Rick Heinrichs

Rick Heinrichs

cobbling together these different elements. No one else would make those connections. You get a sense with their movies that they’ve created these characters and wound them up and they’re just watching them bump into each other. Then they’ll throw in another story element and see what happens with that. It gives you an amazing sense that anything can happen with their movies and it does.

AS: The design in those movies is stylized but it’s grounded. It feels like it could actually happen.
RH: Right. People have asked me what I actually did on Fargo because there were a lot of practical locations and environments. A lot of it was the selection of the environments. One of the greatest compliments I ever got on Fargo is that people claim they’ve seen that Paul Bunyan statue somewhere right outside of Brainerd! We made that statue! We took the two pieces up to the Canadian border where there was the last bit of snow of that season to shoot that scene where it was standing next to the highway.

Part of the research for that was that sensibility of monumental sculpture that you’ll see in the flyover states. I like to call it America’s idea of having fun. Taking an idea and making it big. Whenever you take roadtrips you see a lot of that around. I think it’s one of the really wonderful, cool, kitschy aspects of our culture.

And then Big Lebowski had a different look to it. Interestingly both of those films were set in the recent past. They weren’t contemporary. Even though they were in the recent past you could already feel it was this period that had this very distinctive quality to it. In Fargo that tan Sierra car had sort of already had its day; the very eighties way that Mary Zophres designed the wardrobe was definitely over and done with.

AS: Jess Gonchor described working with the Coen brothers as almost like working with two production designers.
RH: They’re very sophisticated visually, no question about it. A lot of the process of arriving at the look of those films was to pare and select, and pare and select, in a constant process of, this doesn’t work, this doesn’t work, –this works. And then starting to make these really interesting connections between visual elements. You start to see the pattern behind that works for them.

AS: Have you ever been to the Lebowski Fest?
RH: I’ve been to Lebowski Fest one time. Anonymously. I didn’t want to have my body ripped apart and my clothing taken! And once was enough actually. It’s interesting how beloved the film is.

AS: In contrast, your design on the Pirates movies has such a cinematic scale. Did you think about that when you were working on them?
RH: Yes. Mythic, epic, all the other ic’s you can think of! And Gore himself is epic. He was definitely a take-no-prisoners director. I loved working with him because he was such a motivator and so enthusiastic in a really cool way. When I first met Gore he was drawing pirate ships with tentacles all over them. He tries to come up with ideas visually at the same time as he’s coming up with character and story elements.

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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