Arad Sawat is one of Israel's leading production designers, and winner of 3 Israeli Academy Awards for Best Production Design. His most notable works include "A Tale of Love and Darkness", "Norman", "Foxtrot", and "Beirut". Sawat currently works as an international production designer, operating in the USA, Germany, Croatia, Bulgaria, Morocco, Japan, Singapore, India, and China.
There’s something charming about the idea of traveling to different countries, searching for a world in which a specific story can exist.
There are no set rules or methods to finding a location; each decision depends on the circumstances, as well as the story and where it takes place, and those change in every film. During the past two years I lived and worked in Berlin, Tangier, Sofia, and Tokyo. In every country I designed a different film, and therefore the reasons for choosing each location were different.
When working on locations I keep an architectural attitude, considering first the shape, light, climate, and color, and only then thinking about decoration.
When I design for a specific narrative, I always take into account the relationship between the characters and the world or place that we’re creating. I try to imagine the action and how it can take place in this specific place, as well as how the characters would experience this visual world. This is not just a visual aspect, but actually much more; I learned over the years how the space affects mood and tone, and how the audience experiences the film.
After reading the script I start a visual research, which can change according to the plot. Later, after going on many location scouts, I document every detail concerning the locations where we plan on shooting the film. This usually includes measurements and photos, among other things. I then start creating sketches showing the composition I had in mind, based on the location’s parameters. I show those to the director and producers, and after a group discussion I break the sketches down along with my art director. This includes plans, mood boards, styling, and color. It’s a dynamic process that changes throughout pre-production and even shooting, as all the visual concepts and ideas have to fit the production limits, and working within a budget and schedule that might occasionally change.
This of course includes an ongoing dialogue between the creative crew, including the director, cinematographer, producers, and of course art directors and their crew. This is crucial in order to create the visual integrity that I try to achieve whenever I design a film.
The work process is dependent on many different factors. This is especially true when there’s almost no option to shoot a location as it is, and it has to be heavily modified.
This was the case on several of my latest projects, but for very different reasons:
In "Foxtrot", we wanted the location to feel detached, like a minimalist world with its own rules. The Dead Sea seemed like the perfect location. The drying sea has a special typography that makes for a very minimalistic landscape, which suited the way I imagined the film’s look. It was essential to make sure the constructed structures on set would seem as if they were unchanged for decades, almost becoming part of the land.
On "Beirut", the most important aspect of the look and atmosphere was realism. The story takes place in Beirut during the 70’s and 80’s, and during research I quickly learned that the city was considered Paris of the Middle East, but became a crumbling wreck in 10 years, as a result of a devastating civil war. That is the transformation I wanted to convey visually, even though we never actually see the war, so some locations had to be designed twice – first as a thriving, cultural city, and then as a decaying shell which only hints at its past.
On the show "Absentia", we shot in Bulgaria, though the story took place in Boston. The difference between the two cities is quite large, so it was decided to shoot a large portion of the show inside a studio. This meant meticulously studying the architecture of Boston, so ideally even a natural born Bostonian couldn’t tell the difference. I had to take a completely different approach to location design, as I was unbound by normal location restrictions, but had to understand the essence of a city I’ve never actually been to.
To view Arad Sawat's location work:
Concept sketches for the film "Beirut"
Concept sketches for the film "Foxtrot"
back to top
back to FORUM