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March 5th, 2017

What drives your decision to accept /reject a new project?

Production Designers have the unique advantage of stirring their career by constantly making choices to accept or reject projects. Our colleagues discuss their criteria and decision-making process.
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Andrew Jackness

Andrew Jackness’ work spans theater, film, television and illustration. Among his TV work are the shows "Blindspot", "Masters of sex", "Life as we know it". His features include "Everybody's fine", "Killshot", "The big wedding", "Big night", among others. He has taught film design for the past 20 years at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. 

Working in the theater, film, or television means constant renewal.  Every project, production team, and crew create a different chapter in a designer’s life.  We all need to work, and sometimes that need pushes one into taking jobs that aren’t ideal; but there’s always a choice.

I choose projects for script. It can be that it is visually interesting, or a delicate character study; but I look to be able to make a contribution to the final outcome of the movie.  Something an audience can subliminally or obviously understand. Without a story that interests me, I find it hard to engage on any level.

 

My goal is to constantly invent something, solve a puzzle, be part of telling a story. Working with directors and writers who allow me to be a fundamental part of that narrative is what I look for.  Period projects are naturally attractive since they require research, and selections that inform the audience about character, time, style, and give an arc to the script.

 

From page to screen, I want to work with people who enjoy exploring ideas. Collaborators I like spending time with, and who appreciate the visual aspects of what we all do.

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Katie Hickman

Katie Hickman is a Brooklyn-based production designer, focused mainly on feature films. Her most recent feature to premiere was "Person to Person" at Sundance 2017, and most recently completed the Sundance Director's Lab project "We the Animals". Other recent work includes "To The Night", "Far Out", art direction on "Tallulah", "Creative Control", and set decoration on "Beasts of No Nation".

Whenever presented with the opportunity to choose between projects, and sometimes when deciding upon a single project alone, the decision process isn't always the same, but there are a few factors I find continually guiding.

The story. Am I interested in the story this script is trying to tell, does it feel original and well written, and can I see it well enough to confidently inhabit the role of designer?

 

The design. Is it challenging in some way and what about the design of this script appeals to me, or does it not?

 

Does the project as a whole feel cohesive and like there is a vision I can contribute to? Do I feel a solid connection to and understanding of the director's approach? Do I feel support and trust in the team behind it?

 

Timing. There are always life, financial, or other job factors that can effect deciding on a job. Sometimes things seamlessly work out to choose a project and have the schedule to avoid any conflicting opportunities, but deciding to hold out for something or have to decline something simply due to timing, occurs regularly, and often makes the decision without affording the other considerations. This can feel like a frustrating and unavoidable part of the process, that it can almost feel miraculous when things line up easily.

 

Ultimately I find the important thing is to try to continue to value and remember the reasons why I do what I do, and be grateful for the opportunity to choose projects and do so as thoughtfully as I can.

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Kelly McGehee

Kelly McGehee recently designed Andrea Arnold’s acclaimed "American Honey". Her other film credits include director Oren Moverman's last two films "The Dinner" and "Time out of mind", as well as "What Maisie knew", "Bee season", "The deep end", and "Suture". In TV, McGeehee designed  the shows “The Affair” and “How to Make it in America.”  

The first films I worked on were written and directed by my brother and best friend from ideas germinated in conversations in the tiny living rooms of a small bunch of kids we watched and talked about movies with in Berkeley.  We developed the germs of ideas for the the look of the films at the same time we drew out the story. It was deeply and powerfully collaborative. And I think probably the biggest draw for me as a designer is still the desire for that kind of immersive creative experience with other humans. 

 

Like most of us, I’m sure, I’m drawn to directors who I admire and respect.  I’ve been super lucky to work with some impressive artists who are really thinking about the medium, how to tell stories in a way that is artful and unexpected; playing with structure, and point of view, and sound, pace, color, emotion, framing, design in a way that’s provocative and thoughtful. 

 

I don’t take a project on much anymore without being a huge fan of the DP, and I love the symbiotic dreaming that happens in that relationship when it’s good.  Stunning lighting is like a tangible magic, and planning how we’ll get it is a great joy.

 

Although I’m always keen to work on a project with a script that excites me at first blush, that’s become a little softer for me sometimes. I’ve experienced the script evolving through collaboration in compelling ways, and if the director and the DP are good, the actors are interesting, the editor is beautiful, and the design is on point, the storytelling can move and change in ways I find compelling.

 

I’m drawn to designing physical and emotional environments that feel new to me in some way, and that deepen my understanding about people or places in ways that stay with me after the project is over.  And I’m drawn to cultivating creative relationships that stay active too, with new families that come together and become immersed in the act of creating something meaningful, and have the potential to find their way back to each other to do it all over again.

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Steve Beatrice

Stephen Beatrice is a New York City based feature film and television Production Designer whose career spans two decades: among his films are "American Buffalo", "Girfight", "Julien Donkey-boy", "Roger Doger", "The Messenger", "Adventureland". His TV credits include the shows "White Collar", Power" and "Mr Robot".

The short answer would be: I need to be driven by the script and the characters.  At the fundamental core I need to feel a connection to the story, to the writer, creator and/or director. Sometimes they are one and the same. For the most part, I do my job in the same way.  Each project is unique whether it’s a film or a television series. I often say they are my children. As a Production Designer, we give so much of ourselves. Each project is a part of me and I would have difficulty choosing a favorite.

 

My choices start with the script, but sometimes it’s based on who you know.

 

My very first production design opportunity came from Anthony Katagas, the Oscar winning producer. At the time, we had just completed a feature together. He was the AD and I was the art director. He was about to produce a film for a friend and he asked me if I was interested in production designing. I said yes. I interviewed for the job and the rest is history. I can’t believe I’m in my third decade working as a Production Designer.

 

Sometimes the project chooses you but quite often it is purely timing. If the planets align it can be your moment. I have interviewed for many projects I so desired, but they either pushed a year or two or five… and I was no longer available. That can be heartbreaking but then I have the opportunity to enjoy the story through another designer’s eyes. We are a talented clan and I am blessed to be one in the Production Designers Collective.

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