Ruth De Jong
AS: Budgets are different…
RDJ: Yes, on Oppenheimer we had time restrictions, we had budget restrictions. I refuse to see that as a hindrance. Instead, it’s, What can I do with what I have? Chris had demands based on schedule and budget and all the department heads chose to embrace that and not make it an issue. Everyone watches the film and says, Oh, you must have had so much money. But we didn’t have a lot of money and we didn’t have a lot of time. Chris chose to shoot this in fifty-seven days to support the budget. Originally he was looking at eighty plus days but he did his homework and realized that he could shoot it in fifty-seven days, saving an immense amount of money. That money could then go back into camera, art department, wardrobe, and benefit the film.
AS: Adam Stockhausen also talks about the importance of being financially responsible.
RDJ: That’s how you win back some autonomy. By being responsible. And to be honest, endless amounts of money almost make the design worse, because you don’t get in there and figure it out and really push to the core.
AS: What do you love about production design?
RDJ: It’s like being an archeologist. You’re discovering all of these things through a film and at the end you say, Ah-hah! Here it is! And then you’re on to the next discovery, whatever subject that is. It’s almost like the hunt is as exciting as actually doing it. We’re so lucky as designers that because of the studio, because of the name of the project, we get to open any door. It’s like, Oh, you and Chris want to come to the Capitol? Here’s a private tour! No one gets to do this! It’s crazy when you really think about it!
AS: In contrast to all that location work, have you done any projects using the Unreal Engine and Volume stages like they do on shows like the Mandelorian?
RDJ: Not my jam! But the great thing is that there’s room for everybody. Where my joy and passion comes from is creating the real. And I think that’s why I connected so deeply with Chris and his passion to shoot everything analog and in-camera on Oppenheimer. He minimized CGI to almost nonexistence.
I will pick up my painting again if everything goes to Volume stages. You’ve lost me. To each their own. I have no interest in sitting at a desk designing a world on a screen. Can you put a set on a stage and manipulate the light, absolutely, but the minute you put a set outside in the elements and let the sunlight capture it, every single day will be different. The wind, the rain, the snow, all of that coming at you, I don’t care what someone says but you can’t simulate that and truly make it feel real.
Part of coming from fine art is the act of walking into the unknown when you’re doing a project, versus something completely controlled in a computer setting. There’s no unknown anymore. It’s like, You want it to do this? It’ll do this. So to me, I’m done! But there are other designers that are like, Yes! I do a lot of commercials between films and they say, Oh, don’t worry about that, we’re just going to do that in post! and I’m thinking, But I want to make that!