Michael Novotny

Michael Novotny

AS: Instead of next week…

MN: Yes, the calendar is more extended. And the fact that somebody might come to you and say- and they did- You can’t land a harrier jet there because there’s a tarmac road. So we’ll get cement mixers and we’ll pour a new concrete road. 18” deep. Fine. Well, let’s get a map. We’ll see how big that road really is. Okay, get somebody down there and measure it. What’s for lunch?

So that process keeps going on and on and it’s very exciting for Jim because I’m sure he has all sorts of wheels and gears spinning. But if you’re a functionary it’s not so exciting. Whereas here [on the Mentalist] I’ll say to somebody, You’d better give me that viral lab retinal scanner, because I’ve got to build that thing tomorrow. Give me your best juice- go for it. And they start drawing and they hand you something by 4 o’clock. You look at it and say, You just got to pull the monitor up here, the shot’s at this height. We’re going to do this change or that change. And that’s pretty much it. You’re going to find that they’re going to give you their best stuff.

Whereas in a well-funded movie you’ll have several illustrators give you several permutations of the drawing. Many of which will show that they are skilled draftsmen and skilled illustrators but they have nothing to do with the story. Yet they certainly justified that week of illustration. And I’m already asleep.

Episodic is far more fun. But then again maybe I was just the victim of doing extended, big builds. K-19: The Widowmaker -I never want to do a show again where you have to wear steel-toed shoes and a helmet.

AS: That submarine was a huge build…
MN: Build an exterior submarine 400 feet long that goes to sea. We better rush it because we have an impending strike. It’s winter, the snow is blowing horizontally in Halifax. Extended, long preproduction…

But it can be wonderful. It can be great. There are shows obviously that are delicious that way. And there are other shows where it’s that many more headaches that you’re going to have. So I would honestly say that big is not necessarily better.

AS: How do you feel about communicating ideas that may be different from what the director and DP are thinking?

MN: Well, there are a couple of different ways people have varying opinions from you. One is that they have a better idea. And if they have a better idea then it helps to have a state of mind that lets you see better ideas. So that’s something you have to caution yourself about. In other words, not being so egotistical that you always assume that yours is the best idea.

So once you get that under control -and I would say most new production designers have a bit of a problem with that- then that brings you to the other point. And that is, How do you collaborate? How do you take that new idea and make it work?

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us