I recently did a Master Class at the Chicago International Film Festival and one of the people who were putting it on was like, Hey, Adam Stockhousen is coming in to do a Master Class. I said to them, I would like you to set up coffee with Adam! It was like meeting a rock star. It was so awesome. I just asked him all kinds of questions like I’d never even done the job before! And he was like, You’re a designer! What’s your process? Tell me about this movie, tell me about that movie. I was just taking notes and staring at him awkwardly!
Usually I’m surprised when people are like, Are you Hannah Beachler? People reach out to me on Twitter. People reach out to my agent who always sends me emails and I try to get back to people. Take those steps and what’s the worst they can do? Not talk to you? Get all the information you can and then you just have to take the leap. Find the tax incentive states. Georgia. New Mexico is coming back. Louisiana, after our pandemic. Those are great ways to get involved. If you really want to be a production designer and you’re serious about that, give yourself time. That’s another thing, I gave myself time because I never really wanted to be a designer. I wanted to be the next Nancy Haigh. It was a director who suggested that I design and I was like, What are you talking about? I’m a decorator!
You just have to put yourself out there. Learn everything and make yourself valuable to producers. Because for a while they’re the ones who are going to be hiring you. Once you meet the director that you have this kismet with, then it’s directors hiring you. But in the beginning when you do small budget stuff it’s gonna be producers because the director’s gonna be a crew hire like anyone else. It’s not going to be a director-run show when you’re talking about a $600,000 to a million low or no-budget show.
AS: What do you do when someone first sends you a script?
HB: The first time I read a script I just read it. If I read it all the way through without stopping, I’m interested. If I put it down at some point and go make dinner and then don’t pick it up until the next day then I’m probably not interested in it. I’ll gauge myself to see how I’m reacting to it. The Steven Soderbergh one, Kill Switch, I picked it up and did not put it down until I was at the end. I realized this is something I really want to do.
The next thing I’ll do is a deck. I’ll go through the script, break down the sets, and then I’ll put together a deck or a look book. I’ll pull images of ideas that I have that feel the tone, the mis-en-scène, of a particular moment. The colors. Every one of these decks are different depending on what the mood is or what the tone is of the script. That goes to the director and if they’re interested they’ll talk to me. And then we’ll have a conversation.
Steven [Soderbergh’s] so funny because I did this deck, put it together and we got on the phone. In like fifteen minutes he was like, Yeah, great, let’s do this. I was like, Really? You don’t need like another five hours to talk about this? He said, I looked at your decks, I saw Dark Waters. I talked to Todd Haynes. I’m really impressed with your work. Steven’s really fabulous. He’s really pragmatic. He’s not done anything else but be a director his entire life. He started doing it when he was, like, eighteen. He’s got a sense of filmmaking that’s much different than anyone else I’ve ever worked with.