Jess Gonchor knocked it out of the park with his first movie as production designer: Capote. Since then he’s had his hands full delivering realism with style on the Coen brothers’ movies such as No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and Hail Caesar, the last two earning him a pair of Academy Award nominations. Demonstrating he was not locked into the world of poetic violence, he also designed Greta Gerwig’s classic historic romance, Little Women.
AS: You live in New York City but do you do all of your work out of New York? JG: No, I’ve probably designed three movies here but no, I just like it better here. I think every director that I’ve worked with lives in New York. Maybe it’s just coincidence but it’s worked out that way. I like LA too but this is where I call home.
AS: You get hired out there and then come to LA to do movies or travel to various places? JG: Various places. Most of the movies begin in Los Angeles. They evolve from a studio or independent. I can only think of one movie that didn’t get packaged up and born in Los Angeles. Sometimes I have to go out there. The majority of the time it’s somewhere else. Nowadays they seem to be making movies somewhere else besides Los Angeles. They make a lot of them in New York. But you tend to have to travel to some of the other places for some of the cooler scripts.
AS: It seems that’s happening more and more these days with all the tax incentives in other states. JG: Yeah, that makes it very attractive to shoot a movie in Louisiana or New Mexico or any of those places. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to those places and have a good shot at using them for what they are. I haven’t been asked to go to New Mexico and shoot a movie about Ireland yet -which, believe me, they do! Really I think the most talented people are in Los Angeles. And it’s hard to get something off the ground there these days but hopefully soon.
Guy Hendrix Dyas is a rock star in the world of film design: he designed Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terry Gilliam’s The Brother’s Grimm, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and during this interview he was hard at work on what was then Spielberg’s latest project, Robopocalypse. After studies at the Royal College of Art in London and Chelsea College of Art and Design he went from industrial designer to visual effects art director to concept artist and finally to production designer where he quickly rose to the top of the field…
AS: I was amazed to hear how much of Inception was practical versus CG. Is it true that the foundations of the fortress in the snow were made out of ice? GHD: To our surprise many people have commented on how they thought the hospital was a real location but this bunker-like fortress doesn’t exist. Very early on Chris [Nolan] and I made a crude clay model of this set, Chris wanted to create something akin to what he’d seen in some of his favorite Bond films, that’s how we came up with a mix between military, governmental architecture and Panopticon prison design. Very quickly it became apparent to us that this set would have to be divided into two separate builds. The interiors were built on stage in Los Angeles while the multi-level exterior was built at approximately 7,000 feet in altitude.
David Warren was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a film that effortlessly bridges the practical with visual effects. Over the years he’s risen from art director to production designer, learning along the way from the best: legends Dante Ferretti, Roy Walker, and John Box.
AS: What was it like working with Terry Gilliam? DW: There is a certain amount of chaos. There’s quite a lot of creativity and imagination. I think to a certain extent that part of the job is understanding where he’s coming from and getting on his wave-length. That’s common to a lot of directors. What’s interesting with Terry is that in the opening stages of preparation he’s all about giving. It’s all about getting it from Terry. Some directors want to be pitched. But Terry is very forthcoming and he puts a lot of information down on paper because I think the design of the film is something he’s particularly interested in doing.
I could see a circumstance arising where if you’re a designer who doesn’t have a lot of graphic skills but instead is a very good organizer and a good interpreter then I could see Terry simply feeding you all the information.
AS: He does sketches himself as well? DW: Yeah, he does. He uses Photoshop really well and he does it really quick. And I think the task is to kind of fill in the bits that he doesn’t do and also to challenge the ideas that you might not think have gone far enough. He does provide a lot of information up front but you’re always thinking, There’s no way you can run off and build that! or There’s not way you can do that as a matte painting. That means another circuit of sketches and drawings and improvements.
Patrice Vermette rose from the world of Canadian music videos and commercials to being Oscar-nominated for his work on The Young Victoria and Arrival. His career has since taken off with award-winning features like Vice, Sicario, and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune…
AS: You met the director of The Young Victoria, Jean-Marc Valée on a short film? PV: We met on a short film in 1995. It was called Magical Words. And then we went on to do lots of TV commercials together. In 2002 he came to me and said, Do you want to do a feature film with me? And I said, Well, yes, sure. And he said, I’ll give you a script and you tell me what you think. And I fell in love with it. It was called C.R.A.Z.Y.
AS: That film won numerous awards. PV: Good writing by Jean-Marc. And then he brought his close collaborators with him for the adventure in England.
AS: When you shot The Young Victoria in England did you bring your crew from Montreal or hire a local British crew? PV: I hired a local crew. Because I felt they have a great expertise over there for period films. To bring my own crew from Montreal on that endeavor, on that adventure, would have asked too much from them. Because they would have had to start from scratch. I read for four months to try to acquire as much knowledge as I could about that period in time and about all the characters that were real, the characters in history. I went a bit mental, just to acquire the knowledge. But people in England have done period films before and they already have an expertise so it becomes just about bringing my approach to their art.