AS: And this is all with a team- you have people doing research, you have people doing set design?
MF: We have a room full of designers. I always have a researcher. We have concept artists. It depends on the scale of the movie what size art department you get. On If Beale Street Could Talk it was me and two people. But there were much fewer sets. On Joker we had a lot of people going.
AS: Do you ever do your own sketches or you leave it to the set designer?
MF: You can’t do this work without being able to work a pencil. Or now an iPad. First, on location photos, I use my iPad and Apple pencil and then Hugh Sicotte, the concept artist I work most closely with, spends days refining these sketches into detailed concepts. Sometimes I get jealous because I don’t have time to spend days on a drawing. I sketch, Hugh renders. He did so much on this film, including the first image of what Joker looked like.
AS: Do you build scale models?
MF: We build physical models, digital models and sometimes full-scale sections of sets. I want to be very clear on what I’m proposing so all departments understand and can plan accordingly. If I just drew this room for you in plan it would not necessarily convey what this room means. So it’s my challenge to communicate that.
AS: How do you use the design book you create?
MF: Right before shooting I publish that book. For Joker it was like 400 pages. Like a phone book. A beast of a book, 11”x17”, a giant spiral-bound thing which I could barely lift with my bad back. The whole movie under my arm. Usually we take it on the tech scout, the first time we are all together as a production team. We’ve been prepping and this is the result of our prep. As we shoot I then put the pictures of the finished sets into the book and at the end of the job I have another book- the what we made book. I gave Todd that book on the last day of shooting. The pictures of the thing we made. Which was similar to what we said we were going to do but also kind of different. That’s the best part. How the rock solid plans evolve into something else, the movie, the magic.
AS: On Joker, how many sets did you end up building?
MF: We built the apartment, the two-hundred foot long hallway, the elevator, the stairways, the hospital room, Arkham hallway, Murray Franklin. For Murray Franklin we had to build a stage to put the set in because the show audience is in the soundstage. We wanted it to look like they were in an older soundstage so we built the period stage around the set. It was like a Russian nesting doll. We also built the Murray Franklin hallways and the dressing rooms. Some of that got cut but the dressing room connects -it was a whole world. We built the fancy bathroom with Thomas Wayne. That was also a much bigger scene at one point. We built the bathroom where Arthur does that crazy cello dance after he shoots the Wallstreet guys. We did the subway car on the stage. There was a significant amount of stage work. The trick was for the viewer never to know what I made and what we found.