You need to surround yourself with people who know things. And be very open to listening. Don’t be arrogant and egotistical about it to the point that you don’t listen to peoples’ input. Don’t try to make all the decisions yourself. Actually try to elicit help. That’s how you can get to those bigger budgets.
What I’ve done is I’ve taken on a partner to share the load as I’ve gotten older. I pick really, really ambitious people and very talented people. I don’t look at it as an ego thing where I have to be the one that gets all the credit for the design of the movie. It allows someone else to take on real responsibilities with me.
AS: Dennis Gassner discussed how he does yoga and meditates to be physically and mentally ready for the job. Do you ever think about that side of it?
RC: All the time. As you get older you have to pay attention to that otherwise you just won’t be able to get up in the morning and do it at all. The work has not been local in the last twenty years so there’s a lot of flying around, whether it’s London or New Zealand or New York or Richmond, Virginia. Since I have a family I like to come back as much as I can. That has worn on me quite a bit. Especially this last year when I was on the production part of Star Wars IX.
But I try to be mindful of it. I try to get enough sleep. And walk and get some exercise. Being ready for the production and how much it takes out of you is a big part of it. You’ve encountered it in many of your interviews, like talking with Jack Fisk and all those places that he’s been and how physical it is when he makes movies. Even if you’re doing it more digitally like Robert Stromberg, it’s still going to be very stressful.
So how you manage stress is important, whether you have some form of a meditation practice or something that you do on your own, whether it’s your family or your own art. I paint on my own as an artist. I still do all the faces that I’ve done my entire life. While I’m doing my left eye production design, the more external, I’ll call it pop art, I’ll also do the more personal, right eye, introspective painting on my own in my own studio.
I also try to bring that deeper level to the movies that I work on, especially in my collaborations with the directors. I try to go as deep as I can in understanding what it is they’re after. Not just emotionally but even spiritually. I don’t mean only a specific religion like Eywa in Avatar, but usually there’s a core something there, like the Force in Star Wars. Steven looks at the Force as being, literally, intuition. So he draws very much upon his intuition in any given moment as something he can trust, rather than to overintellectualize choices. And Bob Zemeckis is so expansive in his thinking that he just delights in where the brain can go. It becomes a kind of a mental play. That helps me stay healthy mentally through the arduous journey that every movie is.