Shona Heath and James Price

Shona Heath and James Price won Oscars for co-production designing Poor Things, one of the most visually unique, dreamlike movies seen in years. Shona came straight from the fashion world, having never designed a movie before, and James had never designed anything on this scale, but the alchemy of their collaboration made mind-bending magic happen onscreen.

AS: How involved was director Yorgos Lanthimos in the look of the movie Poor Things? How much did he tell you the film had to look a certain way and how much did he just let you go?
SH: He let us go right from the beginning with near enough no direction other than five paintings and a very strict rule that we had to make everything we possibly could. That greenscreen was just not an option. Visual effects were the very last, desperate option. That’s why we ended up with miniatures, skies on LED screens, painted backdrops, all those things.

But he was consistently there very early on in the concepting phase. He really did nurture the seeds that he liked. It grew up around us all and he was very much involved and steering it. The honest answer is nobody knew, until it grew and became more finished, that we did have a world, we did have a direction. There was a feeling to everywhere and it was all linked, and it wasn’t as disparate as it was when you first start off. It feels like this scatter-bomb approach, which feels quite mad, but actually when James and I look back to the very first documents we did, Poor Things was there in the first couple of months.

AS: Some production designers talk about how you “crack the code” of a script or project, that “aha moment” where everything falls into place. Did you ever feel like you experienced that on Poor Things?
SH: I do remember struggling with what the hall was, what the texture or the painting of the hall was in Baxter’s house and Yorgos kept saying, That looks like a renovation, that looks like a restaurant! Then when we got that really deep texture that also had a scenic backdrop painted on top of the texture, he said, Yes, that could work. I remember thinking, I understand now just how far he wants to go with the layering and the richness.

Hannah Beachler

Hannah Beachler made a name for herself designing critically-praised independent films like Creed, Fruitvale Station, and the Best Picture-winning Moonlight. Now she oversees $30 million art department budgets for films like the blockbuster Black Panther, for which she won an Academy Award. She’s staying busy during the coronavirus epidemic and will soon be prepping Black Panther 2…

AS: Is all film work shut down for you because of coronavirus?
HB: I was on location in Detroit with Steven Soderbergh and the production said, We’re on hiatus. We’re going to be back in a couple weeks. So we just walked away. We didn’t wrap anything. We left our offices as-is, warehouses, everything. But now we’re finally getting the call to wrap out. And to me that kind of indicates that we’re not coming back anytime soon.

AS: Do you have any thoughts about how the industry might start back up?
HB: A few weeks ago Variety called me about a Tweet I’d sent out about some of the film companies and how they’re handling the pandemic. My basic sentiment is the bigger the film’s budget, the easier it will be to handle. The larger the studio, the easier it is. I see the bigger movies coming back. And movies are still currently in development. That hasn’t stopped because those people work remotely- all the illustrators, concept artists, animators, set designers.

Rick Carter

Rick Carter is a legend in the field of production design. With Avatar and Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, he designed two films that have each made over two billion in the box office. He’s spent a career teaming up with three of the greatest filmmaking visionaries who ever lived- Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Robert Zemekis, to create such classic films as Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Back to the Future II and III. To date he’s won two Academy awards, one for Avatar and one for Lincoln. Most recently he designed Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I connected to Rick in the middle of the worldwide Corona virus pandemic, with our industry on hold…

AS: Is all production and prep shut down for you because of the Covid 19 virus?
RC: It really is. There’s some prep going on but for the most part it’s shut down. People are trying to figure out when they can actually start up a production and how to do it because getting people together is not an easy task. Keeping people safe is the first and foremost thing. Secondarily, what kind of art can we create in this environment? It will have a profound impact on what movies are and how they’re made.

The job of production design is not going to be dependent on what we’ve had in this last epoch. Production design is not a static thing. Just the advent of computer imagery into the process caused a development that we’ve all had to adjust to, those of us who’ve been around for a while. And here comes another change and this one’s going to be very, very trying but I think it will lead to great solutions. Designers will have to really help design the production, not just what it looks like.

Lee Ha Jun

Lee Ha Jun designed arguably the greatest film of the 2020 Oscar season, the Korean movie Parasite. He was nominated for the best Art Direction Oscar and won the Art Director’s Guild award for Best Contemporary Production Design. The film itself won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. His team built and dressed almost every set in the movie from scratch, including an entire city street that was flooded. I was elated to discuss production design with the artistic visionary behind this masterpiece.

A huge thank you to Juhee Yi of Neon for translating!

AS: Director Bong Joon Ho told me that you built a section of the city for the amazing flood scene in Parasite. Can you tell me a little about designing that exterior set?
LHJ: There is an actual location in Seoul that has a similar look but since we had to flood the street in the scene we built the whole neighborhood in a water tank. We went location scouting where there are still apartments that have history. I designed the set by looking at the photos from the location scout and also referred back to the semi-basement where I used to live as a university student. When I was living in the semi-basement I hated having a toilet full or mold but later I realized I could draw from that experience!