Grant Major

Grant Major

AS: You have also collaborated with the director Niki Caro on several films, completely different from the Peter Jackson style.
GM: I like the diversity. I very much like to mix things up for my own sake. But Niki and I have known each other for equally as long. She’s a bit younger than me. She went to art school and asked me to help her with some of the student short films she was working on and we’ve kept on going from there. We socialize together. She’s got young kids and I’ve young kids and we see quite a lot of each other socially so it’s been a very fruitful collaboration really.

AS: Did you go to art school yourself?
GM: Yeah. I went to art school in the nineteen seventies. Back then it was called Auckland Technical Institute, now it’s out of Auckland University of Technology. There was no film design then and I studied graphic art. But I wasn’t really interested in going into advertising. My first job was in television and I ended up doing quite well. I ended up staying on the first job for three and a half years. I went over to study set design with BBC television in London which at that time was quite a big production institution. Studios working on 24-hour shifts. There were 100 set designers, assistants, buyers, librarians, and so on within the art department back then. Going from such a tiny industry here in New Zealand to the BBC was just fantastic. That was my true apprenticeship. And then I came back here and the film business was just starting up. I called myself an art director back in the 1980’s and then segued into production design in the 1990’s.

AS: What was your first job title in the industry?
GM: Assistant set designer. It was pretty much on-the-job training. I was given shows to design straight out of art school. Having a graphic arts background at the time was very useful because back then the set designs were a lot more painterly. The other good thing about starting in that situation was that I could experiment with things that are actually being seen by the public. Within about three weeks of getting the job I was sent down to an island in the very south of New Zealand called Stewart Island. To design a television film based on castaways. Here I was, straight out of art school, on an island both propping and designing and building sets for this drama series. Starting on the deep end, but it was really a fantastic learning experience.

AS: How did you get that first job?
GM: Back then they guaranteed everyone a job who went to the institution. Long gone are those days. It was based around the end-of-year exhibition. They would have a lot of people from the advertising industry, publishing, and interior design companies come to these exhibitions and meet us and hand-pick the people they wanted. I was offered several jobs out of that, including advertising, but I didn’t really want to do that. What I actually wanted to do at the time was move on to fine arts. I thought I would earn some money for a year or so before going back to university and getting a fine arts degree. But when I went into TV at that point it was such a good way to earn a living. And since I was earning a living at it I just kept at it.

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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