Jess Gonchor

Jess Gonchor

AS: Did you go to art school or film school before that?
JG: I worked in the theater and that’s where I get my frugalness from. There’s no money in the theater. You have a couple of tin cans and string to tie them together. Somebody gives you a hundred dollars you’re like, Wow, let’s do something. I really accredit working in the back stage crew at Mamaroneck high school for really giving me my chops. To not be afraid to do what you want to do even if you don’t have the money to do it.

AS: Would you say that would be one of the qualities that you think a good production designer should have –being able to make something out of whatever you get?
JG: I think that’s the quality, I really do. Back in the days of the ancient Greeks or Romans they just had a rock in the sun, so I think that everything that we do is extra.

The more that you can do yourself, and the more that you can identify with the other people who are in your crew, the bigger advantage you’re going to have. You’re not just somebody walking around with a suit and a tie telling somebody what to do. I know what it’s like to sweep the floor and I know what it’s like to be on your knees banging nails and working twelve hours digging a ditch. All of those things prepared me for what I do now. Okay, here’s a sheet of plywood. Guess what: we’re going to design this, that, and this, and we’re going to cut off two feet of it and we’re going to use those two feet over here to do this.

That’s my style, that’s who I am and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. And I think that’s why I stick with these types of movies. I don’t know if I’m going to be the guy that does the Batmans and the huge comic-book things. I’m not saying no, but right now I don’t know that that’s me. I think it’s an amazing tool to understand what everybody’s doing out there. It’s nice if you’re familiar with what’s happening in your world.

AS: Are those similar qualities that you look for in your crew-members?
JG: No, not at all. When putting together a team everybody should have their strong-points and my strong-point is what I’ve been talking about. People hire me because I can go to a town with three buildings in it and say, Okay, guess what: we’re going to put up twenty more buildings. You have to make a decision because you’re up against some kind of schedule, some sort of start date and some sort of end date and you have to back into that. But I tend to hire people that have different strengths than me and together it becomes a cohesive department and everybody pushes each other. I don’t care where the ideas come from -it could be a drawing left out on the table. The cleaning crew came in and left a note on the table, Hey, I think you should paint this this color. I don’t really care as long as it’s a good idea. That’s how I like to operate.

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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