Production designers spend months and months creating authentic, immersive worlds for the characters of their films, but the last thing they want is for anybody to immediately notice their work.
“I think if you’re doing it properly, it’s in support of the story and the characters and works subliminally on the audience,” “BlacKkKlansman” production designer Curt Beech said at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Production Designers panel, moderated by this author (watch the exclusive video above). “And hopefully [it] does not draw attention to itself unless there’s a scripted moment where there’s something very specific that will happen scenically that is a ‘wow’ moment or something.”
“Destroyer” production designer Kay Lee said she’d be “mortified” if her work ever unintentionally distracted moviegoers from the action onscreen. “I would never want my work to take away from the story itself,” she said. “What I try to bring to the screen is to support the emotion and the action that is part of the story.”
Provoking emotion is what it all comes down to. “I’m not trying to get people to notice me or not notice me; I’m trying to get them to feel something,” Ethan Tobman (“Beautiful Boy”) said.
For “Roma”’s Eugenio Caballero, that means looking at the craft differently as well. It’s not just about coming up with pretty sets and cool designs. “I really think that production design is not really an aesthetic discipline; it’s more like a narrative discipline,” he said. “So you have to really understand that what you’re doing is really to tell the story, to be a storyteller with different tools: color, texture, shape.”
How each four starts telling those stories can vary as well, but they all love hand-drawing their initial sets as opposed to digital creations.
“I love taking photos of locations, printing them huge and just drawing on top of them,” Tobman said. “It’s like the most satisfying god-like moment of control. And everybody gets to see it and participate in it. You throw them up all over the office and you’re drawing on top of them. And you just feel like it’s the biggest sandbox on the planet.”
“I thought I was the only person who did that,” Beech quipped. “Dammit.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.