hillary, Bernie, Donald, and Ted? 

Michael: I’ve been a big fan of “Presidential Politics as a Contact Sport,” and enjoyed Mark Halperin and John Heilmann’s telling of the 2102 campaign, “Double Down.”  So yes, absolutely, I’d love to see what the Game Change team would bring to telling the story of this Campaign.

Photo: Julianne Moore becomes Sarah Palin in Game Change (2012):

game_change

Matthew: How early do you come into pre-production before shooting starts? When do your hire and bring on the rest of your key team members?

Michael: Generally, in early pre-production, the location work has yet to begin in earnest, so my first priorities are getting the location scouting underway, and beginning to line up my team. I often have a couple of weeks to lay out a general scheme, and scout with the Director and Producers.  My department generally gets about the same number of pre-production weeks as the shooting schedule, so the Art Department Coordinator is the next hire, to set the table for the arrival of the Set Decorator and Art Director, followed by the Set Designers, and Graphic Designer.

Matthew: What percentage of the budget generally goes to the Art Department when working on a Hollywood film?

Michael: This is always going to be Situational in relationship to a lot of other moving parts within any individual project. The scripted locations also play a major role, as shooting in a high school or in a submarine mean very different budget allocations for the Art Department.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Michael: Without a doubt, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” with Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” and Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” coming in distant silver and bronze.  All wonderful, complex, human stories, each with its own beautiful visual signature…..each designed by one of the greats of my generation…Dean Tavoularis, Ken Adam, and Richard Sylbert. Each film left a very lasting impression on my cinematic development.

Matthew: Do you have a Production Designer mentor?

Michael: I am blessed in having two gurus.  When I first had the opportunity to hear Richard Sylbert speak of the Craft of Production Design, his concepts and theories immediately resonated, and I suddenly understood that designing films could be so much more than simply reflecting what was already on the page.  Years later, I came upon the work of USC Professor, Bruce Block, and his book “The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV, and New Media.”  After hearing Bruce speak, I felt that he had brought order to a multitude of concepts that I’d been employing, and through his teachings could now employ them in a coordinated way.

Matthew: Do you have any advice to kids currently in high school or in university who want to be a Production Designer? 

Michael: This is probably indicative of my generation being one of the last analog skill-based one, but in general my Old School Advice would be to develop some basic non-digital ways of conveying visual information.  Come to classroom with some ways to express your ideas that can be simple as chalk on a blackboard….and don’t require a laptop.

Photo: Re-creating Walt Disney’s office in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) starring Tom Hanks:

Film Review Saving Mr. Banks
This image released by Disney shows Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in a scene from “Saving Mr. Banks.” (AP Photo/Disney, François Duhamel) ORG XMIT: NYET626

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Graphic Designer Tina Charad (Maleficent, Fifty Shades of Grey)

Graphic Designer creates the props and set-pieces for film productions and works directly with the Production Designer. Depending on the period and genre, these can be newspapers, love letters, shop signs, posters, cigarette boxes, logos. Basically, they create the original materials needed for a film that haven’t yet been invented.  

I was fortunate enough to interview the extremely talented Graphic Designer Tina Charad. In the last 10 years she has worked on over 30 productions including the films “Robin Hood”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “World War Z”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The Fifth Wave”, and “RocknRolla”.

Matthew Toffolo: Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Tina: Well, in terms of pure indulgence, of being spoilt and designing beauty day after day, it would be 47 Ronin. Perhaps Maleficent too – for the same reasons.

Tina created images in the film “47 Ronin”:
47_ronin_image

Matthew: How long do you generally work on a film? How early do you come on in pre-production? Do you stay until the end of filming?

Tina: It really does depend. On the whole, a large studio film in the UK could be 9/10 months work. The prep time is longer as is the shooting schedule. I have worked both in the UK, where I started and the US, where I now live. In the UK the Graphic Designer is really responsible for a large amount more work than the US. That may sound bizarre in terms of the work load varying but in the US there are a lot more print houses and production places that can facilitate some of the graphic design parts where as in the UK, the Graphic Designer creates all the Art department, set dec & prop pieces – no matter how big or small.

Matthew: What’s the difference when working on different genres? From a straight up drama like “Body of Lies”, to a pure fantasy like “Maleficent”?

Tina: Well there is a huge difference. With something like BOL, you’re not creating fantasy. Often you are recreating reality but in a different location. So you’re making mobile phone stores, embassy clinics, roads signage. They are a huge part of what makes the film real, but not wildly creative. You have to be on the nose accurate, especially when working in foreign languages and alphabet like that film. We shot in Morocco, but were predominantly set in Jordan. The Arabic is different in these two countries. I had to have a translator who knew the differences. I then had to set about researching contemporary Arabic branding and identities as you would in the US. I had to create large scale banks and corporations but in Arabic. I spent a lot of money purchasing good contemporary Arabic fonts.
With Maleficent, I was re-united with a favorite designer. He wanted me to create a large scale tapestry for Sleeping Beauty’s bedroom. Whilst there were suggestions of medieval tapestries etc thrown in, he was very clear that he wanted to design something original. Also he pointed out that we were not a historical film, but a fantasy and the tapestry should show that. I think the brief was “Grayson Perry Meets Flemish”. So I worked on a fantastical forest scape that was a day and night scene. It has a wealth of lovely references and feels both fresh and stylistically fitted the brief.

Tina created the Sleeping Beauty bedroom images in “Maleficent”
malficifent_bedroom

Matthew: What about your experiences working on “American Ultra” or “The Crazy Ones” TV show? Is a straight up comedy an entirely different experience? Is your creative process all about making people laugh?

Tina: Well to be fair, In American Ultra I was doing reshoots especially of all the insert work. The producers and director found that the stuff didn’t work once they had shot it. For many reasons it had to all be recreated so it wasn’t really humorous at that point. You are just trying to get all these pieces and stick them together. In fact I didn’t get the script for that so I had no idea it was a comedy. It all seemed like a typical spy caper to me at the time.

I did a little on The Crazy Ones as they wanted to elevate the look and feel of the show. I had also worked at Leo Burnett where the show was supposedly based on. Despite what the designer hoped for, there is still only so much you can do with a comedy show – the jokes have to be pretty brash and in your face. No room for subtlety. It’s not my best genre – TV comedy. I find myself always fighting for the more subtle joke, and losing…

Matthew: What is the most challenging aspect of being a graphic designer?

Tina: Going to have to be clearances & the legal side.

Matthew: I have to ask you about the “Fifty Shades of Grey”
experience?

Tina: One of the most anticipated films of 2015. Were your design themes all about power and sex?

I started with David Wasco before any other art department. Initially we worked on researching the sex furniture for the red room of pain. David knows that I can do illustrative work so I looked at initial pieces of what these key pieces of furniture would look like. I have worked for a lot of designers sourcing reference and style imagery so we looked at humanizing the story. The book is pretty 2 dimensional as are the characters, so between Sam the director and David, they wanted to add life into it. In terms of the graphics in that film, trying to design a logo that doesn’t look like a film graphic and that could carry through 3 films and maybe 5 years without looking dated or getting changed, was a challenge. But I did several passes at first and Sam knew straight away which to choose. That initial Grey Enterprises logo is what Universal based their entire marketing campaign on. The other key logo was SIP – Seattle Publishing which actually didn’t make it into the film but is a key part of book2. I bet they use a new logo but that would be a huge pity. I rather liked my SIP work!

Tina’s created logos for “Fifty Shades of Grey”:
fifty_shades_of_grey_image

Matthew: You worked as a Graphic Designer on the David Fincher directed music video “Justin Timberlake Ft. Jay-Z: Suit & Tie”. How long did you work on the video, what did you do, and how was working with so many iconic people?

Tina: Good Question! I watched the video again to remind myself. Well that and sifted through my back up folders. I remembered doing a lot of etched mirror and glass for that video and sets. I remember there was a nightclub that was branded (signage, props etc) and had an old rat pack feel. What one has to remember is what is in the final edit does not show what was made. We prepare for what is initially discussed but things can change on the shoot day, the director or cast and request changes and then a whole scene can be cut. David Fincher is very particular about everything so the designer had all sets covered from an art direction, graphics and prop side. Better safe than sorry.

Matthew: Do you have a Production Designer or Graphic Designer mentor?

Tina: No – not really;

I spent 10 years in the real world of branding & advertising before moving into film. I loved Fabien Baron -you might guess from the fifty shades ;). So I didn’t really need mentoring when it came to graphics in the film industry with a designer so to speak, as I already had the skills. I have a couple designers I would work for regardless of pay or the job (let’s hope they don’t read this) they are David Wasco & Gary Freeman. Love the projects David chooses, they are often smaller and more interesting pieces. He is a designer that graphics are hugely important too. Gary uses me more as a Graphic illustrator on large scale pieces. Installations that normally are dreams briefs.

Matthew: What movie, besides the ones you’ve work on, have you seen the most in your life?

Tina: Another great question. There isn’t 1 but 3.
Gladiator – no explanation needed
Team America – I will never stop laughing or being furious I didn’t work on it
Love Actually – it’s on every Christmas

Matthew: You’ve worked as a Production Designer on more than a few short films. Is that a position that you aspire to hold in the Hollywood feature film world? Is there a place where we can watch your short films?

Tina: I have done that. I’ve also worked quite extensively as a stylist and assistant set decorator which is something I did pursue for a while I never wanted to design. All my design jobs have honestly been decorating jobs. Then I moved to the US and had to choose between 44 or 800 and I decided to focus only on graphics. I have no idea if you can watch these shorts. I’ll have to investigate…..

Matthew: What Production Designer and/or Director would you love to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Tina: That would be KK Barrett for Production Design and Tim Burton.

Matthew: You’re working on the new Bourne Identity sequel. Can you give us a sneak peek to what to expect?

Tina: No! Haha

For more information on Tina, please go to her website: http://www.tinacharad.com/
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Kurt Van der Basch (Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions that are generally for large scope scenes, actions, and/or camera movements. The artist visualizes the story in collaboration with the director and sketches frames of the story on paper.

It was an honor to sit down with the brilliant storyboard artist Kurt Van der Basch, who  worked on Star Wars: Episode VII. Of course he’s not allowed to talk about it, which is fine because there are so many other questions to ask him.

Please go to his website or follow him on Facebook and view 100s of storyboards from his various credits, including: Assassin’s Creed, Sense8, The Borgias, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Illusionist, to name a few.

Matthew Toffolo: I understand that you are not allowed to talk about Star Wars! No problem. Are you allowed to say that you had a creatively inspiring experience?

Kurt Van Der Basch: Yes, I can definitely confirm that it was a creatively inspiring experience and I loved the result as much as everyone else seems to have.

Matthew: Looking at your storyboard examples on your website your storyboards are so visual and amazing to look at. I see the story unfold by just looking at the images. They are like a graphic novel that could be published. Do you have any (or many) graphic novel ideas?

Kurt: Thanks a lot. Sequential illustration is sequential illustration whether it’s in the rougher form of storyboards (usually, at least) or in the ready-for-publication form of a graphic novel. We more or less tell stories the same way in both fields. It’s interesting too that with the growing popularity of graphic novels and the rise of DVD extras that storyboards, interest in storyboard art has grown a lot. Now lots of people know what they are and are keen to see them. As for graphic novel ideas – I have lots of but I don’t consider myself much of a writer. I’m still waiting for ‘the perfect fit’ with a writer who wants to collaborate.

Matthew: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director? How early do you meet before production begins?

Kurt: The storyboard artist can often be among the first crew mambers to start. I did a long job this past year where I was one of the first 3 people hired then slowly more and more crew joined the production. Early on, there’s generally a list of the most complicated scenes which the production need storyboarded for budgeting and planning purposes listed from highest priority to least. In these discussions the 1st Assistant Director is a key player and as the production goes on, it’s the 1st A.D. who always knows best what’s most urgent and what the latest developments are.

Usually the storyboard artist has daily storyboard meetings with the director (Often arranged by the 1st AD. As the production grows and the director begins to be yanked in a million directions these meetings may not be so frequent) and they sit down and discuss the scene. Often the director will start by showing some references, video clips or still images that they think could be a good style or tone guide. If there’s already a production designer then he or she may provide location photos or a model (either a white card one or, more commonly these days, a digital sketch-up model) so we have a geography to work with. Then the director will begin to describe shots of the sequence. While the director is describing the shots I draw quick little thumbnail sketches so the director can intercept and say, for instance, ’no, a little bit wider’ or ‘could it be a slightly higher angle?’ etc. until I am drawing what he or she is envisaging. It’s common dirng these meetings to draw a little plan view and indicate on it camera and characters too. Some directors will dictate every shot of each sequence that gets storyboarded, but, especially on huge action movies where it’s nearly impossible for the director to arrive with all the shots of each scene planned out in their head in advance, some directors encourage the storyboard artist to make suggestions or even ask them to have a crack at the whole scene as they see it. Then the director can react to those ideas and say ‘yes that’s interesting, keep that, but here I thought we could….’ etc. This can be a fun and creative way to work. Later in the production these meetings often include the DoP as well. As time permits the little thumbnails drawn during the meeting are taken away and the storyboard artist makes more clear and solid versions of them with directional arrows and shot descriptions added next to the panels, plus proper scene and shot numbering. Sometimes time doesn’t permit and it’s necessary to settle for the rough thumbnail scribbled out in the meeting. Sometimes the director insists on the storyboards being left at the rough stage so the crew won’t take particularities of the drawings too literally.

Matthew: When talking about the cinematic design with the director, is the overall theme and tone of the film always present in each storyboard you create?

Kurt: It can be but isn’t always. Sometime it’s very technical and the most important thing is just to clearly show a certain camera move + character action. If your drawing can convey a bit of the atmosphere in these instances that’s great but not if it takes away the clarity.

Matthew: How is the process different when doing a TV episode assignment in comparison to working on a feature film?

Kurt: TV production usually doesnt have the luxury of pre-production time that film has. From what I’ve seen TV directors tend to behave and are treated much more as regular crew members and in my experience TV directors tend to be extremely focussed and organised knowing how little time they will have to complete their block of episodes (on a series the directors usually trade off in ‘blocks’ of episodes so while one is shooting their 2-3 episodes the other is prepping theirs.) The TV storyboard process can be more intense – longer hours and more frames per day, and often less ‘finished’ in order to get all the necessary sequences boarded before shooting. Also there’s less scope for spontaneous ideas – a sudden brilliant suggestion of a shot from inside the microwave can’t just be thrown in in TV world without serious consideration of the extra time and cost etc. I really enjoy storyboarding for TV.

Storyboard from DEAD SNOW 2 (2014), Director Tommy Wirkola

dead_snow_storyboard.jpg

Matthew: What are you looking for in a director?

Kurt: Well the question is really what are they looking for in me because it’s me who is hoping to get hired. But if they do pick me then I look for patterns in how they describe things so I can get to sense what they probably will want as quickly as possible. For some directors articulating the shots they need isn’t as easy as it is for others and it’s the storyboard artist’s job to help with this. This is where the thumbnailing process can be great. Sometimes seeing my totally wrong scribble can be the very thing that helps a director get across the shot in his or her head. On the other hand I’ve worked with directors who draw beautifully and make perfect thumbnails that are a very clear guide that I then just have to draw up in a more finished way.

Matthew: Do you have a Storyboard mentor?

Kurt: The Engish storyboard and strip cartoon artist Martin Asbury essentially created a whole style and standard in the industry that influenced a whole generation of storyboard artists, at least here in UK/Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice and both were great experiences. On top of being a huge talent he’s also a really funny and generous man.

Matthew: You have worked on a lot of Action, Fantasy, and Horror films. How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for these genres?

Kurt: In an action movie there’ll be two or three big sequences that the storyboard artist works on and sometimes just these scenes may be revised over and over the entire time on the job.

Storyboarding is more important for these genres than others because of all the VFX and stunts involved. Storyboards are neessary initially for making a budget because it answers questions like: In how many shots do we see the flying ship? How often does the camera tilt up enough to require digital set extension? Do we see the stuntman land or does he just fly off the roof? etc. Often it goes that once boards are made of scenes and compared with the budget then the producers then get out their sharpies and start crossing out shots that the production can’t afford. Then it becomes a discussion of where to use the VFX bdget to best advantage. Of course storyboards are also needed in these genres beyond just technicalities but to give an idea of a scene overall and know if it works in terms of drama and suspense. For this, sometimes the individual storyboard frames are plugged into editing software to make a ‘board-o-matic’ that plays the frames in order with timing and added music and sound effects. This can really give a feeling of the final sequence before it’s actually shot. There are some great examples of this on You Tube from Captain America.

Matthew: The film “Serena”, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is almost a lost film. Many film fans don’t even know it exists despite the all-star cast. The film is also a bit of a departure for you as it’s a straight up drama. Can you tell us your experiences working on that film and how working on a drama is different from the action/movement movies you generally work on?

Kurt: It’s the strangest thing isn’t it? I think it’s a good movie yet it took ages to be released and even then it was very limited. I was hired in this case by the production designer Richard Bridgland who I had worked for on Alien vs Predator. I did ink and marker illustrations of all his sets for presentation to the director Susanne Bier and then when my job was done the production asked if I could stay on as a storyboard artist as there were a few scenes where it moved out of the relam of straight-up drama and needed storyboarding. An accident on the cutting slope of a logging camp involving trains and falling trees and later a sort of chase scene and fight.

Storyboard from SERENA (2014), Director Susanne Bierserena_storyboard

Matthew: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

Kurt: Definitely ‘The Exorcist’. But a close second is the annual holiday showing of ‘The Sound of Music’ which is a Canadian tradition since before I can remember. I also know most of ‘Mommy Dearest’ by heart.

Matthew: You have worked on over 40 productions in the last 15 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

Kurt: Working on ‘Cloud Atlas’ was probably the most memorable. It was just such a great group of people over in Berlin and the script is magic to me. So ambitious and crazy but they pulled it off. I also did a sci-fi short called ‘A Living Soul’ with the Swedish director Henry Moore Selder that was really cool. On a short there’s limited money and the storyboards make a huge difference to the production. We did about 400 frames in 2.5 days on that project and the result, I think, is fantastic.

Storyboard from CLOUD ATLAS (2012), Directors Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lany Wachowski

cloud_atlas_storyboard.jpg

Matthew: What director would you love to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Kurt: There’s a few. Maybe when Xavier Dolan makes an action or Sci-fi movie I’ll get to work on it. He’s a genius. And there’s also Ridley Scott!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Art Director Jeremy Woolsey (Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa)

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Art Director/Production Designer Jeremy Woolsey to chat about the world of film-making. Jeremy has worked in the Art Department on over 40 Hollywood productions including Vacation, Ouija, The Haunting in Connecticut 2, Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa, and Bastard.

Matthew Toffolo: Film fans always get Production Design and Art Director mixed up, thinking they are the same position? Can you tell people what the difference is?

Jeremy Woolsey: The Production Designer is the head of the department and lays out the visual look of the film (along with the DP and Director). The Art Director runs the department and makes sure that vision is executed on time and on budget. Scheduling, budgeting and planning are all key components of the Art Director’s job.

Matthew: You’ve worked in the Art Department in over 40 productions in the last 10 years. Is there one or two films that you’re most proud of?

Jeremy: I am proud to be a part of the runaway hit “Pitch Perfect” .. That film has touched a great deal of people. And I think our work on “Million Dollar Arm” was rewarding.

Matthew: Who is your Art Director/Production Designer mentor?

Jeremy: Barry Robison …. I have worked with him seven times and he has helped me get to a different level of filmmaking.

Matthew: Is there is a Production Designer working today that you haven’t yet met that you’ve a big fan of?

Jeremy: Jack Fisk …. Legendary figure and craftsman. We have a really good mutual friend, so maybe one day.

Matthew: 5) As of this interview, the film “Dirty Grandpa” is premiering, a film you were the Art Director on. How was working on that production with the legendary Robert DeNiro?

Jeremy: I normally don’t get too excited about seeing an actor on set, but the first day he stepped on set it was pretty cool. Was in the presence of a living master even if the subject matter was a raunchy departure.

Matthew: How did you get started in the studio film Art Director world?

Jeremy: Was it something you always wanted to do, or did the job find you? I started in the music production business in the 90’s then transitioned into entertainment production in New York in the summer of 2001.

Matthew: If there is a case of getting type-Art Direction casted!, you might be with the comedy/road trip movie. Bastards. Dirty Grandpa. Vacation. Is there is distinct different when working on these films in comparison to a non-road trip movie?

Jeremy: Not really … maybe more exteriors. And larger signage.

Matthew: How about working on a film like “Million Dollar Arm”, where the majority of the film was set in India. Does an art director move with the main crew when there is a major location change?

Jeremy: In that case, I was handling the Atlanta portion and Mark Robins out of New Zealand handled India.

Matthew: What type of film would you LOVE to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

Jeremy: I just started a period show set in the 60’s. Great story and great group of people, so it is a welcome departure.

Matthew: What film, besides ones that you have worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Jeremy: Goodfellas

Matthew: How often to you re-watch the past films you’ve worked on? If you’re flipping through the channels late one night on a random Tuesday for example, and “Pitch Perfect” is on, do you watch?

Jeremy: Most of them aren’t the kind you would watch more than once, but if Pitch Perfect is on the screen I will give it a watch.

Matthew: In a typical studio film, how many crew members are on the Production Design team?

On the budget sizes I work on (20m to 45M) … We will generally have 10-12 in the office.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.