Interview with Set Decorator Lori Mazuer (The Mindy Project, Popstar)

Lori Mazuer is a pure talent. She has worked in the Art Department on over 50 productions in the last 20 years, including her recent stint as the lead Set Decorator for the hit TV show “The Mindy Project”. She was also the Set Decorator for the 2016 hit movie “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”, starring Andy Samberg. Lori also has worked on many horror films, including Lords of Salem, Halloween I and II, and Insidious: Chapter 2 and 3. It was an honor interviewer her. Enjoy!

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Matthew Toffolo: How is “The Mindy Project” experience? What is your typical work week setting up an episode?

Lori Mazuer: The Mindy Project has been an incredible experience. We are headed into Season 5 soon which will be my 3rd season with the Mindy team. Our main goal is to make Mindy’s world come to life, every week with a very ambitious schedule. We shoot our half hour episode every 5 days. This means we are prepping, shooting and wrapping all at once. We often crossboard which means we shoot multiple episodes at once.

My typical work week involves Concept meetings with the creatives, midweek art dept. meetings, which involve detailed discussions with the producers and directors about how the sets should look. Weekly production and tech scouts. While all of this is happening I am shopping and dressing multiple sets at the same time. I have 2 amazing shoppers who help me find the best pieces for our sets and a team of set dressers who are constantly picking up furniture from vendors, dressing sets and returning furniture that has been shot.

We typically have anywhere from 4 to 10 swing sets.Depending on the length of the scene the built sets on stage are 2,3 or 4 wall sets. Once a week we usually dress the Universal back lot to look like a typical NY street. This could be one block, with multiple store fronts, or several blocks. Its a really challenging show but we all manage to rise to the occasion thanks to a great team. The entire crew is smart, kind and helpful. When you have these key qualities in any situation you can succeed in anything.

MT: What is the fundamental difference between working on a television production in comparison to a feature film? I’m assuming the hours are less hectic when working on a TV show?

LM: I think it comes down to the prep time and the amount of details you put into a set. I learned very fast that in TV.

Its head and shoulders. Layering the set with smaller personal items for the characters is my favorite thing to do but we often do not have the time to do this in TV . I have found in film that you are given more days to dress a set so there is time for everyone to see it, discuss it and make changes if needed. We are moving too fast in TV to do this.

I think the hours you work really depends on the TV show. I’ve worked on a few TV shows where we only have one or 2 small swing sets. So there is plenty of time to layer and even adjust if you want too. By comparison the Mindy Project has several more per week.

MT: You’ve worked on many horror feature films. What do you like about the genre?

LM: I fell into working on horror movies by chance. Its kind of funny because I am actually a huge scaredy cat! I am always the one with their hands over their eyes and screaming. I don’t see very many horror movies..they stress me out.

From a creative perspective I do enjoy working on them because of the often unrealistic charm they have. Some of my favorite sets were on the Lords of Salem. The Production Designer, Jen Spence and I have done a few horror movies together and we work very well together. We created a surreal apartment for Sheri Moon Zombies apt which was meant to give the audience the idea that she could actually be losing her mind. We found some images we liked and printed them 10′ x 10′ . Then stretched them on huge canvases.The end result was pretty fantastic. It added to the make believe, surreal world that Rob strived for. We also painted eerie trees on her living room walls. The entire apartment was done in grey, black and white with touches of red. This was something that evolved once Jen, Rob and I delved further into her character. You often don’t have the time for this creative process in great detail in TV. Its something I really love doing in features.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from the film “Lords of Salem”:

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

LM: The set decorator helps to fulfill the designers vision both creatively and logistically. We will meet and discuss how we see the character and the environment that the scene takes place in. He or she will give me a few visual references which can be anything from furniture pictures or wallpaper samples that might set the tone or mood for the set. I like to show the designer a few pictures before we begin locking everything in to make sure that we are on the same page and then I just run with it. Its a great feeling to create something with someone else. If a piece of art or furniture inspires me I love telling the story or reasoning to the designer or director on why I think it is right for them. Its an incredible creative process. Sometimes one piece of furniture that we both love can turn into a big back story just between the 2 of us,

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

LM: I usually start about the same time the production designer does whether doing a film, TV or commercial.

My first task is to break down the script and note any hard to find items. If I am doing a period piece I will immediately start researching that era and start sourcing the right pieces.

I start with broad strokes, the main pieces in the room and build around that. However, I have been known to be inspired by the smallest thing .I once decorated a set because I was inspired by a blanket I found in a thrift store. It was the perfect color and had beautiful stitching. Sometimes something will catch my eye and that item to me can tell a whole story for the character.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a Set Decorator?

LM: Observe how everyone lives. You never know what kind of apartment or house you will need to create. In a sense you have to be able to empathasize with every kind of character there is in the world..from a serial killer to a nun, to a single mom living off of welfare checks.

Organization and communication are very important. You need to be able to be clear in your instructions and what you want to achieve to your crew .I think the tiny details you put in are what make the actors feel that the set you created for them is right for their character. It can inspire them and if that happens you have done your job.

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

LM: I’m a girl from Pittsburgh who grew up one mile from a multi plex and 2 miles from the art house cinema. My taste in film is very eclectic. My inspirations run the gamut.

Female Troubles / John Waters
Dreams/Akira Kurasawa
Barton Fink /Cohen Brothers

I am, a huge fan of Dante Ferretti. I have watched the Adventures of Baron Munchausen too many times to count because I love the production design in that movie

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

LM: Work hard. Draw as much as you can, it often helps in communicating your vision. Its important to understand design in film and to know your designers as they are often brought up as reference.

Pay attention to how people live. Not just in what type of furniture they would have but other contents, personal items, photographs, artwork that can tell a story. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You will be working with very creative people and new ideas are often found to be refreshing.

Watch movies and observe how they are designed. There’s a lot to be learned from other Production designers, Art Directors and Set Decorators.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping:


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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 Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska (Maggie’s Plan)

Chatting with Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska was inspirational, educational, and fun! She’s a true talent and someone who is obviously in love with her job. Maggi

To learn more about Maglosia, go to her website: http://www.turzanska.com

maglosiaMatthew Toffolo: I recently interviewed director Rebecca Miller about the film “Maggie’s Plan” and she raved about her working relationship with you. How did you find working on the film and collaborating with Rebecca?

Malgosia Turzanska: Rebecca is a wonderful artist. She is a fearless writer and director and honestly, she took a chance on me. The images I brought to the first interview were so abstract, that it really took courage to trust they would end up as regular clothing rather than people dressed as snowflakes. I am very grateful to her for that trust, because it lead to one of my favorite collaborations. I am very proud that the costumes ended up a little pushed and I have Rebecca and our fantastic actors to thank for embracing them and encouraging me to push further. Julianne, Greta and Ethan are such smart and sensitive artists and working with them was very inspiring.

The rest of the team as well — DP Sam Levy, Production Designer
Alexandra Schaller, Producer Damon Cardasis — they’re wonderful to work with and created an environment where we could really find the world of the film together and end up in a very satisfying place, having a lot of fun on the way.

PHOTOS: Original Maggie design sketches from “Maggie’s Plan:

MT: Do you have a favorite working experience? What film are you most proud of?

Malgosia: I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with talented directors whose vision I fully believed in, so I enjoyed basically every project I’ve been on, but there’s a few stand outs.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, directed by David Lowery was an amazing
experience. David Lowery is one of the most brilliant directors of his
generation, and I absolutely love the lyrical, sensuous movie we made.

The people I met during that shoot have become my dearest friends and I hope to continue working with them forever, as they bring out the best in me.

“In A Valley of Violence” directed by Ti West was an absolute blast. It’s a
revenge western set in late 1870s, with Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Karen Gillian, Taissa Farmiga, and Jumpy the amazing dog. It was just joyous, and brought back together part of the ATBS team. I am very very proud of that one and can’t wait to share it with people. It’s opening in theaters this September, but will screen at BAM in New York during the upcoming cinema fest if you want to see it before then! That shoot was a also a beautiful adventure, including rattle snakes, tarantulas and a whole lot of mice. I also learned the hard way how difficult it is to shave a buffalo hide.

But I’d go back in a beat.

“Hell or High Water” was another favorite New Mexico escapade. A modern western with Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and Chris Pine, it was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario, and directed by David Mackenzie.

David was wonderful to work with and fearlessly walked the tight rope
between bleak and sexy, hopeless and funny, making a film that is
enjoyable and entertaining, but also incredibly heart wrenching and valid. I really can’t wait for August, when it’ll open in theaters.

PHOTOS: Original sketches from Malgosia and on set photos from the film “Hell or High Water”:

MT: What type of film (genre, setting etc..) would you love to do costumes on that you haven’t done yet?

Malgosia: I love movies that are firmly set in reality, and then have an unexpected, magical element introduced to that reality, shifting the rules and creating a new logic, unraveling into a different dimension. My absolute dream would be an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”, which is one of my favorite books. I get goose bumps just thinking about it! The second one would be an adaptation of “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, who is an outrageously talented young author and whose next book I’m waiting for very impatiently.

MT: Rebecca talked about you building a character from the inside out. How you need to know the person before you dress them. Can you share your plan/structure when you begin a project?

Malgosia: It starts with the script. I read it once or twice and create a primary, emotional response to the whole piece or to specific characters. That phase tends to be pretty abstract, raw and untethered. I’m often drawn to images that are seemingly not relative to the story, but I later discover that they become the core of the design. So I don’t censor myself at that phase and just go with my gut. Then I do a proper breakdown, which helps me learn the script by heart, and research it properly. I study the specifics of the period and environment where the story takes place, which includes reading books, looking at photos, going to museums, watching movies — whatever is available. That’s one of my favorite stages, because you come across so many unexpected tidbits that gradually shape the design. I then create a moodboard for each character and start sketching. I find that sketches are a crucial part of my process. It’s a moment where I start asking specific questions about the characters, when the initial abstract ideas begin to take a concrete, realistic form. Fabric swatches are very informative and inspiring during that phase too — color and texture are my favorite things to play with, and often I’ll dye or fade swatches to see what happens to the color or pattern and find surprising outcomes that I wouldn’t necessarily think of off the bat. Of course throughout the whole process, I talk to the director, DP and PD and exchange ideas to make sure we’re on the same page.

Then comes the actual shopping/building stage. We use the sketches and boards as a roadmap, and decide what we’re making from scratch and what we’re buying or renting. Usually the things that are purchased are either altered heavily or dyed, so very few things actually are off the rack, unless the character calls for it.

For Maggie’s Plan for example, my design for Georgette was inspired by frozen twigs and cracked ice and various textures of snow and fur, to emphasize her Viking nature, so we ended up building quite a few pieces in house. Her grey leather minidress, the fur vest and one of the fur stoles.

We added leather trim to a few tops for more detail. She also wears beautiful custom-made No.6 Store clog boots that I ended up changing the color of to fit in more with her controlled palette. But there were a few pieces that we were in love with from the very start that became her signature, like the gorgeous blush pink Ryan Roche sweater which was just perfect the way it is. For Maggie’s costumes, it was crucial to feel the handme-down and reused nature of the clothes— she is so practical and so careful of not being wasteful that we did not want anything of what she wore to feel new, but still wanted to retain the unabashedly vibrant hues.

We used a lot of vintage clothes that we altered and dyed (a big thank you to my husband for letting me turn our home bathroom into a dye room for weeks) and also were very lucky to get pieces from Archerie NY that have the feel we desired but fit a modern shape beautifully. We found a lovely men’s double breasted coat and turned it into a single breasted women’s one for her, changed buttons on pretty much every garment for various reasons (like the ones on the dressing gown that Ethan Hawke’s character unbuttons, one by one). And just all in all, made every garment personal to the character.

I feel this specific process is emblematic to my general way of working. And it’s exciting every time!

PHOTOS from “Maggie’s Plan”. Pictures taken by Jon Pack:

MT: How early do you get hired in pre-production? Do you work and report to the Production Designer? Is your wardrobe budget already set in stone by the time you begin your first day?

Malgosia: It varies from project to project, but around 5-6 weeks of prep is what I’ve usually been given so far.

The budget discussions happen during prep, so all should be agreed upon, unless there’s a huge change to the script, or for example a shift of a number of period extras from 20 to 200. It’s all a living, shape-shifting organism until it’s picture locked!

The collaboration with the Production Designer as well as with the DP is
crucial. We perform a creative cross-pollination of sorts, exchanging ideas, lookbooks, comparing fabric swatches and paint chips and making sure the various layers of the world we’re creating are congruent and that we’re not stepping on an another’s toes in any way.

MT: What are the key differences when working on a TV series in comparison to working on a movie?

Malgosia: In film, you have the luxury of having a complete arc of the story and of each of the characters from the get go. You can break down each character and graph their progress through the story and plan out the emotional or practical changes to the costumes to design it from the
beginning to the end. In TV, you have a script to an episode or two and
then a general idea of what’s happening further in the season, but without the specifics. Also, the arcs are more open-ended, as you’re never sure if season 2 will or will not happen, or will a certain character be involved in the following season or not.

MT: What do you look for when hiring your assistants?

Malgosia: I’ve been very lucky to find incredible people that I work with over and over again, who are talented, hardworking and generous. They know me through and through and speak my language perfectly, so there’s no need to establish an alphabet every time we start a new project. I hope they know how much I treasure their presence in my life, both professional and personal.

But when hiring new team members, I look for honest people who are not sissies, who are curious, efficient, don’t melt under pressure, have a sense of humor and who treat work as an adventure and an opportunity to learn rather than clocking in and clocking out.

MT: What type of skills do you need to be a great costume designer?

Malgosia: I think imagination and the love of story-telling are key. Not being afraid to get your hands dirty, whether digging through batches of moldy thrift store bails for treasures, or some last minute distressing of a too-pristine hem.

Finding sunrises enough of a reward for getting up at ungodly hours.
Creative problem solving. Letting little things like an unusual button or a
faded piece of lace speak to you. Being ready to be creatively challenged at every step, and to challenge others if need be. But most importantly, understanding that the initial sketch is not the be all end all — it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s not a fashion plate, but a tool to collaboration with the whole team.

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

Malgosia: It’s not the movie that I’ve seen the most, but it’s seminal enough that I feel I should mention it —Almodovar’s Kika was the first movie that I ever saw that made me think of costume design as an art form. I was in high school probably skipping a math test or something like that, and happened upon its screening. I had no idea who Almodovar was, and sat there saucereyed, having some sort of a religious experience. I was especially blown away by Jean Paul Gaultier’s creations for Victoria Abril’s character. Such joy!

But the two films that I love beyond anything else and that perfectly reflect my own film aspirations are Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Melissa Toth’s costumes) and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” (Casey Storm). Both written by Charlie Kaufman, so I guess there’s that!

But also, I would be dishonest if I didn’t mention my guilty pleasure —
Wayne Wang’s “Maid in Manhattan” with costumes by Albert Wolsky. I love that it’s a Cinderella story where the magical garment that transforms a maid into a princess is a pant suit! How brilliant!

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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 Production Designer Beth Mickle (Drive, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)

I was fortunate to get an interview with the very talented and very busy Production Designer Beth Mickle. She is currently in the middle of production on the highly anticipated film “Collateral Beauty”. We talked about that film and much more in our chat together:

Matthew Toffolo: You have been the Production Designer on over 30 films in the last 15 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Beth Mickle: I’m incredibly proud of so many films that I’ve been involved with—fortunate to have had so many great opportunities! One that I’m especially proud of is “Lost River”, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It was such a special project from the very beginning—Ryan wrote such a beautiful script with so much imagination, so many fantastical backdrops to play with. It was a smaller movie, and we all lived and worked together in downtown Detroit, collaborated closely to really shape that film as a team. I remember many adventurous weekends with Ryan and our cinematographer Benoit Debis, exploring the many awesome hidden areas of that great city. With limited resources, everyone jumped and got their hands dirty, and we built so many elements out of cardboard, tape, late-night pizza, and music…so proud of how every one of those sets came together, and the tone we found in that film. It’s one of my favorite films of all time!!!

PHOTO: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes & Christina Hendricks on set in “Lost River”:

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The other film I’m wildly proud of is “Only God Forgives”, which Nic Refn directed and Ryan starred in. This was another lower-budget film, this one in Bangkok, where we all lived and worked together very closely once again. Exploring every neighborhood in Bangkok was a complete joy for a gal who loves to travel as much as I do, and Nic gave me so much creative freedom with that film. My fiance Russell Barnes (an incredibly talented Production Designer) joined me on the project as the art director, and we had the most memorable 7 months together in Thailand. the lower-budget nature of the production meant that we did a lot of the heavy lifting along with our amazing Thai crew—building, painting, and decorating sets with our own hands. And the markets were phenomenal!! We ran around to tons of different vintage markets and flea markets every week, loading the trucks with so many beautiful and unique pieces. Bringing together these rich, vividly stylized sets in this unbelievable country where we were living was such an unforgettable time in our lives.

PHOTO: Set Design on “Only God Forgives”

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MT: You started your career working on lower budget/Indy films as a Production Designer. Would you suggest other people who are striving to become Production Designers in this industry take this route? What are the pros/cons of taking this route in comparison to starting on the low rung and working on Union productions?

BM: I would absolutely recommend this route for aspiring production designers. The lower budget world is where you learn to be resourceful, where you can somewhat safely make mistakes which can be recovered, where you learn the complete fundamentals of how a film is made. I try to approach every production—large or small–with a calm nature, and I think that comes from being in the trenches for so many years and learning how to adapt to in all situations. The biggest con to this route is that formal “union” filmmaking can be a bit jarring when you do finally make the leap to the larger arena—but once you learn those nuances, the process really smooths out. That is definitely one pro if you do start in the larger union world—you learn those protocols right away, so you enter the film world knowing how union positions are categorized and how the different departmental responsibilities are broken down.

In terms of career growth—I also think designers can make that mental shift of thinking on a smaller scale early in their careers on smaller films, to thinking on a larger scale as projects grow in size. But I think it’s much more difficult for designers to start with thinking on a larger scale, then downsizing their approach and expectations on a smaller project. And as we’ve seen so much lately—some of the highest quality films being made right now are the smaller, independent projects (“Ex Machina”, “12 Years a Slave” to name a few), and if a designer catapults you to doing an $80 million film as his or her first film, downshifting to this smaller budget range can prove to be a difficult maneuver.

MT: What is the biggest difference when working on an Independent film in comparison to a Hollywood Union Production?

BM: Union rules and guidelines!!! On an independent film, everyone is moving and touching and painting everything…on a union film, none of that flies. this took me forever to learn!!!! I’m always eager to grab the other side of a couch, to rehang picture frames on my own, always telling the set dressers “this is how i keep my muscles!!”…some laugh and some are not amused at all:)…At first I resisted the union delineations, preferring the all-hands-on-deck team approach, but after doing over 20 union films, and seeing that crews are treated so fairly and safety is so championed, I do see the benefits of having a regulated system. Film productions are such incredible, finely-tuned organisms that function so efficiently….though I’d still paint walls if they’d ask me!..:)

MT: Some will argue that DRIVE is one of the best films in the last 10 years. Do you remember the initial conversations with the director and your team about the overall look, feel, and tone of the film?

BM: “Drive” is a film is very near and dear to me. It made my career the incredible adventure that it is right now. I remember my initial meetings with Nic Refn well. I think he’s one of the most brilliant directors working today, and seeing how he approaches filmmaking is nothing less than inspiring. He’s constantly striving to shoot scenes in ways they’ve never been shot before, to make every frame as great as it can be. And his mandate is always “more is more.” So for a designer, taking this approach is a dream…every set can be as elevated and amplified as you want it to be. Every color can be as rich as possible, the idea of “extreme” is always embraced. so making “Drive”—as well as Nic’s following movie “Only God Forgives”—were a career highlight for me.

PHOTO: Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in “Drive”:

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MT: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is out in theaters. What can people expect to see? How were your experiences working on that film? A lot of exterior scenes.

BM: “WTF” was another fascinating project to do. All but 4 minutes of the film takes place in Afghanistan, and we shot the entire film in New Mexico!!! It was by far the most challenging film I’ve ever done, but I was lucky enough to be working alongside the best art department I’ve ever had. We built 2 Kabul city street sets—both nearly a football field in size, and both almost built from scratch. Building so much scenery was such a great challenge on a relatively small studio film—we reused so many facades, repurposed so much architecture, repainted so many pieces….at first it seemed nearly impossible to pull off the tall order, but once we started improvising and playing around, the possibilities really became endless. Anthony Syracuse was our construction coordinator on that film, and I’m certain that he’s one of the best construction coordinators this industry has ever seen.

Lisa Sessions was our wonderful Decorator, and she really brought so much character and authenticity to every one of those sets. She balanced on the perfect line between decoration that felt unconventional, unexpected, and with a hint of kitsch, but all the while still being remarkably authentic. Her tastes and instincts as a Decorator are just spectacular. I was so lucky to have her talents on that project!!

And the film is just fantastic! the directors John and Glenn found such a rare tone in this film, balancing between drama and dry humor so well. It’s so immersive, and the many layers of the story are so well done.

PHOTO: Tina Fey and Billy Bob Thornton in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

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MT: You are currently working on the feature film “Collateral Beauty”, starring Kate Winslet, Will Smith, Helen Mirren and Edward Norton. Quite the cast! How are you doing right now working on the film? Everything going on schedule?

BM: “Collateral Beauty” has been perhaps the smoothest, loveliest production I’ve ever been on. Our director David Frankel is one of the kindest, most sincere directors out there, and he’s made the experience a true joy for everyone involved in the show. He’s also a complete collaborator, and brings everyone into the process in such a generous way—so all ideas are considered, all suggestions are welcomed, and everyone comes away feeling valued. The storyline has a magical element to it, and we’ve leaned into that with the design and have some very beautiful backdrops for this story. it’s going so well so far, and I think it’s going to be a truly special film.

MT: What is a director looking for in a production designer?

BM: A director looks for a creative collaborator in a production designer—someone who can translate their words and thoughts into a 3-d space to create backdrops for the story he or she is trying to tell. The best production designers are those who go far beyond what’s on the script page and really try to create a full world for the film…shape the overall tone, create authentic and rich spaces for the characters, consider locations/sets that aren’t scripted but could help make the film best that it can be.

MT: What is a production designer looking for in a director?

BM: Likewise, a production designer looks for a creative collaborator in a director as well!…Someone who can offer a framework of what they want their film to feel like, to look like, and articulate those thoughts to the designer—and then let the designer take those ideas and run with them, and offer redirection or fine-tuning if needed. My best filmmaking experiences have been with directors who have a solid sense of what they imagine for their film, and who invite me to be a part of the creative process and give creative freedom to see where the sets go. I’ve been so lucky with the wonderfully talented directors I’ve come across over the years, have had so many inspiring and enjoyable experiences.

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?

BM: A production designer is one of the first people to hit the ground running in a film production. After the screenwriting phase and some key casting is done, I usually get involved when a film is starting to decide where the film will be shot (what state, what city, sometimes deciding which country.) I’ll look at location photos and do some preliminary scouting, usually about 12 weeks before a film shoot begins. Then my key team members (set decorator and art director) begin about 2-4 weeks after I’ve started, and so on. If the film is a small one, prep can be condensed to 6-8 weeks—just as on larger high-concept films, prep can last for 6 months or more.

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

BM: “The Never Ending Story” has always been a favorite. and now “Mad Max: Fury Road” is becoming an all-time favorite as well. I’ve already seen it 4 times and can’t get enough!! Other favorites are “Night of The Hunter”, “Far From Heaven”, and Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina”

MT: Do you have a production designer mentor?

BM: I learned so much from George Allison, who was my mentor through my early twenties when I assisted him at ABC Television. Some of the production designer careers I most admire the most are those of Sarah Greenwood and Jack Fisk…such astounding work!!!

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

BM: I would love to do a lavish 19th century or art deco period piece, as well as a wildly imaginative futuristic film. I love the opportunity to be completely absorbed in worlds we’re creating!!!

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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:

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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:

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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:
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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 Costume Designer Janelle Nicole Carothers (The Perfect Match)

What a pleasure it was to chat with the costume designer Janelle Nicole Carothers. Janelle has worked on over 20 productions in the last 12 years, including Seed of Chucky (2004), the television series The Game (2011-12) & Let’s Stay Together (2012-13), and the The Perfect Match – which opens all over North America today!

janellleMatthew Toffolo: “The Perfect Match” is set to hit theaters this weekend. Can you give us a sneak peak to what to expect? How was your experience working on that film?

Janelle Nicole Carothers: Yes! March 11th! It’s a romantic comedy with an amazing cast and the cameos are hilarious. The experience overall on the film was amazing. The perfect marriage of new and veteran talent. The laughter on set was non-stop. The energy was contagious and the canvases I had to dress – I mean come on, you could put Cassie, Lauren or Dascha in a paper bag and they would look amazing. Executing Director Bille Woodruff’s vision whose work I admire was really an honor and with Tommy Maddox as Director of Photographer it really was the perfect mashup of talent.

MT: Is there is film/TV show or two that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

JNC: HONESTLY … I am proud of EVERYTHING I have worked on. I kind of feel like I would betraying my other projects if I picked a favorite. They are all perfect in their own way and each one brought on their own bundle of blessings, opportunities, friendships, funny stories, hurdles I overcame and growth.

But I’m definitely proud of “The Perfect Match” … It’s my first theatrical release. Seeing my name on the big screen is pretty exciting plus if its ok to toot my own horn for just a second the Costume Design in this will send all the fashion freaks into a frenzy.

I also did a film called “Dueces” (an action film) which will be out in 2017 and that is another I would put in the books of proud moments. It was my first action film. So anything that pushes me past my comfort zone. As an artist I critique my work so violently, so I feel pretty good about a project when I walk away thinking ” yeah, I did the hell out of that”.

PHOTO: Costume Design in THE PERFECT MATCH:

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MT: What are the key differences when working on a TV series in comparison to a movie?

JNC: Nothing as it relates to the actual Costume Designing aspect to me. No matter the medium it’s all a delicate balance between style and craft. I put 100% into every project so they all require the same amount of blood, sweat and tears.

The difference would be more related to, scheduling, shooting, locations, hours worked.

MT: What type of film would you love to do costumes for that you haven’t done yet?

JNC: I am ITCHING for a period film. ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. Or a musical.

MT: Describe the process of a typical production. How early do you get hired in pre-production? Do you work and report to the Production Designer? Is your wardrobe budget already set in stone by the time you begin your first day?

JNC: I usually get brought on about 1 month before depending on the scale of the production. Sometimes as late as two weeks. I collaborate with the Production Designer. I report to my directors and producers. The wardrobe budget is given to me and I review the script along with the budget and see what the script requires and if it can be done on the budget I was given. Then we come back to the table to renegotiate if need be. But by the time I start prepping we have agreed on what the budget is.

MT: What do you look for when hiring your assistants?

JNC: Ha! … the list is long! I look for people with an extreme amount of street smarts and common sense. I look for assistants who are calm but efficient and diligent. Those who work well under pressure. Timely, strong, and trust worthy. Ultimately someone who brings me more solutions then they do problems. Someone who is just as insane and passionate about the business as I am.

MT: What type of skills do you need to be a great costume designer?

JNC: Be creative and imaginative, have excellent design skills, good communication skills, be skilled in research, know about costume history and modern fashion, have good stamina, be able to work under pressure to strict deadlines, highly organized, ability to motivate and direct your team, team player, ability to put actors at ease, ability to break down scripts in terms of costume plots, know about story structure and character arcs, have good garment production skills and knowledge of textiles, have a wide-ranging cultural knowledge base and it definitely helps if your a movie buff.

MT: Do you have a costume design mentor?

JNC: I have had many a long the way. Mentors are soooooo important.

Right now I am honored to call a Costume Designer I admire tremendously a mentor – Ruth Carter.

I admire all the stylist I assisted along the way. Seriously their mentoring was/is invaluable.

MT: What film do you most admire the costume design?

JNC: Oh there’s sooooo many. I’ll say currently, YOUTH, TRUMBO, GET ON UP, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and BEASTS OF NO NATION. I also like low key slice of life, organic types of Costume Design like ROOM and JOY

MT: How did you originally get into the film industry? Was it your goal from the beginning?

JNC: No, my original goal in life was to be a family law attorney or Marriage Family Therapist. I have a degree in psychology. But, ummmmmm, yeah, that didn’t happen. Tried that path and didn’t love it.

While I was in college I was working retail, I knew I loved fashion but the retail side didn’t speak to me either. I met a couple of stylists and started assisting, poured in a LOT of hard work and dedication, fought the good fight and the rest is history

MT: Besides wardrobe, what else are you passionate about?

JNC: I am passionate about continuing to grow as an artist. I am passionate about writing. I am passionate about travel. And I am most passionate about being a good mommy to my 3 year old and making sure he grows up to be a kick ass human being.

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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 Storyboard Artist Cristiano Donzelli (Ben-Hur, The Young Messiah)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

Storyboard Artist Cristiano Donzelli is a wealth of knowledge. You can feel his passion for what he does. No wonder all of the top filmmakers in the world who venture to Italy want to work with him. He simply makes all the films he storyboards better.

Cristiano’s credits include Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Rome (2005). Zoolander 2 (2016), The American (2010). Ben-Hur (2016), The Young Messiah (2016), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Go to his website at www.cristianodonzelli.com

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Matthew Toffolo: You have been the storyboard artist on over 40 productions in the last 20 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Cristiano Donzelli: First of all I want to say that I do this work because I love cinema, I’m very passionate about movies, so for me it’s not just a job, it’s more than that. After weeks of drawing the scenes of a film, developing it with the director and seeing it growing little by little, it becomes part of you. So each film I worked for, has been a unique experience, so I’m equally proud of all of them.

MT: Ben Stiller sings your praises. You just worked with him on “Zoolander 2”. What can you say about the Ben Stiller experience?

CD: Ben Stiller is an icon in the film industry and Zoolander is a cult movie so when they called me to work on Zoolander 2 I already knew that would be an important and funny experience for me. I worked with Ben Stiller for four months and we shared so many laughs while working. He’s a good person and such a great artist, always full of ideas and I can say he has the comedy in his blood. He asked me to use my creativity to imagine gags and re-write together the scenes of the script with the storyboards. He’s a very sensitive person and I can say the film business didn’t change his genuineness, enthusiasm and sincere approach to his work.

PHOTO: Cristiano with Ben Stiller:

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MT: Can you give us a teaser of what we’ll expect to see in “Ben-Hur”? How was it to work on the remake of such an iconic film? That’s seems like it would be a very daunting and overwhelming task!

CD: Too bad I can’t tell you anything about it, as you may know before starting to work in a film production, an artist has to sign an NDA so he can’t tell anything about the movie before it’s out on the screens. The only thing I can say is that it’ll be very spectacular and visually great. I’ve worked closely for months with the director Timur Bekmambetov, the second unit director Phil Neilson and with the VFX supervisor Jim Rygiel (3 Oscar winning for the Lords of Ring trilogy), creating spectacular action scenes especially for the iconic chariots race scene that won’t delude the old Ben Hur movie fans.

MT: You’ve also directed some short films, commercials, and music videos. Is directing something you like to do more professionally? Is directing a Hollywood feature film your ultimate goal?

CD: I’ve been second unit director for James McTeigue (V for Vendetta director) in his project “Caserta Palace Dream”, I directed over 40 tv commercials, three music videos and the 30 minute short film “Una Storia Di Lupi – aka A Wolves Tale” that stars Franco Nero as main actor that won two important film festivals as best short. I was born with a passion for drawing, then I realized that I had a great passion for directing too. When I was a child my father often took me to the cinema and since then I had this dream to work in the film industry and be a director. I’m developing different projects and writing treatments, so yes, directing a Hollywood feature film is my next goal.

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

CD: It depends on the project, sometimes they call me very early even before the pre-production just because the director and the producers want to have an idea about how the film will be and how much it’ll cost more or less for each scene. Other times they call me later, when the locations and the sets are decided so the director can give me more precise information about the scenes. The general working relationship between me and a director is also something different each time. Some directors have very clear ideas about what they wants, some others give you the script directly and ask you to do all by yourself. He assigns you the responsibility to take decisions choosing the shots, in some way it’s like if you direct part of the movie. Between me and a director there is an artistic exchange, you give something to him but you also get something from him, his vision, his way of tell a story and most important, you know closely a person and an artist.

MT: What are you looking for in a director?

CD: Maybe the question should be “what a director usually looks for in a storyboard artist?” I would answer that a director wants to work with a person who is able to understand his vision of a story, who is able to give ideas, understand the possible problems of a complicated scene and give solutions, be able to show with his drawings all the information that a storyboard has to provide to all the different departments in a movie productions. And above all I think a director wants to find a person to be comfortable with because he will have to spend weeks with him.

CD: I had the chance to work with so many directors, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Paul Haggis, Kevin Reynolds, Brian Helgeland, Ben Stiller and with many of them, besides a professional relationship, I cultivate a good friendship.

MT: Do you have a Storyboard mentor?

CD: Actually I have no specific mentor, I am a self taught, I learnt everything by myself. I spent hours drawing and watching movies, sectioning them, trying to learn the language of telling a story with images, the framing and the editing. There are a lot of good storyboard artists around and I like their work. Sometimes I take some inspiration from them as all the artists do with other artists’ work.

MT: You have worked on a lot of Action films. How important is the creation of the storyboard to the production team for the action and fight scenes?

CD: Very important. A storyboard is the translation of written pages in images, it’s the first virtual visualization of a story. So the director can see his movie before shooting it and explain to the producer, to the director of the photography, to the production designer and all the departments, what’s his idea of the film. Thanks to the storyboard you can also have an idea about all the problems you’ll have to deal with and find solutions before the shooting. In particular for the action scenes just because they can be very complicated to shoot, the storyboard can allow the team to prepare properly special effects, to coordinate stunts, to arrange everything that is needed, and most important to give to the producer an estimation of the costs for each scene.

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

CD: Once upon a time in America, Blade Runner.

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

CD: As I said I am a self taught, what drove me along my life was my love for drawing and passion for movies. I can’t suggest any specific school because I don’t know it directly. My opinion is that first of all anyone who wants to work in the film industry has to have a strong will and passion for this work, no school or university can ever give you that. Of course the schools can give you the basics, the technique and teach you every other thing you need but what’s important to succeed in the film industry is the determination, the passion and the love for your job. And this is the best teaching for everything you care about in your life, always give it your best.

PHOTO: Cristiano’s Storyboards on KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Director 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 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 Production Designer Jane Musky (When Harry Met Sally…, Ghost)

Jane Musky is one of the top Production Designers working in the industry today. She has designed over 40 productions in the last 30 years, working with directors Mike Newell, Ivan Reitman, Andy Tennant, Gus Van Sant, Jerry Zucker, James Foley, and The Coen Brothers, to name a few. She also happens to be married to the President of the United States (well on the TV show Scandel) for the last 28 years too!

It was an honor to interview Jane and talk about her amazing career, and it looks like she’s just getting started.

Matthew Toffolo: You have been the Production Designer on over 30 films in the last 35 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Jane Musky: My favorite films as a Designer are GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and THE DEVIL’S OWN.

GlenGarry was a once in a lifetime chance to work with an INCREDIBLE ensemble of actors, great Director and DP and Mamet script. Who could ask for more?

David Mamet’s stories are full of great language, texture and sense of place which feeds his stories. That sense of place, that moment in time is a gift for a Designer to define.

PHOTO: Alec Baldwin gives his famous speech in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

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The Devil’s Own was not only a large budget film that involved the two biggest male film actors of that time, but was Directed by Alan Pakula and was his last film. Gordon Willis shot the film. I was very lucky to be with this group. Alan taught me more than any other Director I have been associated with.

I had started another film with Alan and Gordon that folded so I was happy when we launched into this story about the IRA. We shot in Ireland and New York. I loved doing the big shootout in the opening with a great Dutch special effects group.

MT: Early in your career, you were the Production Designer on the first two Coen Brothers films: Blood Simple and Raising Arizona. How did you first meet the brothers? After Blood Simple wrapped, what were your feelings? Did you foresee their iconic career?

JM: I met Ethan and Joel through a mutual friend, Mark Silverman. Mark was an up and coming Producer they had hired and I had worked with Mark before.

I was doing Summer Stock at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and they all drove up to meet me. I had never done a film, just smaller TV work. Most of my Design work was in the theatre then. We hit it off.

Blood Simple was really the first film for all of us. We were a very small crew. It all just clicked. We worked so hard and when it was over we all knew we had made a good film full of humor and irony and I thought it was stylish. Ethan and Joel were and still are great in how they plan and execute their work. It is all very lean and mean and cohesive. It was a utopian time for a young designer. We were a great young gang of filmmakers and everyone has done well from that original Coen Bros. group.

PHOTO: Bar Scene in Blood Simple (1984):

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MT: Some will argue that Raising Arizona is a masterpiece. You created a fantasy universe within the context of the reality of Arizona. Do you remember the initial conversations with the directors and your team about the overall look, feel, and tone of the film? How was your overall experience working on the film?

JM: Well, Raising Arizona. We had a blast. I have to say Phoenix back then was such a bizarre place. It was still a small town pretending it had the hutzpah of Dallas.

There was a great collision of the Wild West meets the nouveau riche of Arizona.

Once I got that vibe it was easy to create the fantasy of their world. I enhanced the style that was already rampant. What a confusing place, stylistically. Once I grabbed the idea of the Arizona home I next designed the GRIB for the Boys to get of sense of how far everyone wanted to go with the humor and then it all flowed. Ethan and Joel’s scripts were very much defined as to what happens; dialogue and great descriptions of each character. They really allow their Designers to run with it.

PHOTO: Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona (1987):

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MT: When Harry Met Sally…, is another all-time classic. It has a timeless feel to it. How was your experience creating the world of this couple in a span of 15 years in New York City?

JM: When we began working on “When Harry Met Sally”, New York City was on a roll.

It was a Single’s City full of romance. Harry and Sally’s opening drive to begin their lives after college in NYC had to be as unsophisticated as could be so we could feel their rite of passage into adult life in a complicated city. What are the chances they would meet again after parting at Washington Square, and how complicated their lives had already become after a few years apart?

The passage of time allows for a more complicated story and Nora Efron just hit a great stride in her writing and fed the complications of the relationships which in turn allows the Designer to jump right in to define their lives and begin to ground the story for the audience visually.

PHOTO: The 3 frame phone call shot in When Harry Met Sally… (1989):

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MT: Harry/Sally had a lot of exterior shots of NYC, plus interior locations within the city (like the famous restaurant scene). Generally, what is the Production Designers main job when working on a location that is already established and known by many? What do you need to add or remove (or not) to enhance the story?

JM: Iconic locations are picked because they are perfect or almost perfect for the story in that moment. There is little I can do to enhance the Design value of these landmarks other than to pick the right ones for the moment. We had many Iconic locations; Katz’s Deli, Central Park. All were chosen to give us a romantic New York. The more romantic the location or the more counter to the romantic moment like Katz’s, the more we hit Harry and Sally on the head saying…Fall in Love. Iconic locations give the audience a great comfort and familiarity that allows them to fall into the story more easily wishing they were there.

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

JM: Each Director I work for has their own different idea as to what they want from their Designer. The Director and Designer are the first ones of the Creative Staff working on the job. Those early moments together are used to dissect the story and begin to give it a visual tone and map the moments. It is during these first weeks the Designer morphs to suit the Director’s vision and enhance that vision and help tell the story. The Director must be followed and a Designer must take their lead from the Director and faithfully back that vision.

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

JM: The Designer and Director are first of the Creative Team on a film. That is what I consider my Golden Time. This is when I look to the Director to take the lead as to where the story is headed creatively. We spend a lot of One to One time these first few weeks to set the visual plan for the film. At times I have to work hard to pull at ideas from a Director. The more comfortable this process, the better the journey.

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?

JM: I come on to a film very early on and the earlier the better so I can wrangle the location scouting. I am usually on 6-8 weeks before the DP depending upon the project. My crew comes on about 6- 8 weeks before we shoot but now a days with smaller budgets sometimes this moves up to 5 weeks before we shoot which is scary.

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

JM: Well, of course everyone has seen the Wizard of Oz tons of times, and Munchkin Land made me wonder, WHO creates this stuff?!

I am a fan of To Kill a Mocking Bird. The story is stirring for sure but as a Designer; The Town, The House. I also love, Last Picture Show. Again the subtlety of the Town and easiness of creating the environments. Carnal Knowledge also for many of the same reasons.

For a bit of Romance I love The Goodbye Girl. I’m not as old as my taste in favorite films, haha.

MT: Do you have a Production Designer mentor?

JM: That is easy…Polly Platt and Eugene Lee. Their work has always pointed me in a good direction. I started in the theatre as a Designer so Eugene Lee was a big influence and then I watched him move between Theatre and TV/Film/Concert Sets, (Simon and Garfunkel Central Park). He helped me understand how a Designer could move between these Mediums.

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

JM: I’d love to do a BIG FAT period piece in Europe or Asia.

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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.