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...
back to top
back to FORUM