Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Carly Reddin. In this interview, she talks about working with multiple directors and cinematographers on episodic productions, what is involved in being a production designer, the current production landscape as the Corona-related restrictions are being slowly lifted, and what keeps her going. Around these topics and more, Carly goes back to her connection to the original movie on which she did set design, and dives deep into her work on creating the worlds of the second season of “Hanna”.

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

Carly: I was always artistic as a child, and I got interested in the theatre. I belonged to a couple of theatre groups, but I was always more drawn to the backstage aspect, as I wasn’t comfortable performing on stage. I just loved the magic of backstage, of creating worlds through set design, and the imagination that went into that.

After school, I was all set to go to Central Saint Martins to do the “Design for Performance” theatre course, but then I came across a course at Nottingham Trent University called “Design for Screen”. That summer I watched “Space Odyssey”, “June”, “Brazil”, and it opened up my eyes. I realised I could design worlds for film and TV for a job, and I was hooked.

So, I went to Nottingham Trent and did the degree there. The course leader from the National Film and Television School came to give a talk about their MA in Production Design, and I applied. When I was at that school, I was hoping the experience I was getting would lead to a job, and luckily one day I was invited to join “The Young Victoria” as their Art Department assistant. After that introduction to the big studio system I transitioned towards independent film, hoping it was a better route to becoming a Production Designer.

Production design of “Hanna” by Carly Reddin.

Kirill: Going back to that beginning of your professional career, would you say that it was right at the time where the industry started shifting almost completely to fully digital pipelines, including the various jobs in the Art Department?

Carly: When I started in the art department, the use of CAD programs for drawing up sets and 3D modelling was on the increase. We were taught these computer skills at the National Film and Television School, but we also learned the basics by hand, which is really important, as using a CAD program doesn’t just make you a draughtsperson.

Hand drafting is still a great communication tool, although you can’t beat CAD for making quick amendments. When I was on “Hansel and Gretel”, we were designing a Tudor town where everything is built of timber and wattle and daub. As these are organic materials, we found that drawing by hand was quicker and ‘freer’ than drawing in CAD. The hand drawing communicated the materials better.

Kirill: Do you miss the physicality of the pre-digital design process, unrolling that roll of paper, walking around that sketch, taking a step back to look at it from a different angle?

Carly: Not really… I’m more excited about the future than nostalgic about the past. These days, I don’t draft up sets myself, but oversee the drawings of one of my team members. I’m totally inspired by the technology that is available to us these days. StageCraft, the technology that was created by the crew of ‘The Mandalorian’ is a total game-changer, immersing cast and crew inside a CG environment in real time. You can even do scouting in VR like they did for “Lion King”.

Production design of “Hanna” by Carly Reddin.

Kirill: When you join a new production, when you get to those meetings and get on the set, is there anything that still manages to surprise you?

Carly: Yes, all the time. If you’re working on a new project, with a new director and team, the process and experience will be different from the time before. Every director has a different approach, for example; Some directors talk with you about the characters, and they’re open to your input. And other directors talk more about mood and tone, and they don’t talk about the characters’ back-stories. Each project is so unique, and there are always surprises. Because of all the wonderfully different people that work on films/TV, there is a different chemistry each time. It’s unpredictable, and I love that about my job. No two days are ever the same.

Kirill: Do you see people walking away, maybe because what they expected from it didn’t quite match that daily routine of this field?

Carly: Some people do find it difficult, because it can be very ‘full-on’. It’s not for everyone. You do have to find the balance between your personal life and your work. In a way, you’ve got to be built for it. The hours can be relentless, but it’s also really fulfilling. I certainly haven’t found another profession that can give me what this job does – in terms of fulfilment and allowing me to be so creative. I get to use both sides of my brain in this job. I have to balance budgets, track spreadsheets, build schedules, etc., and then on the other hand I get to consider colours, textures, mood. It’s a really great mix.

Production design of “Hanna” by Carly Reddin.

Continue reading »

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, and this time extending it into designing live productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Jason Sherwood. In this interview he talks about what goes into designing sets and stages for live performances across a variety of genres, going back to his work on music tours for the Spice Girls and Sam Smith, to Fox’s “Rent: Live”. Jason also takes a deep dive into what went into designing the main stage of this year’s Academy Awards for which he has been recently received the Emmy nomination for outstanding production design for a variety special.

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

Jason: I’m Jason Sherwood, and I’m a production designer. The focus of my work tends to be in live performance – theater, live television, music performance for television, music performance in stadiums and touring arenas, shows, etc. It’s around things that are either filmed and broadcast, or performed live.

My initial interest in production design and set design was derived from an early love of books, of reading, of writing, and a love of the theater world and a love of graphic design. When I was a young teenager, I was looking for a way to be a part of the theater world, which obviously requires a certain understanding and facility with language, with reading plays, and understanding text and dramaturgy.

I grew up near New York City. My parents would take me in to see Broadway shows, and I fell in love with the beautiful, ephemeral and magnetic quality of a wonderful stage performance. So I began to identify that as a possible career path, and that was at the joining of several different interests of mine. That led to an education at NYU for undergraduate school, and a bunch of internships and apprenticeships, and then jobs as an assistant and associate for several established designers. And then a career on my own as a designer began in my early 20s, which has lasted until now at the age of 31.

Kirill: Why it is your preference to focus on performances that are live in nature, be it taped for broadcast, or live in theater or concerts?

Jason: There’s something truly magical about having to perform the entire production, or the magic trick or the moment, without being able to cut away or fix something in post. It creates this rare alchemy where the audience and the performer are experiencing something singular. Even a Broadway show which runs eight performances a week is different in some form every night, and certainly over time it really changes. That ephemeral nature of a thing that is live is what interests me the most. It’s the way that we can do it again and again, and it will always change based on who is in the room, or who is singing the song, or what city it’s being performed in.

There’s something about the liveness of it that can’t be bottled. You can’t capture it. And of course, when you go back and you watch something that was performed live that has been recorded, it carries that sense of spontaneity. But it’s just not the same as what a live thing is. The work that filmmakers and folks who create television shows do is incredible, but I personally am attracted to this particular challenge. You have this much amount of space, this much amount of time, and you cannot cheat. You cannot augment later. It has to somehow occur in front of the audience’s eyes, and that’s a challenge that I enjoy the rigor of.

Production design of the Oscars 2020 awards show by Jason Sherwood.

Kirill: Do you think that we as humans have a built-in need to tell and hear stories? Is that how we as the audience can “buy”, so to speak, into the make-belief fantasy world that you are building on that stage?

Jason: Stories reflect human experience. You see a play, you watch a movie, you’re told a story, and it feels incredibly real. It’s visceral, and it almost feels uncomfortably related to your own experience.

Humans naturally congregate. They come together, they form communities, and those communities speak to each other. Those conversations are stories. Those stories create discord. Those conversations around the discord create empathy, and that’s how people grow as groups of people. Ultimately, the need to come together to tell stories is inherent, and the varying degree of “substance” that they have within them speaks to capacity for entertainment or interest.

There is something within us as people that requires us to tell stories, and that relates to music, theater, television etc. And that goes to the way we relay our relative histories. That concept is an inherently human idea, and that’s why we keep coming back to it.

Continue reading »

New landing page

August 14th, 2020

If you read this in the RSS reader, you won’t see any difference. But if you hit the main landing page in the browser, you’ll be greeted with the new layout:

The new structure follows the changes in content in the last few years. It’s been a bit awkward to have a landing page that listed the last four posts, whatever those might be – interviews, announcements on Radiance, or random musings. I’ve tried addressing that by adding separate landing pages for the interviews, but that wasn’t readily discoverable.

Now, the main page of this site is structured around three major content areas:

  • Interviews on the art and craft of visual storytelling – these are interviews with cinematographers, production designers, art directors, etc on how films, TV shows and episodic productions in general are made.
  • Interviews on screen graphics in film and TV – these are the FUI (fantasy user interfaces) that we see not just in big sci-fi blockbusters, but pretty much in any contemporary production these days.
  • Everything else – these are occasional updates on Radiance, some tips on coding, or general musings on whatever has been on my mind lately.

The great thing about this new structure is its flexibility. I can add more sections as my interests change. I can rearrange the sections, or display more entries in each section. There’s some space up top for a short intro. Hope you like it.

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Ollie Downey. His work in the last few years can be seen in productions such as “Electric Dreams”, “Harlots”, “Britannia”, “Temple” and others. In this interview, Ollie talks about the cinematography of the second season of Amazon’s “Hanna” that takes us all across Europe, as well as diving deep into a whole new training facility known as the Meadows.

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

Ollie: I always intended to study Fine Art, but had a last minute change of heart. I loved painting but ultimately it was too isolating – I enjoy being around people too much to be standing at an easel all day. I have vivid memories of catching “North by Northwest” on TV when I was very young, and being mesmerised by the imagery. I also spent a big portion of my early teens discovering all those great Coppola and Scorsese films you do at that age. After College a pal got a job as a 3rd AD on a low budget Feature, and they needed a Runner. I really enjoyed it, and just being on set cemented my interest in Camera and Lighting. From there I worked my way up through the Camera Department, always DPing little low budget Shorts and Promos on weekends. After about 10 years the DPing took over from the assisting.

Kirill: When you talk about what you do for a living with somebody who is not in your industry, how difficult is it to convey the complexity of what it is that a cinematographer does?

Ollie: I think most people believe you stand there with a camera on your shoulder all day. I tend to say that I’m responsible for the lighting and framing of the show, working with the Production Designer to set the mood.

Cinematography of “Hanna” by Ollie Downey.

Kirill: Between finding the right artistic expression to tell the story and the technical side of things (lenses, camera bodies, etc), is one more important than the other for you?

Ollie: It’s absolutely the artistic expression of the script that is the most important to me. I think it’s good to forget about the technical aspect altogether until you’ve got your head around the script. Once you understand the story and characters, your visual references fall into place and the technical approach follows.

Kirill: Looking at some of the work you’ve done in the last few years, it spans different genres and periods – from “Temple” to “Electric Dreams”, from “Hanna” to “Harlots”. Is it your intent to explore different genres?

Ollie: Absolutely. I think it’s really important not to repeat yourself. One of the most satisfying parts of the job is creating the look in Prep. Building a library of references and letting that dictate your camera package, lens choices, framing and lighting style.

Cinematography of “Hanna” by Ollie Downey.

Continue reading »