Maria 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?
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 www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.