Grant Major

And lastly what I tell everybody is just to make your own films however you can, shoot them and get friends to act in them, edit it yourself and just sort of hone that manufacturing business of filmmaking. And make it your own way.

AS: Making your own films is so much cheaper these days.
GM: And there are more and more venues to get them screened as well. More and more ways of showing them. They have this 48 hour film festival where these kids get together and they’ve got a weekend to write, shoot, and edit and present their film. It’s a fantastic sort of competitive way to just sort of get in there and do it.

AS: How about the future of production design? Do you see more and more greenscreens and less practical sets?
GM: In the early days we were doing 360 degree builds but it’s getting harder and harder to justify that sort of build when the cost of doing CGI work is coming down and becoming more competitive. Hands-on skills in visual effects is important for production designers because the vis effects world is currently being colonized by technicians. We need to move into their world majorly with creative skills and film design skills. Being able to design the sets and design the film and follow right through to the visual effects is the future of what we’re doing. As a profession we need to be there every step of the way.

AS: What do you like most about designing movies?
GM: The whole thing is pretty amazing. But in terms of a phase, the phase I like best is the “blue-sky thinking” phase at the beginning of a project where the film can be anything. The middle part of it you’ve just got your head down dealing with the day-to-day making of the thing. But those first ideas that come out go full-circle, sometimes taking years. Then you’re sitting in the cinema and you’re looking at the film and here it is on the screen. It’s taken this long to get there. I like how where we begin influences where we end.

UPDATE: With the coronavirus pandemic gripping most of the world, I caught up with Grant Major again as he worked steadily in his native New Zealand. Here are his thoughts on more recent projects and also on the current state of our industry…

AS: Is all film work shut down for you now because of coronavirus?
GM: New Zealand’s fared pretty well, actually, notwithstanding the mayhem that’s going on. We’re all back to work here. We got over the coronavirus a couple weeks ago. We have the odd person coming into the country with the virus but they get stopped at the border.

AS: Great to hear you’re all working. What are you currently designing?
GM: I’m working with Jane Campion on Power of the Dog. This is the first time in thirty years that we’ve worked together and it’s been great. Before she went on to do The Piano I had worked with her on An Angel at My Table.

7 comments

  • Tom, this is a wonderful blog, thanks for the info.

    Do you have any advice for aspiring production designers? I live in Philadelphia and recently finished architecture school but I very much want to design films.

  • Glad to hear you like the blog! The best advice I’ve found is to just get out there and start doing it. Work on low budget videos, short films, commercials, anything you can get your hands on for low money. A lot of these directors will call you when they start doing features. And then call you again when the features get bigger budget. K.K. Barrett started with commercials and music videos for Spike Jonze, Grant Major started on smaller movies with Peter Jackson, and Jack Fisk rented a van and brought his own tools out to Colorado to go do Terence Malick’s Badlands. He not only found an auteur to work with throughout his career, he also met his future wife, Sissy Spacek.

    Also, you may want to move to LA or New York or anywhere there are schools like USC, AFI, NYU where talented directors are just starting out and looking for designers….

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  • Thanks so much for the response.

    I’m actually working on a short film with an old friend of mine who just graduated from USC and is trying to become a director so I guess I am on the right track! He lives in and will be shooting the film in San Diego but we’ve been able to work together so far by way of email and it’s been a lot of fun. I guess I will see what comes of it! If nothing else I’ll have some material to add to my portfolio.

    Thanks again!

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