Grant Major

AS: I heard that Peter Jackson often changes things at the last minute.
GM: Absolutely. He stays flexible right through. Right until the button’s pressed on the camera.

AS: When he does make a change like that would that go to the standby art director or would you get a call?
GM: It would be a bit of both. If it’s something that can be handled on the day by the art director, all well and good. But in that case that person would call me and if I’m close by I’ll probably drop by anyway. We do things a wee bit differently here. Things don’t tend to be quite as locked down as in America on a daily shoot. A bit more invention happens on the day.

AS: You directed your own short film (Undergrowth, 2009). Are you thinking of transitioning to directing films?
GM: I’ve got to earn money! (laughs) To feed my family and things like that! I don’t think changing to directing now is really going to be that beneficial to that. At the same time it’s only a short film but it took up six months of my time, which was in-between projects. I learned a lot from it. To be able to write, direct, and edit my own film was fantastic. I’d been very lucky to raise 100 grand to put into the project, so it was all shot on 35 mil and had all the bells and whistles. A lot of vis effects, a lot of favors pulled in.

I like to keep on the edge of risk with what I do because it keeps me vital. Making a short film was a venture into the unknown. I’d like to do it again with another sort of short film, or maybe a longer film. But I’m not wanting to become a director per se, it’s just a way to stay creative.

AS: How do you feel about not doing The Hobbit? Is that something that you wanted to do or you were glad not to do it?
GM: Both. I was asked about doing it when I was in the middle of another project. And I sort of felt like I’d been there and done that. I’d spent years and years of my life on Lord of the Rings and it sort of felt like it would just be doing it again, really. Also, I wanted to spend time back in Auckland with my family. The Hobbit was in a different city and I’d just become a commuting dad again for another three or four years. So I was happy to turn it away but at the same time I would love to have done it as well. It is what it is. I was offered the work and I was empowered enough to turn it down and work on other things. I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket. I like to work with other directors and take other opportunities and different sorts of risks.

AS: Speaking of working with different directors, how was working with Niki Caro different from working with Peter Jackson?
GM: Niki’s not such a visual director, she’s more of an actor’s director. So I was given pretty much a free hand with all the art directing and the production design. At the same time it’s a different flavor of film. It’s a lot more to do with love and more of a gentle style of filmmaking. She’s really family-friendly as well. Doing Whale Rider my boy was very young and he was able to hang around on set. She had her kiddie back then and they both liked hanging around. So it’s a different way to go about making films and I really appreciated it.

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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