ADG Lifetime Award winner Ida Random designed such classics as "The Bill Chill", "Silverado", "Wyatt Earp" and "Rain Man", for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Born in Scotland, her family moved often and eventually settled in Vancouver, Canada, where she developed her skill as a painter in art school in the mid 1960s. After marrying an actor, the couple moved to LA, where Ida encountered the world of Hollywood stages. She became an assistant to legendary production designer Richard Sylbert, who encouraged her to go back to school and learn drafting skills. Her first break came when Sylbert recommended her to Lawrence Kasdan for "The Big Chill", and the rest is history.
Congratulations on your award and a very emotional night, in which you were not only honored by your peers but introduced in a beautiful speech by collaborator Kevin Costner!
I was absolutely not expecting any of this. Some people who have received this award were my mentors, like Dick Sylbert and Terry Marsh, so I felt really honored. And Kevin's speech was amazing
I loved the part where he talked about observing you on set, always moving things and rearranging furniture last minute.
You have to do that. Because once you give them the set, they start messing with it, moving stuff around and changing things. And if you're not there to look through the camera and see what they're doing, there might be stuff that you won't like...
So now that you've had the opportunity to look back at your career, do you feel that there is a direct line or thread between your projects?
You know, I don't think so. There is that thing of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. You fall into certain things, it's the luck of the draw. I always loved films and I always loved designing, but I also had two kids to support, so there were very few things early on that I had turned down. Things would get offered up through my agent and I took them, doing a lot of strange projects too because I had to work. But the script for "The Big Chill" and the script for "Rain Man" were unbelievable. You did not put them down.
What was the thing that drew you to our profession in the first place?
My husband, who was an actor, would take me to the sound stages when he was working and I loved it. I mean you go in that gate, and the gate closes, and there's this whole world in there. But then my husband left and one of my girlfriends connected me with Dick Sylbert, who hired me though I had no skills, and then he said to me "If you wanna get ahead you have to go back and take drafting classes". And then when Larry did "The Big Chill" he's the one who recommended me for the job.
Once you became a production designer, how did you deal with the challenges and stress of the job?
Believe me, this award is glamorous, but the actual art of filmmaking is stressful in the sense that you're responsible for the look of the film, and you have to produce it. And when you start shooting, you do the first sets but you have to move on and continue working. It's not an easy business, it's hard work.
The stress is different on every movie, and you have to deal with different personalities. Sometimes you don't get along with someone, but have to pretend you do. I actually had to take a break at some point, and moved to Santa Fe after all those years of work. You get burnt out.
How did you manage to also be a mom during that time, which is something that till today not many colleagues can figure out?
It was horrendous. I'm a single mom, you know, so I didn't have a husband at home. I just had to work it out, I had people come stay with the kids, and early on I took my younger son with me on the job but that didn't really work out. Honestly, I don't remember how I did it. I just marched forward and did whatever I had to do, but it was tough. I missed things with my kids that I regret.
How has the craft and industry changed during the course of your career?
The hardest thing for me was the move to digital. I don't design on the computer, I just hand-design everything, and I do collaging and paintings. The digital era was hard to adjust to. But I think that some things always apply - the artistic instinct. I always said about my work that I was making a painting.
I'm really glad that I got in when I did, because I got part of the old world, where we didn't have cellphones and we didn't have computers. You hand-painted the signs and gave them to the sign department. It was a different world and I'm lucky I experienced it.
What would be your advice to production designers who are starting out?
I would say what people like Terry Marsh said to me: "Always be on the set before the director". Seems simple but to me it was a big thing.
The real key is getting the director. I've been on a couple of movies where I had the director but for some strange reason I lost him somewhere. Some weird thing happened and I lost his vibe, or his attention with me. And you have to get it back. You try to figure it out and see what happened, so you can get them back. You know, the producers you have to respect, but the director you have to relate to. It's like a romance.
Our thanks to David Morong from Perspective Magazine for his help in facilitating this interview.