Dennis Gassner

Dennis Gassner

AS: This was all inspired by the script?
DG: Yes. But when I first read the script it was like an arcane, foreign language to me. Arcane gangster phrases like, What’s the rumpus? It takes you a while to get tuned to it. The Coen brothers wove the layers of dialogue together to make this beautiful language almost like Shakespeare. Normally I’m going to be a certain percentage behind the actors and the dialogue, but I have to push even further back now because if one little nuance of language is missed you miss so much. So I’m going to push back even further. To give more room for the dialogue to be accepted. If I push too far forward then I could disturb that. I really, really muted the pallet back. Which also set the tone for the period.

AS: Do you remember the very first moment you decided to become a designer?
DG: It was when I was five. My father and his twin brother were building our family home in Oregon. I had so much energy and it was so exciting seeing saws and lumber going up. I said, Daddy I need a job! And he gave me a little tin cup. He said, If there’s a nail that drops down in the dirt go down and get it. And ping! there was a nail. So I stood there with my little tin cup full of nails and he said, Well, give me one. I handed one to him and he said, It’s bent. Here’s a hammer- go straighten it out. So bang, bang, bang, bang and I showed it to him and he said, It’s not straight yet.  Bang, bang, bang, and he said, Well, it’s straighter but it’s not straight. Bang, bang, bang and he took it and said, Good. He took it and banged it into the wood. And that’s the first time I ever built anything.

My father taught me a few things. It’s gotta be a straight nail. It’s got to be structurally sound. Even though it’s damaged it doesnt matter, you can always get things back. In that one moment so much of who I am became part of me.

AS: When you’re hiring your crew what do you look for?
DG: How a person feels.

AS: You know right away?
DG: Yeah, I’m good at reading things. I’ve been doing this a long time. Elon Musk says when someone walks in a room he knows almost before they start talking what it’s going to be like. It’s a people business and you have to learn how to read people really well in order to understand first of all what their problems are. And what they can do for you and how you can help them. And to me, to be a designer you have to be a teacher. I teach every day.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us