Nathan Crowley

Nathan Crowley

AS: How did Art Direction lead to Production Design?
NC: I was taken from LA to Ireland as an art director on Braveheart and it was there I realized I wanted to be production designer. But how do I do that? It’s a hard jump to make. Very difficult in Hollywood. There were a couple of Irish producers on Braveheart who mentioned, There are many small films coming here with Hollywood directors. They don’t want to bring in people so they hire local designers but there aren’t any local designers.

I went back to LA and did some more Art Direction and then I thought, You know I’m just going to move to Ireland. I kind of went backwards. I started on big Hollywood films and ended up working on small BBC filmed-in-Ireland productions and low budget films. I also did a bunch of commercials. I trained myself as a designer. My first big break was when Barry Levinson hired me on An Everlasting Piece. The film did not get a big release but I met a few key L.A. producers.

AS: Was that in Ireland still?
NC: Yes, that was in Ireland. I moved to Dublin for three years. It seemed like a crazy plan but ended up being a successful plan to become a designer. I had to go back to those low-budget films. It wasn’t a bad thing to start with big budget films and go backwards and do some training. I became an Irish designer even though I was English.

Then Mark Johnson, the producer of Barry’s film, said, What are you doing here? You’re a good designer. I can help get you an agent in Hollywood. Which he did. And the next film that came along was with an Irish director called John Moore and it was Behind Enemy Lines. John Moore was a good guy I knew from Dublin. We’d been doing commercials together. It was an exhausting film and after the last week of filming I was sitting on the bow of the aircraft carrier USS Vinson with my feet hanging off, returning to San Diego harbor. The phone rings and it’s my agent saying, Hey, there’s this English director called Chris Nolan. He just did his first film and he’s got this other film called Insomnia. Can you get in a car and go meet him this afternoon?

Yes, I can, because I’m just pulling into San Diego Harbor! And then I met Chris and the rest is history. We realized when I was a teenager I used to hang out on his street. My best friend lived a few doors down from him. He was quite a bit younger so I didn’t know him then but we grew up in the same area. I met him and we became good friends.

AS: Does Christopher Nolan have a visual background or does he rely on you for everything visual?
NC: In Ireland I developed a technique where I try to determine the visual path of the film. I find the biggest room I can and put the entire film in scene order. I look at the visual paths or patterns of the film, to try and come up with some kind of theme, an overall feeling for the film or what we’re trying to say. What is the film about? On Insomnia we had a very short prep and I remember applying this to a big wall in Vancouver and Chris being very excited that he could actually walk and see the whole path of the film.

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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: