Dennis Gassner

Dennis Gassner

AS: When you’re doing a movie with a huge budget are there people from the studio who voice opinions or do you mainly just engage with the director?
DG: The director. Although on the Bond films I deal with the producers whom I adore. Barbara Broccoli, Michael Wilson. They are integral to the team. They have the most knowledge because they were born into the franchise. But to me the designer, the director and the cinematographer make this incredible triangle. Like on Skyfall with Sam Mendes and DP Roger Deakins. The nice thing about a triangle is that if there’s question that has to be resolved between three people you can resolve it easier than with two. Because there’s strength in that triangle.

AS: I talked to Sarah Greenwood and she described how when she did the Sherlock Holmes movies the actor Robert Downey JR saw her set and said, It’s great but I’d have swords on the wall and weapons all around.
DG: If you have a really good set decorator and a really good propmaster, the actors will be invited to come look and have the choices of that. It’s part of my job as well to make sure they understand the game that we’re playing and they can make those choices. Don’t wait until the last minute. Don’t wait until they come on set and say, I want to change this and that.

But things always change along the way. They change because the narrative changes. Countries change. When I was doing Skyfall we’d set up a production company in Shanghai, China. We were going to Shanghai to do a whole sequence there. We had already planned and scouted it. We’re back in London months after the scout and the budget came in from Shanghai. It was way over what we had. Barbara and Michael came into my office and said, What are we going to do? I said, That’s okay let’s just build it here. So we built all of that at Pinewood. I did invite fourteen Chinese artists to come build. And it was a beautiful scene. That was going to be done in a temple just outside of Shanghai. There’s always another way of cutting it.

The same thing happened again on the same film with India. We planned a whole sequence in India and they came back with a similar number. And Barbara said, What are we going to do? And I said, Let’s go to Istanbul. It was the rooftop sequence in the opening of Skyfall. Bond crashes down into the Grande Bazaar. All that was done in Istanbul and the Turks were amazing. They just opened up their doors to us and it changed a big part of their culture. That’s why I love doing film.

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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