As a new contributor to Art DepartMENTAL, I will be covering the Art department scene in Los Angeles in greater detail as the months go on. Rose and I thought it would be a good idea to start off with a little bit about myself and my work in the art department through a Q&A. So without further delay, Rose asked and I answered…
Category Archives: Question & ANSWER
Over the weekend while updating Art DepartMENTAL’s Youtube Channel I decided to watch these videos below. I’ve seen them around for a while but because of their poor titling I wasn’t sure they’d interest me but boy was I wrong. This panel from 2008′s Comic Con ADG sponsored panel is full of insightful art department and design knowledge from some of the top Production Designers working today. J.Michael Riva and Alex McDowell provide many highlights. I particularly love the conversation about directors frequently having trouble visualizing what the sets will look like and how that is actually okay. It’s the designer’s responsibility to visualize NOT the director’s. I sometimes forget that. It’s really great if a director can easily visualize a film but if not it doesn’t mean in the slightest that they aren’t a great storyteller. The responses were very refreshing and inspiring. Enjoy!
Jasna Stefanovic has been a Production Designer for 20 years and has designed under some of the best directors of our time including Sofia Coppola on The Virgin Suicides and Terry Gilliam on Tideland. Constantly taking risks and unafraid to take on smaller projects she is a shining light in our Canadian film industry and in my opinion rightly chosen to participate in the Nomination Committee this year for the 31st Genie Awards in the Production Design craft category. The 31st Genie Awards will be announced and aired live tonight in Ottawa at 8pm at the National Arts Centre. For a full list of the nominees click here.
I asked Jasna about the process of nominating in an often misunderstood category and her feelings on the roster of Canadian films in 2010 among other things. Here’s what Jasna had to say:
Rose: Have you been nominated for a Genie Award for Best Production Design in the past?
Jasna: Yes. I was nominated twice. Once for Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Cube’ in 1998, and the other for Terry Gilliam’s ‘Tideland’ in 2006.
How did you become a member of the 2010 Nominee Committee for the 31st Genie Awards?
They contacted me in late November 2010 and asked me if I wanted to participate.
Were you given a strict set of nomination criteria in order to make a decision on the nominations for Best Production Design?
Definitely. I received the ‘Committee Handbook’. I also spoke with Guy Lavallee, the Craft Committee Chairman. He assisted me in understanding the process and the criteria.
The first thing was the most obvious, to watch all the films submitted in their entirety. There were numerous points that were recommended for me to look out for. The breakdown was in two sections. The first was the ‘creativity and concept’. It had things like ‘did the design concept reinforce, sustain and develop the film?’ The other was the ‘execution and finish’ which dealt with the professional quality and consistency of the design.
How did you reach your decision in the end and on what basis?
The first thing I did was to skip the credits of the film so that I would not know who was involved in the film. I wanted to make sure my objectivity was intact.
I was looking for design that reinforced and contributed to the film’s mood and message. I was also looking for consistency throughout the film and some element of originality. Then there was the execution of technical elements, like construction and set painting. Even though I had a checklist for what made good design, a lot of it was based on my instinct that came from years of experience.
If you could single-handedly award the winner for Best Production Design at the Genies which film would you choose?
I had no problem narrowing it down to five best Production Designs, but I found it almost impossible to choose the best one. One film did surprise me was “Incendies“. At first I was sure it was just great locations in another county, but then I found out a lot of it was built and manufactured with the guidance of the Production Designer Andre Line Beauparlant. So that would have been one of my favourite ones.
How much do you believe politics factor into the nomination process for the Nomination Committee?
I was quite naive in understanding what ‘politics’ actually meant in the judging process. I did encounter a few ‘bumps’ but overall it was very honest and fair.
What was your favourite Canadian film of the year?
Were you particularly surprised by any of the films this year?
Yes. I was absolutely charmed by “Les Amours Imaginaires” (Heartbeats). It was such a simple film, but so joyous, so fresh, I was hypnotized by it. Then I found that Xavier Dolan not only directed it, he was also the main actor, the editor, the costume designer and the production designer. I’m now a fan of his.
Many people say that the French have the upper hand on filmmaking in Canada. Have you found that fair to say?
Absolutely. They have a unique self sustaining audience that is passionate about their films.
So of course they keep making them. It was great to get pulled into that world.
In your opinion are Canadian films visual enough? Should we be going further despite our extensive budget limitations?
We could all learn a thing or two from “Les Amours Imaginaires” (Heartbeats). It was a small low budget film that had a lush visual flair to reach a broad audience.
What makes for extraordinary production design?
It starts with a director that knows how to take advantage of all the things a good Production Designer can bring to the project. And a good Director of Photography that can capture and enhance the design. Film is a collaborative effort where all the pieces have to fit.
Has the nomination process changed the way you analyze filmmaking and/or production design?
I think so. It reminded me how deliberate you must be in designing a film. How you must develop and follow through with a theme, the idea. You can’t be sloppy. You have to take the bull by the horns and be bold. Whether you are directing, writing or designing, you have to firmly follow through … and know your craft. Because if you don’t, a good film just won’t happen by accident.
Thoughts? Will you watch the Genie Awards tonight?
You can learn more about Jasna Stefanovic and her work on her website: http://www.jasnastefanovic.com/
I had an Art PA email me the other day, whom I’ve never met, but is a member of my Facebook Art Department group, asking me if I knew of any tutorials or online demonstrations of tying the proper knots when loading trucks as said Art PA seemed to be having a lot of trouble with it. It’s sad to say but this email brought me much warm and tingly happiness.
Why did this persons ever-so-slight despair make me so happy?
In the film industry we are constantly loading cube trucks with ridiculously expensive and fragile things and then unloading them as quickly and efficiently as we can without breaking anything. Everything must be packed and padded well with sound blankets and the like and then tied down good and tight but also have the ability to untie it all at a moments notice.
There are rigging points in any truck and you start with many bowline knots of sash cord all along the rails. During load-in you then tie everything down as required with the truckers hitch knot. Simple as that: Bowline knot, trucker’s hitch knot.
It is amazing how many people screw this up.
I was one of those people.
This is why the Art PA’s email made me all warm and tingly. I found myself getting all nostalgic for a time that most would consider a low point in their burgeoning careers.
On my very first commercial as an Art PA everything went swimmingly. We were on schedule and in fact, it looked like we were going to finish early for the day. Which is why the Set Decorator, lets call her ‘Brenda’, told me to start loading the first location as they were onto the exterior now. As I am finishing tying down the bulk of these large scale toys, it starts pouring rain out of nowhere.
One of the set dressers comes running towards the truck, “They’ve added new shots, mostly inserts, to wait out the rain. We need the rocking horse, the dollhouse, and the teddy bear ASAP.” I, of course look at her for a minute like an idiot and then slowly and inefficiently try and get to them. She then starts digging through to help me. Then comes ‘Brenda’ soaking wet and with an angry face not even a mother could love. By this time the set dresser had found the items.
‘Brenda’ yells, “What in the bloody hell is taking so long?”, and jumps in.
“She did overhand knots! I can’t get them out!”, the set dresser told her.
She turns her head towards me, “What are you? TWO!”, ‘Brenda’ berates me as they finally unleash the toys together.
I will never forget the venom in her voice as she said this to me. After all, she knew I was green when she hired me and NO I was not fucking two! It’s not exactly like everyone’s running around telling you the importance of tying the perfect knot. And it was a commercial! They probably wouldn’t even use the shots, which they didn’t.
What killed me is after all this, not only did it stop raining, but the set dresser retied it all and didn’t even bother to let me watch and learn how it was done. I was sent off to clean the windows for the next shot all the while holding back tears. I later did cry in the privacy of my own car and vowed the day I would get back at her.
Although I have encountered her since, we do not say hello and I have not worked with her for obvious reasons but I feel no need for vengeance.
On the next shoot I learned those knots and I learned them well (from a grip, no less). Now that it’s come time for someone to ask me for help to tie the perfect knot I did not respond, “What are you? TWO!”. I responded with links:
I hope I’ve helped in some small way because learning the hard way– sucks.