I can give you an example from Lost World where there’s a scene of a dinosaur T-Rex coming to the kids’ bedroom. The T-Rex will first be seen from a side angle and then it has to crash into the window. Well, the huge mechanical T-Rex puppet was on tracks so it couldn’t be seen sideways and then be made to turn and bash the window. It had to have the ability to be seen in two different ways. And then we had a third scene that was in the script with the kid running to the parent’s bedroom. But that part was left out of the storyboards that Steven did. I was also working on Amistad at the same time and splitting my time between the two. So I was away when they did the walk-though of the set and nobody picked up on the fact that there was no parents’ bedroom. Nobody knew there was supposed to be a parents’ bedroom. So that morning I came in from the East Coast where I was scouting on Amistad with Kathy Kennedy and I get a call from the set saying, Please come to set, Steven wants to know where the parent’s bedroom is. And they’d all walked the set on that Friday before.
I come in and Steven looks at me and says, Well, where’s the parent’s bedroom? And I said, Well, it’s not in the storyboards. Everybody sort of steps back and I’m kind of looking, So I’m the fool here? And he said, Well, it’s in the script. Since we didn’t have a parents’ bedroom to shoot that day, I said, What if you do this? We have two bedroom sets, one for the T-Rex going sideways and one for the bashing into the window, so what if we shoot the sideways version first, then you go down and you start shooting the bashing in of the window. While you’re doing that we’ll take all the dressing out of the first bedroom set and we’ll get dressing from the scene dock of a parents’ bedroom and we’ll put it in the first room. Then you come back and just shoot that bedroom as the parents’. Now, it just happened that that could be a solution. Everybody said, Oh, good, and went on with their daily schedules.
So this can happen and does happen. I’ve had various times where I’ve had to switch the dressing because an actor coming in that day doesn’t like what they see or there’s not enough of some element they think is important to their character. And you just have to scramble. You do what’s best for the movie at that point and have a good attitude about it. You see the bigger picture. It’s part of the process. You don’t come up with some problem that’s really your own ego acting in opposition to what’s good for the movie.
AS: What do you love about production design?
RC: I can’t believe that there’s a job in which I’ve gotten to do what I’ve been able to do, not knowing from the beginning what it was I even wanted to do, and yet I’ve had an almost fifty year career doing it. And that there’s an actual title for it. And it’s called production design. What is the metaphor for this process that you’ve been hearing from all of these production designers? Obviously “magician” has a lot to do with it because there’s a suspension of disbelief. There’s the magician’s point of view but there’s also a bit of the fool, there’s a bit of the visionary, there’s a bit of the best friend. It’s eclectic and it shape-shifts for every movie. It’s something that I didn’t understand in the beginning nor do I think that it’s fully comprehendible to me now. But I think that to have a career in something that’s both as abstract and as concrete as this is, has been kind of a miracle.
The movies that I’ve worked on have all been journeys with a sense of catharsis and even some enlightenment along the way. They reflect things that I care about. Spiritual moments and certainly human values and the value of heroes in various contexts. That all fits very well with what I would have imagined, what I would have liked for my life. And now going forward I look for what I can do to help other people do more of it.