Production design of "Pearl" by Tom Hammock.

Production design of “X” and “Pearl” – interview with Tom Hammock

April 29th, 2023
Production design of "Pearl" by Tom Hammock.

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my delight to welcome Tom Hammock. In this interview, he talks about balancing the art and the craft of visual storytelling, the blurring lines between feature and episodic storytelling, choosing his productions, and what keeps him going. Between all these and more, Tom dives deep into what went into making last year’s breakaway horror hit “X” and its surprise prequel “Pearl” in the middle of the global pandemic shutdown, and the enduring allure of the horror genre.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Tom: I have a little bit of an odd path. My father is a scientist, and I grew up helping him out with that. I went to UC Berkeley in landscape architecture, and started working in the world of architecture. From time to time, my father would be approached by movies for scientific advice, and often he would have me give them the advice. I was doing that for the Sam Raimi’s version of “Spider-Man” while working in architecture, and they talked me into doing art dept work instead. I went to AFI for production design, and worked my way up PA’ing on big movies and designing small ones. And then we got where we are today.

Kirill: Do you feel that there should be one path for people to get into the industry, or that the industry benefits from this variety or diversity of backgrounds?

Tom: It benefits tremendously from the wide diversity of backgrounds. I’ve worked with art directors who came from everything as broad as picture cars to draperies work. Those are so widely separated from one another, and yet so integral to the design and the final product of a movie. All those backgrounds are wonderful. It’s great people that come from so many different places.

Diagram of the farmhouse cellar on “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: Can you teach anybody to be not just a craftsman in the industry, but also to be an artist? Can you take anybody through an art school, and have them be an artist by the end of it – however you define what an artist is?

Tom: It really does depend how you define it. I’m always hopeful, and would like to think that you can take anybody, and teach them, and get them to a point where they can express themselves and bring their own backgrounds and ideas to bear on an artistic project in a way that maybe they couldn’t before. I do a fair amount of teaching on the side which is why I’m so enthusiastic about that.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as too many artists in the world?

Tom: Definitely not in the world. But sometimes on a project you have to narrow it down to a handful of people so that it makes it easier for the collective vision to come through – and then everybody can contribute in the way that they’re able to. Sometimes there can be too many ideas. I once worked on a project where there were two studios involved, and each studio was making a very different version of the project. That’s when things tend to go off the rails.

On the sets of the farmhouse cellar on “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: You started in the industry about 20 years ago. Do you see much that changed since then in terms of where the stories are told, and the technology involved? If you jump back 20 years ago and then jump forward to today, is it much different or similar?

Tom: At its very base, it’s similar? You’re still trying to enhance character and create visual arcs in a story. And that’s never changed. You’re still trying to make the movie better.

Things are different on a more detailed and technical side. Back then, when I was shopping for a movie, I would be sent out with a Polaroid camera and a big stack of maps to go from thrift market to garage sale to rental house try to find whatever item it was for the movie. I would then come back with a big stack of Polaroid photos and spread them out and go through. That’s definitely changed, even as you’re speaking to someone who still has 10,000 feet of 35mm film sitting in his house, because I don’t necessarily want to give up the old ways [laughs].

There’s definitely been a change from hand drafting to a variety of 3D modeling and computer drafting during the course of my time in the industry. I still gravitate towards hand drafting myself, but there’s definitely been a lot of change. And then you also have the distribution aspect where you’ve had this change towards streaming television shows of various sorts, which is great. It’s more storytelling out there in a variety of different ways.

Production design of “X” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: When you teach, do you see that some of your students do not feel comfortable with pencil and paper?

Tom: Absolutely. But I always feel that in a design sense, you haven’t really seen something unless you’ve drawn it. Taking a photograph isn’t the same. It doesn’t mean that your art or your drawing needs to be good. It’s just that if you haven’t drawn it, you haven’t really seen it or studied it. I wish there was more drawing involved in the industry, but as things have shifted, that’s become not less essential, but less a part of the process.

Kirill: As a viewer, I find myself enjoying the blurring of the lines, if you will, between what was traditionally a clear separation between feature films and episodic productions. Do you find that these expectations from the viewers are challenging you to continue getting better?

Tom: I would go against what I would say is the consensus, and say that I’m not necessarily enjoying it.

The unique aspect of streaming shows – as opposed to features – is that as the expectations have gotten higher for those shows, they are often still budgeted and staffed within the art department as network television shows. I’m not talking about “Game of Thrones” or “The Rings of Power”, but rather more standard shows. In order to get the level of craft that one would see in a feature, you need more people or time, and the people just aren’t there and neither is the time. They aren’t budgeted for it, the economics aren’t there for it. But the expectation is there, and that can be frustrating because it’s impacted our department in a way that it hasn’t necessarily impacted other departments.

With many streaming shows now you have two cinematographers alternating episodes and having more time in prep, but you don’t get that luxury in art department. It makes it difficult to work on streaming shows, to produce the amount of sets and locations and general design output that you would like to tell the story with the quality one would expect.

Production design of “X” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: Do you feel that it’s getting a little bit more difficult to get noticed, since there are so many shows around?

Tom: Absolutely, there’s so much content. It feels like there are great shows that just disappear, shows that you don’t see, or shows that don’t find the right audience. And maybe the audiences don’t have the time to discover them. They’re there, and you have that single advertising push, and they’re gone. It’s a shame because there’s so much great stuff being produced at the moment.

Kirill: Getting closer to “X”, “Pearl” and maybe “Godzilla”, how do you choose what you work on? Is it the story, the people, or maybe the serendipity of when you are available and the production becomes available?

Tom: It’s the mix of when I’m available and when the production’s available, and the people. I always choose based on the filmmakers. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Adam Wingard a lot, including on “Godzilla”, and with Ti West – who I’ve known for a long time – on “X” and “Pearl”. Obviously, I was just working with Ti West, who I’ve known for a long, long time on X and Pearl. On these productions things just fell into place, which was fantastic.

Production design of “Pearl” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: There’s quite some difference in scope and budget between these particular productions. Do you have a preference on which ones are more enjoyable for you?

Tom: No preference, really. They’re just so different, and it’s great to flex your muscles, so to speak, at the different ends of the spectrum.

In the instance of “X”, I could get in there with a paintbrush or work at decoration aspects of a set myself in a way that “Godzilla”, which is such a big machine, you just can’t. I tried to, but it’s hard for that to happen. It’s really nice to work on a variety of productions, not just for myself artistically, but also to see the different kinds of filmmaking and different choices people are bringing to things. It’s great to bounce around, at least for me as a designer. I know many people don’t have such drastically different budgets that they bounce back and forth between, but I like approaching things in that way.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as enough money, or are you always bumping against the spreadsheets?

Tom: You’re always bumping against the spreadsheets. As the budgets go up, the expectations go up as well. Often, even on “Godzilla”, you’ll find that we’re employing the “cheap” independent filmmaking tricks to stretch the dollar further. You come in and you think “Oh, that’s a million dollar set, that’s a huge amount of money.” And it is, but on a small film, your set doesn’t involve steel and engineering and hydraulics and cranes and all of these things. A lot of times the money is really razor thin where you’re at risk of going over budget. It’s always a fascinating exercise, no matter the scale of film.

A friend who was on the original “Avatar” told me a wonderful story. When they were doing camera tests, James Cameron didn’t let them spend any money renting furniture, which in Los Angeles is quite cheap. So they went out to the same dumpsters and neighborhoods where people making short films go to find furniture abandoned beside the road, and that’s what they did to keep all the money on the screen, because they knew they would need it later for those huge sets.

On the sets of “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: How skilled do you as a head of department need to be at being able to say “No” without saying the word “No”?

Tom: You need to be fairly skilled and have a nice bedside manner. With that, if it’s a big item, it’s a line producer or somebody from the production who needs to say “No”. My side is more about providing the menu and the path forward that I think the film should take, but the big-scale crushing of dreams has to come from someone other than me. I’m there to bring my experience and expertise and say “This path will cost this, and this path will cost this” and leave them to make the ultimate choice.

Kirill: Getting to “X” and “Pearl”, I find it interesting to see the enduring appeal of the horror genre, at least to the American audiences. How do you explain it that every young generation, at least domestically, seems to be finding this genre fascinating enough to keep this momentum going?

Tom: I think it’s because there’s this special aspect to horror films. It’s a bit like an amusement park ride and a bit of an out of body experience, and there are a lot of people who are fans of that aspect. And then for me, there’s this interesting thing about horror films artistically, that people will go see a horror film because of the artistry, and the storytelling, and the performance. It’s not necessarily because of the talent involved, but because of the characters. If you take another genre, say a romantic comedy, generally audiences need a Matthew McConaughey or a Kate Hudson or whoever to show up in most cases. But on horror films you can stretch out artistically, and you can do things that you couldn’t necessarily do in another genre.

I feel that this aspect adds to the thrill ride, and that is something that audiences in the US gravitate towards. You can have a truly independent film and an independent vision, and people have always been supportive of that. That’s part of why horror films are so enduring over here.

Diagram of the van on “X”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: Does that stretches back to maybe the ’60s and the ’70s, where some of the more seminal work has been done, and how well executed those films were on the technical level?

Tom: For sure. You go all the way back into that realm, because of drive-in movie theaters and the demand for the B movies, like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which is such a wonderful film. And before that you go into the ’50s and the ’40s, and you had the need for low-budget horror films to round out the double bill, and you see Val Lewton, “Cat People”, “I Walked With a Zombie” and other fantastic films. It is stretching back through the history of Hollywood, and at least in the US there’s always been this slot that was available for horror films.

It’s exciting and as the technologies changed, horror has moved with the changes, so it continues to have a place in the culture.

Kirill: Getting to “X”, I understand that it was being filmed right in the middle of Covid. How was that experience for you?

Tom: It was a really difficult experience. Ti and I were working on a TV show “Them” for Amazon that had been shut down and restarted multiple times during Covid, and at the last second he had this film happening with A24, and we went to New Zealand to shoot it. You would think we would go to Texas or South somewhere that looked correct, so to speak, to shoot it. But at the height of Covid, it just couldn’t be filmed there. New Zealand was one of the few places where one could make a movie.

On the sets of the town center in “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: I remember that New Zealand was fairly closed down for foreigners.

Tom: It was, but they gave us permission to come in with a couple of people. Largely, the crew is all New Zealanders. And once you were inside the New Zealand bubble, life continued as normal. We had to go through quarantine, get into the New Zealand bubble, but once we were in, we were free to work in a way that wasn’t available in the rest of the world.

But that made it extremely difficult because New Zealand really is quite different from the US. All the little touches that you would want to see aren’t necessarily available in New Zealand, whether it’s picture cars or props. So it was difficult to get a hold of all of those things to make the movie.

Kirill: Was it more difficult on “Pearl” than “X”?

Tom: More difficult on “X” than “Pearl”, because “Pearl” was a bit smaller in scope. “Pearl” was so far back in terms of the time, set in 1919, that everything had to be made anyway. But on “X” that takes place in 1979, it’s still quite recent in the public consciousness. People have a good sense of what a Coke bottle looks like, or what were the right kinds of beer for Texas at that time. And that stuff just isn’t available in New Zealand.

I spent a frantic few weeks on eBay and then headed to New Zealand. I tossed all my personal luggage out, and went with a whole bunch of suitcases of props. And then, when I got to New Zealand, bought some socks and T-shirts and started again [laughs].

Production design of “Pearl” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: When did the idea of doing “Pearl” come around? I remember how big of a surprise it was for me as a viewer to find out about it at the time. Did you know that you were doing back to back, or was it more organic?

Tom: It was definitely a surprise. We’d been there in pre production for a while, and we were coming up to Christmas. I think that Jacob the producer and Ti were talking back and forth with A24, and the studio was talking about how all their other productions around the world were on hold because of Covid. And between them, they came to this idea – since we were all in New Zealand, had the locations, had the crew, had the cast – to just do a second movie.

Of course, the rest of us treated it as a joke, like it wasn’t really possible. We would have to prep “Pearl” while we were shooting “X” and “X” was already a difficult movie. So to prep another movie while you’re shooting, it just didn’t seem possible. But A24 insisted, and Ti and Mia buckled down over the Christmas holiday and wrote “Pearl”, and it just happened. So no, we were not prepared for it at all.

Production design of “X” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: So if we’re talking about the farm buildings, those were reused and repainted for a fresher appearance in “Pearl”.

Tom: Exactly. The first aspect of that to talk about, and it might be a little surprising for some, is that “X” is an almost entirely built movie. None of those buildings existed. The strip club interior and exterior is a build from scratch. The gas station was built onto a semi abandoned shell. You get out to the farm and the barn was built. The bunkhouse was built. The main house was heavily modified. The upstairs, the kitchen, the basement were all built. There was almost nothing there except for the period incorrect house.

Because we had built it, it made it easier for “Pearl” to come in, and repaint, and change things. It looked new and fresh and Technicolor and like the filmmaking of that era. But that’s part of why “X” was so difficult, and why it was such a daunting task to prep “Pearl” in the middle of “X” because “X” required these huge builds that you wouldn’t expect on that kind of movie.

Diagram of the strip club change room, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: Rewatching them back to back, I really loved how much more colorful “Pearl” is, especially on the inside. I can see the intricacy of the wallpaper, and the furniture, and the draping, and the dresses – while on “X” it’s very subdued.

Tom: It’s true. For “Pearl” we tried to look at those Technicolor colors, things that worked with the color palettes, things that would sing with the color correction at that time.

When we were doing wallpaper for “Pearl”, it was with enough time to be able to put the “Pearl” wallpaper underneath the “X” wallpaper. That way, there would be tears in the “X” wallpaper and underneath you can see the “Pearl” wallpaper, which was great, but dulled down. New Zealand doesn’t have a big history of wallpaper, so we made all the wallpaper for the movie. There wasn’t the stock to print it on in New Zealand because of Covid, and we couldn’t import anything, so we ended up with a lot of it being printed on bus ad sheets, and then carefully pasting them together.

We tried to make everything bright, and choose primary colors for the different rooms and different characters to bring that aspect out. It was a little shocking early on how bright or how saturated the colors were [laughs]. We watched a bunch of reference movies. You get into that mindset, and then you push ahead with the vision.

Building construction for “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: How much time does something like the main farmhouse take?

Tom: We started drawing October 1st, 2021. Then we started building right out of the gate on October 15th. We built all the way through until we started shooting, which was partway through January. So it took about three months to build, which was quite quick.

It’s summertime in New Zealand, but the weather was difficult. The area in Wellington has a lot of rain, deep mud, and intense winds, so there was a lot of engineering involved to make sure everything was safe and wouldn’t blow down. The main areas of difficulty were the house, the bunk house and the barn. The exterior of the house was a real house that was heavily modified, but the rest of it was built from scratch. We built the barn from scratch, and it’s such a big structure under that wind load, that you run the risk of it being blown down. It was a pretty difficult build and piece of engineering to do quickly. And the bunk house was built on a slope so it was off the ground and needed to support the large crew and all the equipment along with the wind load so the engineering was difficult.

Kirill: Without any spoilers for “MaXXXine”, are those buildings still around?

Tom: We pulled the buildings down after shooting (and built the soundstage sets out of the recycled timber). They’re shooting MaXXXine right now. I wish I was on it, but I’m still finishing “Godzilla” at the moment. They started prepping the film around 5-6 weeks ago. I’m excited to see it.

On the set of the strip club change room for “X”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: In your mind, is there a canonical order to view “X” and “Pearl”? Should it be in the chronological order of events, or in the release order?

Tom: I feel that if you are concerned about such things its best to view it in the order of the release, and it’s because that’s how the stories were organically told. It meant that for “X”, we were able to work some things in from “Pearl” – but the other way around, “Pearl” doesn’t have quite as much worked in from “X” so there is more to be gained watching in that order.

I feel that it works to meet Pearl as an older lady before seeing her as the young lady in the second movie. Her reverse arc works well. Without the back story of “X” and knowing where she’s going, “Pearl” becomes a more challenging movie. Maybe that’s good. That one’s hard to tell. I’m so rooted because I was so invested in how the movies were made. It’s how I think about them.

Kirill: Going back to how that decision was made, do you think that without Covid “Pearl” wouldn’t exist?

Tom: I don’t know if it wouldn’t exist, but it wouldn’t have existed as a secret production. That only happened because of the craziness of Covid, and the studio needing movies for their release schedule.

Kirill: There’s been a lot of challenges that this industry has met over the last one hundred years. Does it feel like Covid was yet another one of those challenges, or was it different?

Tom: It was different, and even now it’s still different. And I don’t just mean wearing masks and other things around that.

Things are still extremely difficult to get ahold of. We used up all of a yellow paint that was available in all of Australia on “Godzilla”. You don’t think of those things as being finite, but we ran into a lot of challenges where things were finite. And there are other things that you still can’t get. We still have enormous supply chain issues. When you’re doing films that are largely built, you’re very dependent on supplies – be it on props that are shipped, or even just timber on a bulk scale.

For “X” and “Pearl”, we couldn’t bring in any of the timber. So we ended up having to find a local mill, and mill our own timber out of logs which couldn’t be exported to build all those buildings. We were using the local New Zealand timber that was originally destined for paper rather than for structural uses, and that’s how we ended up pulling off all of that construction.

Production design of “X” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: What went into furnishing the gas station on “X”? How much of those items were you able to find on eBay before you left to New Zealand?

Tom: It’s a variety of items. There were a bunch of hero pieces like the Wonder Bread, where I bought old stock in the US on eBay and various antique websites, and brought that with me. So those are real Wonder Bread bags from the time period. And then we made a lot of the labels, and then fitted to cans and jars that were available in New Zealand.

You’re trying to go back to things that are universal canned goods, the various things and jars – and then have hero pieces that sell it like Dr Pepper or Big Red or Coke. Those I brought with me. We brought a few hero beer cans, and then reproduced a lot of the beer cans. All the print goods were made in New Zealand. It was a bunch of different processes that had to come together to outfit that store in a period way. Those things are always difficult, but they’re a lot of fun.

Good items for the gas station set on “X”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: What about the dolls in Pearl’s bedroom?

Tom: Some of them were made from scratch. Our wonderful prop master Phred Palmer and set decorator Tom Salpietro found some pieces, like heads and hands, on the New Zealand equivalent of eBay called Trade Me, and then they would construct the rest of the doll to get that particular look and feel – because there just wasn’t enough available.

Kirill: On “Pearl” you had some places that were not present on “X”, like the movie theater and the church where Pearl auditions for her dance. Were those built as well, or were you able to find locations for them?

Tom: Those we were able to find. The church was modification of a local meeting hall for World War One veterans that had been changed into a sort of a racquetball court. We changed it significantly to make it work, but the structure was there, and I think it ended up working well.

The movie theater was a big project. You had a heavily modified downtown where Pearl comes into town. Facades have been put over some buildings, and shutters have been put over things, and dirt’s been put down to cover the asphalt, and light poles and parking meters have been taken out, and curbs have been painted out – so that was all dressed. When she is in the pharmacy, you see the movie theater through the pharmacy windows, and that is a fake facade across the street from the movie theater that we built to shoot through. There’s dirt over the street. The upper half of the movie theater is visual effects, and the lower half is a facade covering an actual movie theater facade with the ticket booth all built.

Then we go to a different location, which is an old theater which had all the original ropes for raising and lowering backings for stage productions. That’s what they walk through to get to the projection room, and that projection room might be my favorite set of all time of all the films I’ve done. That was a stage build.

Production design of “Pearl” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: What makes it so special for you?

Tom: It’s tied into the history of film. They had these particular projection rooms back in the day, because nitrate film was explosive. They were concrete, and they were covered in beaten lead panels with this peculiar green flameproof paint. It was a wonderful chance to get to design and recreate a space that doesn’t exist anymore that was integral to the history of film. They aren’t built anymore. They’re all long gone.

We did a lot of research. A lot of the reference came from a Buster Keaton film, “Sherlock Jr”, that had scenes in a projection room. And then we got a hold of the only nitrate film projector left in New Zealand, and that’s the film projector that’s there. It’s not just a random projector. It’s the right projector, and the only one that still remains, that can show those film prints. The local historic film society group was kind enough to help us out with that and we had a mechanic restore it. For me it was really special in terms of getting to recreate a lost era in the history of film.

Production design of “Pearl” by Tom Hammock.

Kirill: How does it feel to take it apart afterwards for something that resonates with you so much?

Tom: It’s always a little bittersweet to take these sets apart. Early on you do get used to it, you know that everything’s going to go away. But that one was a little hard. When I work with Adam Wingard, sometimes he will love a set so much that he’ll keep shooting it. And then eventually the producers would tell him that it’s time to move on. But that keeps that set alive for just a bit more time.

Kirill: What about the crocodile? Real, fake, special effect, visual effect?

Tom: Not a real crocodile in New Zealand. We worked with a company who made the fake crocodile. As it’s pulled through the water, the tail would move, and we tried to make it float at just the right height. And then there’s a bunch of cables and platforms built underneath the water in that lake where the crocodile is pulled along. At a certain point, obviously they’re animating little parts of it, like the eye blinking and similar things. But it is just a sculpted crocodile.

On the set of the movie theater projection booth in “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: How off-putting can it get with all the fake blood and the gore sequences? When you look at it on the set, does it feel real?

Tom: It doesn’t feel real on the set. Often it’s because to photograph correctly, the blood needs to be a different color than blood would be in real life. And you get so caught up in the installation and putting it in the right place at the right time that it doesn’t bother me. As odd as that might seem, you’re divorced from reality at that point.

Kirill: You said that on “Pearl” you wanted to be true to the Technicolor era. Was there any color that you wanted to stay away from? I don’t remember much like pink or yellow, for example.

Tom: We tried to keep our colors to what would glow in Technicolor, and that that seemed to be blue, purple, darker reds, and emerald greens. We didn’t specifically shy away from other colors, but we tried to make sure that they were aligned with characters, and that colors were used in combination.

So pink is in there, because pink works with the emerald wallpaper. It’s just that the emerald wallpaper overwhelms the pink. That’s how we approached it. There wasn’t a place for a sunny yellow kitchen, because you wanted colors that within that Technicolor process would overwhelm the screen a little bit, visually. The color yellow just doesn’t have that character of being able to do that.

On the sets the farmhouse in “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: Was it more difficult to work with color for “X” where the color almost dissipated into the darkness, and you don’t see it, but instead you only have shape and shade?

Tom: It was easier to do “X” because you can do a lot of that work with texture. You have the wonderful cinematographer Eliot adjusting the lighting to make sure you can see what you need to see and that there’s enough movement. With “Pearl”, you had to go for it with the color. Maybe it was going to work and maybe it wasn’t, but you had to push things regardless and hope the audience bought into the world. And it’s not just wall color, because you also have all the wardrobe working against the wall colors.

For every single set, we had set up not quite moodboards, but these large samples with the wallpaper and big squares of the paint, and then we tried every single costume against these things, so that we knew the colors and how they would work together. And then we subtly shifted sometimes the costume, sometimes the paint, sometimes the wallpaper to get the right effect. It was quite difficult to achieve that look for “Pearl”.

Kirill: You said that the projection booth is your favorite set. Is there anything else that stays with you from these two productions?

Tom: I loved the exterior of the strip club because the mural is so wonderful with the turtle and the alligator. That was a fun set, especially because you had all these people in the port where we build the set who thought we might be building a real strip club. They would constantly be stopping and asking questions through the chain fence about when we were going to open, and then they’d walk around and discover that the thing was only a couple of feet deep and be disappointed.

On the set of the strip club in “X”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

That one was over so quick, and the other one that I loved was the bunkhouse. It stuck around, and it was a cool structure. It’s the kind of building that isn’t built anymore in the US, and the structure cast really interesting shadows. That made for successful horror scenes later on, where you got a bit of German expressionism out of it with all of the angles coming together in the background.

Kirill: You said that the industry is still feeling the effects of Covid. Beyond the logistical side of things, do you feel that there will be lasting changes in terms of the hours on the set, or the pace of it, or do you feel that it’s going back to what it used to be in terms of how accelerated everything is?

Tom: I feel that hours-wise, it’s going back to what it used to be. I wish it would change. Shorter hours on set would be great, but that might be returning. But the volume of work might not head back, because the streamers’ business models are changing. What was working during Covid isn’t working as well now, and now I think things are different.

On the sets the farmhouse in “X” and “Pearl”, courtesy of Tom Hammock.

Kirill: What keeps you going as you spend a lot of time away from your family and friends?

Tom: There’s nothing more wonderful than being able to tell a story with friends. That’s just the best thing, and every chance you get to do that is amazing. I’m lucky to get to do what I do, and I get to do it with the people I do it with. It’s worked out wonderfully. I’m having a great time.

Kirill: Would there be any particular piece of advice that you would want to tell your younger self?

Tom: It would be to take more movies. Sometimes I work so hard on these films like “X” or “Pearl”, and I leave too big a piece of myself behind in them – and you have to recover after doing it. Sometimes I chose to spend more time recovering instead of taking another movie. I think sometimes I missed out on films that I wish I’d designed. There are some that got away, but everyone has those. What can you do?

Production design of “Pearl” by Tom Hammock.

And here I’d like to thank Tom Hammock for taking the time to talk with me about the art and craft of production design, and for sharing the supporting materials. You can find Tom online on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. “X” is available on a variety of digital platforms.  “Pearl” is available on the digital platforms as well. Finally, if you want to know more about how films and TV shows are made, click here for additional in-depth interviews in this series.