Grant Major interview: ‘The Power of the Dog’ production designer
“So much of the work we do as production designers is to try and create worlds that feel real because they have their own history and things that fit each individual scene that we’re bringing to the screen. So everything has to work in a sort of multifaceted way,” says Grant Major about his work recreating 1920s Montana in Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog.” We talked to Major as part of our “Meet the Experts” Production Designers Panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Written and directed by Jane Campion based on a novel by Thomas Savage, “The Power of the Dog” tells the story of Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a resentful rancher who bullies his brother’s new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and stepson (Kodi Smit-McPhee). But while the story takes place in the American West, the film was shot on the opposite end of the world: “Montana is a very big, broad state and it has these large grasslands and mountains and all that sort of stuff,” Major explains. “New Zealand does have those sorts of things, and we’ve tried to find the equivalent for that.”
They shot much of the film on a working sheep and cattle ranch, on which Major wanted to capture a sense of family history and social class. “The parents built this ranch in the 1880s, and they’ve both immigrated from the Eastern states of America with all their highfalutin, Eastern-states kind of aesthetic and lifestyle, so they actually supplanted this house onto the wilderness of Montana,” Major says. Now, 40 years later when the film takes place, “the house itself has withered and never really settled into the landscape … so nothing really grows very easily around it.”
The interior of the ranch, once a social center in the community, also has a desolate feel since the Burbank parents moved out. “The cavernous rooms have got a slightly empty feel to it, which is synonymous with this sort of feeling of the world” that Phil and his brother George (Jesse Plemons) now occupy, which is “emotionally emptied out.” Phil, meanwhile, has his barn as a sanctuary. It’s a “very strong and squarely built structure” with a lot of “subtleties” inside that indicate his “hard side, but there’s a sort of sensitive side to him as well.” So there are “all these stories that get told in so many different layers, and one of the layers is the production design, where we’re able to quote all these things.”