David Crank interview: ‘News of the World’ production designer
David Crank was the production designer on “News of the World,” but he also had another gig: stand-in actor. Crank and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski spent about two months scouting locations in Santa Fe., N.M., for the Western and had to put their acting chops to the test. “He and I figured a lot of things out. We would film the script with our iPhones. There were four of us and we had to act out the script. We would send these little things [to director Paul Greengrass],” Crank tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Film Production Design panel (watch above). “I hope they never hit the light of day because I’m not a performer!”
Based on the novel of the same name, “News of the World” stars Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War vet who travels from town to town in Texas to read the news to locals. After coming across a young girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who was raised by Native Americans, he is tasked with returning her to her aunt and uncle. And thus begins a trek across the Lone Star State.
Because of the nature of the story, locations are constantly changing, and you’re never in one place for too long. Much of the film takes place outdoors as well as Kidd and Johanna plod along in their wagon against gorgeous vistas and changing landscapes — a deliberate choice to reflect the varying terrain across Texas.
“It was hard because we shot it all in Santa Fe and it had to be 30 miles around Santa Fe. We had to find landscape that replicated 400 miles of landscape, which changes dramatically in Texas. We were able to find it, which I was kind of worried about,” Crank shares. “We did map it out. It’s much lusher and greener in the north and it becomes harsher and harsher, and then you get down to San Antonio. In order to make it feel like a trip, we really did need to map out the terrain so it wasn’t jumping around.”
Periodically, Kidd and Johanna would enter towns, and each one had a distinct look even if you’re not able to tell at first blush. Crank and his team in fact turned one real town into three different ones. “It was a lot of planning about how to come into the town in each city so that you’d protect certain parts for another town. We had six days before each changeover,” he explains. “But we also talked about how each town needed to be specific and each town needed to have a reason he was there, and each reading space had a reason behind it and a tone behind it. … We adapted an existing town, which I found was a really wonderful way to do it because you’re building off of something that was already right, but you get to make all the better changes to it. We made a lot of things. Nothing really was untouched.”
Except for the awe-inspiring vistas. “I think that’s why New Mexico is a wonderful place for that. The landscape doesn’t exist in Texas [anymore] — it’s just too overdeveloped,” Crank says. “This is kind of closer to what it had been — it’s just one state away.”