I like being able to do things myself. I can get into a film before we start preproduction. I can explore it. I like not having to have a ton of people around to begin with. All the tools should just come naturally like a writer using a pen to write, you should just be able to access them. It helps you move faster.
AS: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in the business?
NC: If I was starting out with the knowledge I have now I’d be looking for young directors with great stories. I think those guys are usually writer/directors. You need to find people you want to work with and help them. Many directors starting out have no idea how a designer can help them. Young directors that have never had a production designer open their eyes. You have to make yourself be invaluable.
AS: What do you like about designing movies?
NC: I just get excited by stories. We were going to do a film on Alan Turing, a mathematician who lived during the Second World War and who came up with the idea around 1920 that machines think. What I love about film is that then you say, Okay, let’s explore Math in film. How the brain thinks. Let’s look at nature. Repetitive patterns. Patterns in snow, footsteps, rhythm. We went down this road, this tangent that brings you back around into the story and you add that to the design.
You ask how people live. How does this character live? It’s like being a detective. Then you tell a visual, emotional story with themes that underrun the characters.
AS: What do you think is the future of production design?
NC: I’ve worked on a lot of very digital films and I remember the art department being terrified we’re all going to be out of work. I was like, What are you guys talking about? The most valuable tool you have is being creative and there are not that many people who are. Our job is never going away because people want ideas. No one is going to replace the idea. Design is about ideas and taste. You can’t replace that. That is why you’re valuable. Design will never change. The Art Director’s Guild has nothing to worry about. Because people will always want someone who comes in with a different way of looking at things. Just keep retraining. Keep up with technology.