Darcy Scanlin has over 20 years experience as a production designer for feature films, live events, commercials, music videos, theater and opera. Her most recent feature was "Uncle Frank", directed by Alan Ball, which premiered at Sundance 2020. She also designs live events, working with Little Cinema, Warner Media, TNT HBO and SAG, and most recently designed the red carpet for the SAG Awards. She has worked with theater companies such as the Prague National Theatre, BAM, Bard Summerscape, Long Beach Opera, South Coast Repertory, A Noise Within, The Getty Center and many others.
Performing was one of my favorite things to do while growing up, from childhood all the way through college; I was in over 30 musicals as a kid and went on to sing opera in college. My life has always revolved around shows. My mom is a visual artist and she designed all of the sets and we painted them together for many of the productions I was in growing up. So working behind the scenes was just built into my DNA, it was part of life. But when it came to performing, while I absolutely loved it, lived for it and found it utterly exhilarating, I dealt with serious stage fright. Ever since I can remember and through my early 20's, I dealt with extreme nervousness, sweaty palms, and a heart that pounded so hard I could visibly see my shirt moving. There were times in college, during operatic auditions and competitions, my nerves were so intense my throat would just close up.
As a production designer now, watching my work on screen is very similar to performing, but only in the best way. It feels thrilling and exhilarating in the same way, but without all of the dread and horror of stage fright. Unlike performing, I rarely feel nervous watching my work, because I work so hard to get it right, believe thoroughly in the work, and there is no going back; what is done is done, burned into that film...forever.
Robert Israel taught a masterclass when I was in grad school at CalArts, and I remember him asking us students, "Why do you design?" He suggested, "We design in order to extend our mortality." Honestly, the experience of watching my work on screen is profoundly moving, as if I'm registering my identity with the future and with history. It is as if I have created something that will live on well past my life time.
I recently designed "Uncle Frank", written and directed by Alan Ball. It was an incredibly special film, made by a crew that cared deeply about the project and literally poured every bleeding ounce of their hearts into it. We shot it in Wilmington, NC. last summer (2019). The film premiered at Sundance last February, and seeing the film was intense; I watched in a sort wonderful shock, awe and tears. I was a complete mess! But it was amazing.
When you work with thousands of details - so many locations and parts so disconnected throughout the design process - and then see it all come together into one unified whole, the revelation of your vision expanding the power of the story - so fragmented for so long - is utterly magical. It's like watching a jigsaw puzzle turn into a real person. Fifteen years in, I am still in awe of basic movie magic; how the interiors we build match separate exteriors on location. I am still fascinated by how the sets we create really achieve a sense of time travel, character and emotion - and tell their own story. I am still amazed at the genius of actors and how they turn words on a page into drama that can move one to tears.
Watching my work on screen is one of the most satisfying, surprising and powerful experiences I know. And it reminds me that it's not just my work, it's the power of collaboration and cooperation - how every person on the team, cast and crew, makes ten thousand decisions that somehow come together in a grand synthesis that transforms a script into an amazing story.
To view Darcy's work visit her website: https://darcyscanlin.com/
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