As our industry becomes more global, designers nowdays have more chances to work abroad. These opportunities come with their own sets of challenges, as discussed here by our members.
"Filmmaking is about building a global network of collaborators and sources."
"Always welcome new experiences, it is from these that you will been given your most valuable lessons."
"It is a privilege to have your world-view called into question every once in a while"
"Each new script is like its own country."
September 15, 2016
What is your method of working abroad?
David Scheunemann worked as an art director on George Clooney's "Monument Men", Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer", Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards" and "The Hunger Games" series, among others. He recently designed David Leitch's "Coldest City", shooting in Budapest.
Making movies in foreign countries is an exciting organizational and creative challenge, it means to work outside the personal comfort zone. But that is (or can be) the only difference.
MAKE THE WORLD YOUR HOME, DIGITALLY & PERSONALLY
Even working at “home” the process has become more and more international. You hire Concept Artists in Australia, L.A, Berlin, build sets in Berlin & Budapest, props in London, manufacture furniture in Czechia & India and ship in products from all over the World. Just an example, but this is production reality.
Filmmaking is about building a global network of collaborators and sources.
Skype, Facetime and fast data communication have made that possible and change the reality of filmmakers rapidly. Of course there will be always a team around the designer on location where the production is based and will physically happen, but in this so personal film industry is slowly immersing in the digital age of communication.
It is crucial to understand and accept the local procedures, where the film is physically produced. You need the best local crew, as they are steering your ship, embrace being steered and trust their process skills. The more people you can involve in key roles the better the result will be.
But don’t be afraid of bringing people. Just select them carefully, only people who can immerse and collaborate with locals will get good results.
When people ask for advise on the best methods of working in a foreign country I always answer:
HAVE NO METHOD!
EXPLORE THE WORLD / IMMERSE / BE DRIVEN / STAY CALM / CREATE
Inbal Weinberg is an Israeli production designer based in NYC. Her film credits include "Frozen River", "Pariah", "Blue Valentine", "The Place Beyond The Pines", "St. Vincent", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", "Indignation" and "Beasts of No Nation", shot in Africa. She is currently working in Italy, designing Luca Guadagnino's remake of "Suspiria".
In a way, I'm always working abroad. Having grown up in Israel, I still find every American town mystifying, and although I've lived and worked in the USA for years, I often still feel like a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant. Perhaps I even purposefully preserve that feeling, because in a way being a foreigner is good practice for production design - you are always an observer, you notice little details, you question basic facts.
Working abroad - whether in Millinocket, Maine or Ghana, Africa - is at once exhilarating and frightening. I find myself confronted daily with new information and methods that contradict everything I had learnt before. Long-established practices no longer make sense, familiar ways of working suddenly seem strange, hard-earned knowledge is rendered useless.
At first, it is hard to accept. I've definitely wasted precious time insisting on enforcing my own way of thinking on foreign surroundings and local crews. But after a while one starts to accept the local culture and embrace its best practices, to the best of one's abilities. From my experience, the only way to succeed in making a film abroad is to find a meeting point between the foreign and local way of working.
Some things help: before I leave, I usually call colleagues that have worked in the place before. Even though every designer has their own method and character, it's very helpful to get advice and recommendations for crew; I then spend a lot of time and energy looking for local crew - they are the key to the success of the project, and the bridge between you and the local vendors and laborers; I try to hire crew members who have experience working with foreigners, or have spent time abroad - I find it helpful when my team has a larger context than just the local work methods, so that they are able to view their own world from the outside and are therefore better at explaining that world to me.
The most important thing is to set the point in which I let go. Yes, I can insist on trying things my way, and often my method works. But when it doesn't, I need to be humble and wise enough to acknowledge "defeat". Better, I need to be ready to change the concept of "defeat" in my mind - just because I'm used to a certain system, doesn't mean that there aren't other ways of achieving the same result. The idea that some places are more efficient than others, that some countries are poorer or less advanced - that is just a certain way of thinking that we have been conditioned to accept.
Instead, I prefer to believe that there are intricate historical and cultural reasons for every practice I deem strange upon arrival, and being a foreigner I may never fully understand them. Of course it's very frustrating at times, especially when trying to make a movie, which is already an ambitious endeavor. But my frustration will not change things - it rarely does. Instead, I try to take a deep breath and remember that all the amazing crew around me - my art directors, carpenters, dressers, painters - are a product of that world, and are fully comfortable working and living in the reality I find challenging. That realization leads to an open and honest dialogue with my crew, where I profess my frustration but follow up with questions about local practices and the reasons behind them. I find the exchange illuminating not just on a work level, but as a life lesson. It is a privilege to have your world-view called into question every once in a while - it will not only make you a better designer, but a better human being...
Francesca Massariol is a Production Designer of independent features, shorts, commercials and music videos. Her latest films includes "Spaceship" directed by Alex Taylor, which premiered at SXSW this year, "Trendy" by Louis Lagayette, currently in post production, and "Balcony" by Toby Fell-Holden, winner of the 66th Berlinale Crystal Bear.
I am always incredibly excited when a overseas project comes along: I have a deep passion for travelling and an eager interest in experiencing new cultures. It’s my favourite way to enrich and expand my visual library and understand new cultures. Curiosity is an essential trait in our job, and I believe we are like sponges: we imbibe every single thing that surrounds us in order to integrate our perception of it in our designs. Equally, at a practical level, working abroad is a daunting experience! Our work relies widely on our relationships with crew and suppliers. When starting a project in a different country a new network needs to be built. Naturally, the process can feel unsettling. Getting in contact with colleagues and friends is a great starting point: they will be able to share information, give you tips about the area and most importantly route you towards local crew.
I believe finding an experienced local Art Director is key in this situation!
There are various blogs and Facebook pages which provide invaluable access to information and crew. In the UK specifically, I strongly recommend ArtDept PropHouses Noticeboard and Art Dept Crew UK. Both are widely used platforms where professionals and beginners alike exchange advices. Their aim is to connect, share and protect the rights and welfare of the art department. I was born and bred in Italy, but for the past 11 years I have been calling London my home. I moved to the UK to complete my studies and my career naturally developed here. Even though my initial learning comes from an Italian dynamic, everything I have been taught about my job and, certainly part of my sensibility, has been moulded by British practice. So far the opportunity to work in in my native country is as of yet to present itself. Paradoxically the idea of it sounds more challenging to me than anywhere else in the world. My advice for any new challenge, wherever it may be: always welcome new experiences, it is from these that you will been given your most valuable lessons.
Paki Smith is an artist and production designer working in Ireland. He set decorated Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight Rises", among others. His production design credits include the films "32A", "Viva", "The Open Road" and the recently wrapped "A Storm in the Stars".
Not sure exactly how to answer this question. Its not method that interests me particularly, as method differs from film to film, in much the same way that each new script is like its own country.
A country where there are new languages to be learned, new things to be seen.
I love working abroad. Personally I think it is because I feel I am on a different stage in some way. You see things afresh, getting to know that particular countries flavours, of how they go about things there. I may be no better than a tourist. But a superior tourist! Film is a people thing, endlessly fascinating for that reason.