April 5, 2015

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Writers start with a blank piece of paper, painters with a blank canvas. Many movies reflect their creative process, from ADAPTATION, BARTON FINK, LOST WEEKEND, THE SHINING to LUST FOR LIFE, THE AGONY and THE ECSTASY, FRIDA and many others. For filmmakers the moment of creative spark can come from so many different places that we decided to ask the question: where and how do you find inspiration?
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Jeannine Oppewall

Jeannine Oppewall has worked on more than 30 movies and has four Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction for “L.A. Confidential,“ “Pleasantville,“ “Seabiscuit“ and “The Good Shepherd.“

I am not at all certain that inspiration really exists. Yes, there is hard work. Yes, there is a lot of research. Yes, there is a lot of time spent rolling around inside the subject, the story and the characters. And then there is intuition, personal, and layered on top of all that - how you as an individual think and feel, based on your life experiences.  In other words, you plow your field, you scatter the seed, you fertilize, and you wait for rain. That’s about all there is, really. You’re just another farmer in the fields of film.  


From time to time you might hear artists talking about how they sometimes think that they are merely the conduit for an idea or a feeling that is somehow using them to find expression. I have had this experience, and more than once. One night I found myself on the art department floor, arranging and rearranging wallpaper samples for a set on “Snow Falling on Cedars.” I needed to make a choice by the morning.  But that night I was finding it impossible to decide which one I wanted. So I quit for the night, had dinner, and went to bed. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with the image of one of the wallpapers in my head, for no particular reason. It just arrived, of its own bidding, as if it had wanted to find its way into the movie for who knows what reason, and was using me to get there. Of course, when I got up in the morning, I chose that wallpaper. And If you were ever to watch the movie, you could see it there, frozen on film, behind a desk, on the walls of one of the many rooms in the story. It was, of course, the perfect choice.  


Maybe that’s what inspiration comes down to:  something wants to get out, and wills itself to do so through you.  You are, literally, inspired, that is, filled with the breath of someone or something else, and you are merely doing its bidding.

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Gil Kenan

Gil Kenan is an Israeli-British-American director, best known for his work on the films City of Ember and Monster House. His remake of “Poltergeist“ will be released this summer.

I’m always looking to mine the unique relationship between the characters and their environment. With the three films that I’ve made, sense of place is hardwired into the narrative and each becomes the source of my inspiration.


With POLTERGEIST I had the challenge to re-interpret the convention of a 1980’s suburb as an ideal and perfect habitat. We don’t live in that world anymore, so I had to find inspiration in the ways the definition of a suburb has evolved in the last thirty years. I had to embrace the struggle of a family that wants anything but to live in a cookie-cutter house. How do you create that relationship between a place that’s both domestic and welcoming but also pregnant with the tension of social ambition? The first location scout is critically important. You have to be able to feel your characters inhabiting the space before and after your story takes place. The rest should flow from there.

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Mark Ricker

Mark Ricker has designed the films “Julie and Julia“ and “The Help,“ among others, and was nominated for an Emmy for his design work on “You don't Know Jack.“

As I’m sure is the case with any Production Designer, when I first read a script – the very first time – I have the limitless boundaries of my imagination describing the world that unfolds on the page.  Of course there is description, more or less depending on whom the screenwriter is, and this description serves to hone in the world.  For the most part, however, reading the script at that stage is as freeing as reading a book.  


The great fun in being a Production Designer is that – then - I get to bring that imagination to physical life.  (On time and within budget of course.) What develops from that point until I watch the finished film is a countless series of discoveries and decisions.  Sometimes, a set can be exactly as I first conjured it.


When reading, imagine how one sees details in the minds eye, some specific, many unformed and blurry. Shape-shifting rooms and worlds.  There may be a vague idea of a space, or a color, that latches in my head and never let’s go.  There may be reasons the idea plants itself that might even make sense.  Other times it just is.  


The inspiration that comes before and which follows this first reading, helps define every individual designers point of view.  It is the same as in life – everyone’s unique experience. Hard to pin down and explain but there none-the-less. My inspiration is of course a revolving door of influences: research, music, food, travel, experience, news, art, technology… But one of the greatest tools in designing a film is awareness of the people around me. The conversation and collaboration continually inspires me to perhaps reach outside that first unformed image and bring a larger canvas to the work I do in film. All subjects are on the table - from chatting politics with a director, to music with a DP to seeing photos of a road trip from an Art PA. No matter how much art and architecture there is, and new ways to experience and research it, just hearing a simple idea from someone else can open up a whole world of seeing an image – and a film – differently.

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Patrizia Von Brandestein

Patrizia Von Brandestein was the first American woman to win an Academy Award for production design for the film “Amadeus“ in 1984. Among her many film creadits are "The Untouchables", “Postcards from the Edge“ and “Man on the Moon.“

My inspiration is always and must be the Script. It is only when the words become part of me, when the pages slowly melt into my being, and the characters and place are the very air I breathe, that the work of design begins.  


Then that great net unfolds from me and the scoop brings up bits of childhood, old loves, scraps of music, a favorite dress--those images and thousands more slowly assemble themselves as a translation, a vision, the life of the script.  


Always my lodestar, the Script.

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