I often feel an instant kinship with a production designer. We both do a lot of research in the early preparation of the film and are looking at similar elements as we read the script and begin the design process. We basically have the same agenda. My collaboration with a production designer often begins in these early stages of prep work. This is a relatively quiet time, before we both have a team of people to manage. Ideally you're in the same office together and it's easy to bring ideas and concepts to the director and discuss with the DP as well.
Hopefully the work I do enhances the work of the production designer, and vice versa. I look at color, texture and am searching for a better understanding of the world inhabited by the characters in the story and how that informs what they wear. The production designer is also starting to identify a color palette, seeing locations and thinking about set design. So having time to research and share ideas together before we both get too busy is a really nice part of the process.
Often I've seen issues come up during the process of scouting locations. I'm not on the scouts, but important design elements might be discussed. It's very valuable to me when a production designer continues to communicate with me directly. I prefer having the discussion with the production designer (rather than say, the assistant director) since the PD tends to have a better gauge of where we are in the creative process.
I love film, because I get to enjoy the whole process. On an episodic television show you generally don't - we're constantly prepping, shooting and wrapping simultaneously. On Madame Secretary we shoot New York for Washington DC plus one other country each episode, depicting the political crisis of the moment. So we might be prepping Afghanistan while shooting Russia in the same week; it's about coordinating quickly to ensure there's a cohesive vision. It's important that you both have an understanding of the cultures and are on the same page about how to make a scene look authentic.
Increasingly, films (and tv shows) shoot where the tax incentive is. This makes the design process that much more challenging ... For example, I designed a pilot that shot both Boston for New York and Morocco for Mali. I had to work very fast. It's a lot to research and get together in a short amount of time. When hiring foreign crew and sourcing it was helpful to have a partner in this process. The production designer and I stayed close from start to finish. As a result, the show looked really good.
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