K.K. Barrett

K.K. Barrett

I like to find my own way into films. I like to have my own experience of it. Just like when people listen to songs. The lyrics mean different things to different people. Of course some people don’t listen to the lyrics. And some people only listen to the lyrics and couldn’t tell you anything about the melody.

I like to find my own version of the movie and not be told this is what it is and this is only what it could be. Just like a book. When you read a book you can see so many more versions of what the world is with the few descriptive words that you’re given. In a movie unfortunately you can only take away what’s shown or at least hinted at, so you have to be very careful how much information you give.

AS: Some people say that a set can be a character in a movie.
KK: I suppose in Hitchcock’s Psycho the hotel was a character in the movie. Because it embodied the past. Usually it’s a character support rather than a character itself. It’s more like a coat, you know? Sometimes it’s like when an actor can’t really find themselves until they put on the character’s clothes. I like to walk the actor through the sets early on in the process. I’ll show them the pictures of what we intend to do. They have really good feedback because they’ve thought a lot about their character.

AS: In the films that you’ve done with Spike Jonze the sets are stylized but at the same time still feel like a real places. On Being John Malkovich was that an augmented location or did you build the whole 7 ½ floor?
KK: It was a real place. It was a location. As written, everything was half-sized. Furniture was half-sized. Everything was half-sized. Spike had a great idea to ground everything. Because we were going to go fantastic with the physics of the world. We found a real location so we could really look outside the windows. And we lowered the ceiling. Put new crown molding on it.

AS: You used the existing doors but put new crown moldings on?
KK: We built a lot of hallways and doors –tunnels within the space. We used existing windows so we could take advantage of fire escapes, the details connecting to the outside world. And we added the T-bar drop ceiling like it had been remodeled in the Eighties. We said it had been around a long time but there were things that we modernized like office buildings always do. So you weren’t just stepping back in time, you were stepping through a number of times.

The tunnel that Craig Schwarz goes through was written as big, gelatinous, and vibrating. I thought it was just as absurd to have it be dirt on the 7 ½ floor, as if you’re on ground-level. You have something that’s extremely tactile and familiar from the physical world. Even if it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Schwarz opened it up and it was a wormhole then all of a sudden you said to the audience, Okay, anything can happen now. So the audience isn’t curious any longer. It’s like, Okay they can fly so why can’t they do this, why can’t they do that? They start doing the logic for you if you give them too much room to move.

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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