How did you become a production designer?
Well I used to do special effects. I went straight from art college studying 3D design, and got a job at the BBC in the SFX department. I was there for about 3 years, and did stuff like the Young Ones - which was very good fun - but you didnt have very much creative control over what the stuff looked like. You see, I was still very interested in the visual side of it. So I went to Australia for a year, and started doing some art direction - they've got a good television and film industry. Then after about two years I kind of mixed the two, doing a bit visual effects, prop making and so forth, as well as set design whenever I could get the work. And then I went to Chelsea School of Art and Design and they do an industrial design night school class, covering basic technical drawing. So I did that while I was in the in-between period, and then about 12 years after leaving college, I went full time doing nothing but set design. I started off assisting people, and then more and more, about six years ago, designing in my own right as a production designer. I do a range of things, I dont specialise in a particular area. Some people only do films, some people only do TV, light entertainment - I still really like to mix them, they all help each other, I think a bit of light entertainment really helps the drama because you learn the different techniques you use with lights and so forth. And vice versa, doing a drama helps a L.E. show, because you have finishers and fitters and stuff like that. And really anything, commercials, stuff like that. I still do conferences.
Have you ever done theatre?
Never done theatre. Ever. Never been asked, never been in that situation. I wouldn't know one end of a theatre from another.So how long ago did you get into features.
We did a big thing called the 10th Kingdom which is probably the biggest thing Ive ever done. Its a £40m budget drama done in about 10 hours of TV which was for NBC America and I suppose thats bigger than most features really. I mean the budget on this is less than one hour of 10th Kingdom. 10th Kingdom was £4m per hour. Theres a tremendous snobbishness within the industry about features. People that do features dont think people that do telly should come and do features, and I think its absolute nonsense, its just theres a lot of people trying to keep the industry elitist.
Do you think thats to protect their positions?
Yes, theyre terribly grand, theres a huge hierarchy on a proper feature - it annoys me. If you want to see the production designer on a proper feature you have to make an appointment. Theres this tremendous pecking order and you have to behave in this incredibly refined way. And theres an aristocracy of feature films that I find very irksome, a lot of very old school do the features, and the chippies call you sir, and its all a bit nauseous.
How big is the team in total?
Theres myself, an Art Director - Mark - mainly involved in the construction side of it. Madeline is our assistant and does all the graphics and little bits, basically mops up what we've done with little signs and posters. Theres Marshal who's the buyer, and then Julie works for Marshall doing petty cash buying and running. Then we have a standby art director called Nick, who's kind of like our eyes on set, because we're rather too busy to be on set all the time.
Does he do dressing?
No, Nick dresses to camera. We leave him with a dressed set. Well always walk away from a set usually the day before or the night before. Then they'll come in and they usually want to change things, and this is when Nickll come in and make sure the curtains are right, and he looks after a lot of the smalls we have in place like all the actors props and bits and pieces. And we've also got standby props and a standby chippy who will sometimes work with Nick, perhaps moving the camera around. So we'll dress the set, and they'll come in in the morning and remove usually everything we've done. And you'll be like, oh God, but thats the way it is, and they usually just fill it back in again. But as long as theyre provided with a dressed set to start with, then theres something to work back to or work towards if they start pulling it apart. So basically the bigger the team is, the easier it is for you. This is quite a big team.
Well, it was all very hands on, you know there is that understanding because we had only one propmaster and one dressing props. Now on 10th Kingdom, for example, we had a prop master, a store man, six dressing props, a prop driver, you know this huge team of dressing people. Because people forget, not only have you got to dress, but you've also got to strike afterwards. So if you're in a location like the big houses we were filming in you've got to get in there the night before, get everything in, sometimes takes 2 or 3 days to dress the set, and then the crew arrives and then leaves and then you have to go in and take it all out again which often takes as long - putting it back to rights.
At which stage did you come on board on this project?
I went to see them before Christmas, but then the funding was uncertain, as happens with a lot of small films, so didnt get confirmation until 15th January. So we got a 6 week prep for 6 week shoot.