I put my sketches up in my office and reference images are everything, but when the illustrations start coming out and the renderings start coming out I’ll pick a room and put all the illustrations up. And the hallways are always filled with the reference images.
I’ve probably done that for every single film. I did it for Moonlight. You do as much as you can depending on the size of the production. For Moonlight I could only have so many images because it was printing off of my little tiny printer! We didn’t have a lot of time and I was one of the painters, the carpenters, set dressers, decorators, and graphic people, as well as the production designer!
But I always make sure to do those walls of imagery. It’s something the directors really appreciate because they get a sense of what story it is they’re telling.
AS: You mentioned Ferdinando Scarfiatti, are there specific sets of his that inspired you early on?
HB: I did a viewing at the Egyptian Theater in LA of Il Conformista [The Conformist] and did a talk about it afterwards for the ADG. Basically everything in that film influenced me! And it drew me towards more of his work like Empire of the Sun, Scarface, and also towards reading interviews with him and interviews with [director Bernardo] Bertolucci about him. For him the design was very much about the things that felt like they didn’t make sense but were still important to the character. He pointed out one example which was in Il Comformista, a scene where the main guy goes up to the office of the fascist dude that he’s working for. He walks into the office and there are all these walnut shells all over the desk and covering the fireplace mantle. When Bertolucci walked in he said, What’s with all the walnuts? Ferdinando was like, That’s him showing his power. Bertolucci said, Very good. Keep it! It wasn’t like papers and pencils and an in and out box and a phone. All of the things you think you have to do to make it understandable. It’s just this beautiful scene and it becomes a texture.
Or when they go away to Paris for the dance scene. The lead character is standing in the middle and they’re doing a sort of serpentine conga line and they tighten around him and it becomes these concentric circles that are tightening and tightening and tightening because that’s what’s happening to him, he’s getting squeezed. In this very joyous moment the life is being squeezed out of him. You know he’s going to die and it’s like, That was so beautiful. And Scarfiatti was like, I want this room to be glass because of this dance that’s happening, and he had everything to do with the reds and the blues that were in that room.
Production design is not just about the walls, the brick and mortar. It’s about those types of things. The leaves that blew when the camera’s really low and it’s tracking across to the car when he pulls up to the mother’s house. As the camera tracks, the wind blows and the leaves go off to the side and the colors they create mixing with the suit and the car, that to me is production design. That’s just beautiful. And everything that that means for that moment in that scene for him psychologically. Scarfiatti does some of the same things in Scarface as well and Empire of the Sun. What he taught me more than anything is that it’s more than just walls, it’s the details that make all the difference in how we understand characters. That’s something I consistently do and that’s because of Scarfiatti for sure.