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)


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:


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…..


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 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

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:


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:


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: 



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 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:


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 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.



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:

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 ‘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.

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 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):


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):


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:


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!)


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 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):

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

Interview with Costume Designer Ginger Martini:

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):

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):


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:

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:


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:


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:


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”



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 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):


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):


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):


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


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 for more information and to submit your work to the festival.