AS: Any advice for beginners wanting to get into production design?
HB: The thing that I always say to young people interested in design is the best thing you can do for yourself is learn every job in the art department. Because that’s what I did and that’s why I succeeded. You talk to these older guys and they did the same thing. And because of that, you become more valuable to a producer. I understand how much work it takes and how much money it costs because I did all these jobs. On a director’s scout producers want to know instantly, right away, What are you going to do and what is it going to cost? And I’m able to say, almost to the dollar, how much a set’s gonna cost just by looking. I know what I think it should be, I know if it’s gonna work, I know the amount of work, the materials, and what departments are gonna need to be involved. Do I need fixtures in here? Do I need welding in here? Am I gonna need a plasterer in here? Are we gonna use industrial foam?
All of Warrior Falls in Black Panther was industrial styrofoam. We bought all the industrial styrofoam in the United States of America at one point. Between Black Panther and Avengers. There was no more. We had to get it out of Canada!
So I can always give them a number. Even on Black Panther I was able to give them numbers. When we were talking about seventy foot by eighty foot sets I was still able to give them a number and it’s only because at one point I painted, at one point I was a carpenter, at one point I welded, at one point I was a set dresser. I was a set decorator. I was an on-set dresser.
Learning all those things served me when I was working on small projects because I knew how to do a lot myself. I could get people who maybe didn’t know everything to come and help me and cost the producers less. You know, working on a non-union film, a little $600,000 film like Fruitvale Station, it’s like me and Payam [Imani, set dec PA ]. Two people. That’s how many people I had in the art department and we built and we plastered and we painted and we sanded and it was the two of us doing everything.
Don’t ever feel you have to jump right into the production design or art director position. Learn everything. I came up set dec side. If you want to come up art director side, start in construction. Move to a set designer. A lot of architects are coming out of school saying, I’ve got this degree, what do I do? I don’t know that I want to work in an architectural firm, I’d like to work in film. You’re going to need to start as set designer. Or as an assistant art director.
With something like that, it really is about starting as a PA for a big designer and letting them know, I’m really interested in art direction. Find out who the art directors are that you like and call them and talk to them or send them an email. People really do want to help people and give them advice. Look on the ADG’s website– they always have events and who are at these events? All kinds of people. You don’t know who you’re going to run into. I was at an event and ran into Rick Carter for God’s sake! Guy Dyas! Jess Gonchor.