You’re a jack of all creative trades, how would you define your art?
I think to do good production design you kind of need to be a jack-of-all-trades. At least to the point that you can speak the language of the artists and craftspeople creating the world your story is going to live in. It doesn’t mean being an expert at everything – for me it means getting my hands dirty, getting to know a diversity of skills so you can lead people in a relevant way, in order to fulfill a unified creative vision. As far as defining it that’s difficult to do until all the pieces come together. I spend a lot of time adopting new skillsets, whether it’s photography, construction, leather craft or playing Lego, getting good at a variety of mediums makes you a better production artist and it helps you see through eyes of the experts of those mediums on your team. Varied skill sets converge on-set so if you already have that ecosystem going on within yourself it feels natural to do ten different things at once.
Where do you go to or find inspiration for your craft?
Inspiration is everywhere if you’re willing to keep learning. I think receiving inspiration has to do with your mindset. If you’re willing to be taught by a child, or someone from a different industry or maybe a negative situation you’re in, inspiration is available. Don’t lose innocence toward the world you live in or you’ll block creativity. For fresh inspiration I change the medium, I’ll put my attention into a different creative act. If I’ve got writers block I’ll sketch for a while, if I’m having a hard time with the sketch I’ll sew something. Most times that refreshes me and get’s me looking at the project with a new and energized perspective. I don’t apologize for having a few things going on at once because that keeps me innovative and it actually keeps me productive.
Tell us about your training and background.
It’s exciting to see the varied and unconventional ways people have been trained and are being trained because it brings diverse strength and makes production teams robust. Art College didn’t work well for me but it does for a lot of people. I had to go traveling and get inspired from cultures that weren’t my own to grow as an artist and a person. That being said I grew up obsessed with drawing so I found mentors and got training. I’d spend hours on beautiful summer days holed-up inside drawing across huge rolls of newsprint.
My parents really fostered my creative bent; they had me taking private lessons in drawing technique and watercolour when I was seven and eight. In grade school I took any kind of art class that was offered, sometimes twice. I did art classes that weren’t offered. Our high school had a dark room but no photography teacher… the school was cool enough to give me a budget so I could learn to process black and white film and print photos. You can’t not do school as an excuse, if you’re self taught it can’t be an excuse. You actually have to work all the harder because if you’re not self motivated you’ll end up with no meaningful work. Mentorship has been huge for me. Whether you go to a lot of school or not I really believe if you want to grow as an artist you need to get around people that are better and bigger than you. Serve them, work for them and let them give you feedback, you’ll learn so much. Working in other people’s workshops and studios has taught me not just creative skills, but people skills and business skills.
One of the most repeated phrases on set was “Ro-ooss!” as the DP and others called you to create, modify, troubleshoot and dress the set. What were some of the craziest things you had to do in a pinch?
For the record there is a special place in my heart reserved for Bob Ngyuen (our Director of Photography on She Has A Name). He was dedicated to the look being great and wasn’t afraid to ask for things that might be unorthodox or seemingly impossible to see that vision happen. I try my best to never say no and just give realistic timelines in getting it done. Resourcefulness is just another way of saying creativity. That means trying things you may have never done for the sake of the story. Bob wanted a macro shot one day but we didn’t have the right lens on hand. We managed to pull a macro rig together in about half an hour ‘on the fly’. We made it out of very rudimentary material and no real shop with fairly basic tools. When you don’t have the resources, you just have to get resourceful.
What did you learn from your experience on set that surprised you about filmmaking?
This was a particularly fast paced shoot. We had some real issues to overcome over the course of the production especially on location in Thailand. Saying that, what stands out as something that I learned, that might even be surprising is patience. Things felt out of our control all the time, if I didn’t reconcile that with patience I might have had a breakdown or something. I learned this from our gifted lead makeup person, Debbie Vandelaar. She is a pro, not just in her work but also in her attitude. She constantly showed patience and had such a positive perspective, especially when things got hard or weird. That was an atmosphere she created wherever she was and toward whomever she was with.
What was one or a few of your highlights from your time on location in Thailand?
Thailand is extreme and dynamic. To me it is a country of beautiful contrasts. There was so much to love about working there. We worked with Benetone Films as our line producers, they gave us some amazing crew to work with, the crew was a huge highlight. I had a minor wrist injury on set that was sore for a few days. One of the art department guys sat beside me as we were finishing one of our setups and without hesitation pulled a small container of tiger balm out and started massaging it into my arm. To me that’s Thai culture, generous and hospitable to the point where it’s almost overwhelming.
In stark contrast with that moment, the story we were telling was overwhelming in a very different way. Human trafficking is one of the most overwhelming human rights calamites going on in our world today. Privilege was a word that was often used on this production because was and is such a privilege to engage this issue in some kind of meaningful way.
Read more interviews with crew from She Has A Name