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Although independents often overlook it and under-support it, production design plays a massive part in the aesthetic of a film and ultimately, the film's production value. A production designer is the key creative person responsible for the look and feel of everything on-camera that does not talk or breath. More or less. Sets, paint swatches, props, you name it. On Passing Harold Blumenthal I am lucky to have at my disposal the brilliant and creative Marie Lynn Wagner. So, who better to talk about production design in indie film than the production designer herself? Take it away, Marie...
Hello internet! As the Production Designer for this film, I must disclose a few things. There will be no explosions. Boats will not sink. Our film is nearly devoid of large blue aliens and it is also not set in Victorian anywhere. I hope, despite these shortcomings, that you are still interested. Production design for an independent film is tricky. When one thinks of film set design, the movies that come to mind often have millions of dollars to spend. The idea of “sets” as an affordable concept for an independent film can seem so far away that you’d rather just pretend they’re unnecessary. But just because a movie isn’t Titanic, doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a thoughtful (and frugal!) design.
For me, design starts with people. The amazing thing about working with a writer is the ability to create and understand exactly where these people come from. The script and the characters are living, changing entities that deserve as much attention as any visual choice. A few weeks ago when speaking with Seth, I said “I have a million questions about these characters.” His response was “So do I!” Through the course of our conversation I came to better understand the people and the story, but more importantly we both had a chance to look at the script from a different angle.
Through the process I start to consider my characters as real people who need a life. The bulk of our movie does, take place in the homes of our characters and I find these to be the most exciting spaces to create. A movie gives you just a brief window into the lives of people, but looking at someone’s personal space speaks volumes about who they are. The first part of my job is to ask the questions.
- Are their figurines immaculately dusted and arranged, or do they frequently lose their remote control under their New Yorker hoard?
- Do they proudly display photos of their children or is their abstract expressionist art collection their pride and joy?
- Do they have an amazing mid-century furniture set, or have they never actually unpacked their boxes?
There is an infinite difference between walking into a room set up to host guests and walking into one where there is one chair pointed at the television. Working out these unspoken, unwritten choices is my favorite part of the job.
As we nail more and more things down I’m excited to further understand the world and the story of these people. And, of course, I can’t wait to share it with all of you!