INTerview: Neil Kopp

In a short amount of time, producer Neil Kopp has built quite the resume. In a decade's time, he has collaborated closely with independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt on films such as Old Joy (2006), Wendy and Lucy (2008), Meek's Cutoff (2010), and Night Moves (2013), as well as with veteran filmmaker Gus Van Sant on Paranoid Park (2007). This year, he's had an amazing run with Jeremy Saulnier's brutal and relentless Green Room and Kelly Reichardt's latest delicate drama Certain Women, which stars Lauren Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart.

Interiors spoke with Neil Kopp about his career, his life in Portland, and what he does at 6am every morning.

INT: In the past few years, I've realized more and more often that every time your name comes up on the screen, it's a name that I trust. Can you talk about how you started in the industry? Did you grow up around film? What were your initial reasons for wanting to work in film?

NK: Wow. Thank you, that means a lot. I also want to acknowledge my partners at filmscience Anish Savjani and Vincent Savino here, with whom I've produced nearly everything with and could not have done without. Growing up in Portland OR, my mom was a nurse and my dad was a journalism professor at a Bible college. I didn't grow up around film at all. In fact, we didn't have a TV at all for most of my childhood and only very occasionally would we go to the movies. We were encouraged to read a lot, which we we did, and we were very involved in music as a family, both as instrumentalists but also just appreciating records and the classic bands. I played the tenor saxophone all through school - multiple band classes, plus marching band and private lessons. This was a big part of my childhood and was the source of a lot of discipline that I think I carried into my work. In the mid-late 1990s, I was in high school and I would frequent Cinema 21. I saw many of the classics there, but I distinctly remember going to a screening of Taxi Driver from a remastered 35mm print. During this time, in general, I was starting to appreciate films as a real art form instead of simple entertainment, and this screening of Taxi Driver cemented my ambitions to go into film and inspired me to seek out classes at the Northwest Film Center. I took a few night classes during my junior and senior year of high school, and it was in their equipment room that I saw a flyer on the bulletin board for Vancouver Film School. I ended up attending a one year foundation film program right after high school.

INT: What type of work did you do after film school and how did you transition into the role of a producer?

NK: I moved to Texas after film school with friends that I had made with the idea that we would make music videos for a living. I quickly realized I'd need a real job, and I ended up getting hired at a commercial production company called Big Fish Films. I was just a PA but they treated me like a Junior Producer, and threw me into the fire in a way that I only much later could really appreciate. After a few years in Texas, I moved back to Portland and ended up as a Staff Production Manager at Food Chain Films where I managed a higher volume of bigger jobs. They let me officially produce some of the smaller jobs after a year or two. These connections led me to meeting Kelly Reichardt, with whom I made my first feature film.

INT: What is a typical day of work like for you?

NK: I wake up around 6am and read for a couple of hours. I reserve this focused time for scripts or books. I then get into my e-mail inbox and the phone, where I usually stay for the rest of the day. As for the work I do, there is no typical day, but each day invariably consists of following up with people and discussing with my partners how to navigate whatever complicated situation we may be mixed up in.

INT: Do you go to the movies often? What do you watch?

NK: Not nearly as often as I'd like to, but I probably get to the theater once a month, where I try to see whatever is interesting or feels important to see on a big screen. I have a wide array of interests, and nothing is below me, meaning I love a stupid comedy or big action movie as much as I enjoy working down my "important movies to see" list at home.

INT: You've worked with a number of auteur directors, particularly Kelly Reichardt, nearly from the start of her career. What was your first meeting with her?

NK: One day in March of 2005, my phone rang, and it was Kelly calling about Old Joy. She was looking for a producer and had heard of me through a mutual friend at Wieden + Kennedy. I had just gone freelance, and so the timing could not have been better. We spoke for an hour, and I read the script and agreed to do the project that same day.

INT: I imagine you've evolved quite a bit as a producer between Old Joy and Certain Women. Do you find that the work gets easier, in some sense, or is every film a challenge in its own way?

NK: Some things do get easier, just because we're more familiar with the process, and we've developed a shorthand with Kelly which helps, but overall, it definitely isn't easier now. The stakes are higher, so the pressures to keep everything on track are pretty heavy duty, and each film has its own set of unknowns to unravel. This is what we love doing at the end of the day, and it being difficult, or even feeling impossible, is probably why we keep coming back to it. And, I don't know how to do anything else.

INT: I know you grew up in the Portland area. You've previously mentioned your familiarity with the locations in Old Joy. In the five films you've made with Kelly Reichardt, location plays such a key role. I'm interested in how much of a role you play in location scouting and how much of your background and knowledge of Oregon you bring in to the table?

NK: I do play a big role in the location scouting. However, before we ever bring on a location scout in a traditional sense, Kelly and I spend a lot of time in a car going to places we're curious about for general scouting to get the feel of a place, and ultimately to pick a zone for the production to take place in. For Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, we scouted all over state for both films, and for the latter film, we even spent three days in/around Marfa, Texas. At the time we were concerned about Burns, Oregon (which is where we ultimately based out of for Meek's Cutoff) having enough infrastructure for the production. We were also worried because a lot of the locations we liked were over an hour from Burns. And if you're an hour from Burns, you're a really long way from anything. In the end, we made it work there, and we're happy that we did. So, Kelly and I will work together and talk about the look of a place, and then I'll go off and try to figure out if there are enough hotel rooms or something.

INT: The locations in these films are all so diverse from one another: the woods in Old Joy, the town in Wendy and Lucy; the open desert in Meek's Cutoff. I realize that as a producer you're thinking of logistical things, such as how you'll get the actors out to the locations, and how practical it is to film there. Is this something you've thought about and how your films are so grounded to the spaces and locations that they're set in?

NK: Each film has a specific look that was designed in advance, and then discovered in the world through the scouting process. There are also financial realities like travel time and housing that have to be considered. Kelly is great for a lot of reasons, but one specific way is that she's as pragmatic as she is driven by creative ideals. She's a great partner in this way.

INT: You've made a number of films in the Portland area, but your most recent film, Certain Women, was filmed in Montana. I realize Maile Meloy's short stories are set in Montana, but was that a creative decision to stay true to the setting of the stories, or a business decision?

NK: Montana was an interesting result in that it really was a happy marriage of circumstances. The stories are set there, and it was the first place we scouted (Helena and Billings), but at the time we weren't feeling it. We then proceeded to scout Idaho, Nevada, and parts of California and Oregon, before coming back to a different part of Montana - Livingston and Bozeman. This made the most sense creatively, and in terms of the business, as we were able to secure incentive funding from the Big Sky Film Grant which made shooting in the state possible.

INT: What is your favorite film?

NK: This is such a tough question and the truth is there isn't "one". The two that are important to me right now are A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson) and Heat (Michael Mann).

INT: What is the most important element to the relationship between producer and director?

The realization (on both sides) that the goal is the same but the paths required for each to arrive at the same place are very different. There is a shared experience of course at times, but it's largely a very different experience. To me, it all comes down to mutual respect and trust.

Certain Women is currently playing in theatres and is available on iTunes.

INTerview: Hanan Townshend

Hanan Townshend's introduction to the world of composing music for film has been quite extraordinary. This is the gentleman who received an e-mail from his college professor, asking if he'd be interested in working with an "acclaimed director" that turned out to be one of the most reclusive, poetic filmmakers, who was readying his magnum opus --  his fifth film in 38 years -- which ended up winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. The film was The Tree of Life and the director was Terrance Malick.

Hanan Townshend has been collaborating with the notable filmmaker ever since, having worked on three additional films of his since then, including the latest documentary, Voyage of Time. Interiors had a chance to talk to the man responsible for composing the music for some of our favorite films of all time.

INT: Can you tell us little about yourself and your background?

HT: Certainly, I'm a Kiwi born film composer based in the U.S. I grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand's countryside, but from an early age knew that I was better at writing music than farming. I spent any windows of time I could gather between farm jobs writing songs and recording them on my Kurzweil electric piano. In my teens, I released a few albums and performed in bands. I enjoyed the process of producing and recording in the studio and decided to study composition at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington. In 2008, I came to the states for a year-long exchange program at the University of Texas, where I began working on films with several U.S. based directors. After completing my degree in New Zealand, I decided to return to the states to continue my pursuit of becoming a film composer.

INT: In the past few years, you’ve been working with one of the most private filmmakers. How did you come to work with Terrance Malick? What was it like first meeting him?

HT: Working with Terry was a serendipitous encounter, really. While in the states for my exchange program, I actively sought opportunities to write music for film. My professor, Bruce Pennycook, forwarded me an email saying something in the way of: “acclaimed director seeks student composer for unnamed project.” I responded quickly, sent some of my music and received a call back from producer Nicolas Gonda. I went into the editing suite a few days later and discovered that the director was Terrence Malick and the film was The Tree of Life. It was surreal, and of course I was thrilled.

INT: What was your role on The Tree of Life? How did you then go on to the To the Wonder?

HT: On The Tree of Life I contributed music to the film, which consisted mostly of simplified arrangements of Episcopal hymns. This lead me to making the trek up to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where they were shooting To the Wonder and I asked the producers if they would allow me to come on board as the composer for the film. I worked in the editing suites in Austin, Texas and wrote music for the film nearly everyday. I believe I worked on the project full time for eight months.

INT: What is a typical day of work like for you?

HT: I'm an early riser, so I'm up by 6.30am everyday. The first thing I do is fire up my espresso machine and brew a couple of flat whites, then help get my son off to school. I usually write for six hours, unless I'm on a tight deadline. I find that's my sweet spot for my own creative bubble, any longer and I lose my artistic perspective. Outside of writing, I usually have several conference calls throughout the day. When working on a project, I'm communicate frequently with directors, agencies, and producers, so there is a lot of back-and-forth to make sure that I have what I need to give them the best experience possible.

INT: What is it like living in Austin – a city that is so well known for its music scene? Does that inspire you or influence you in any way? Do you enjoy being surrounded by that or does that not really affect you in any significant way?

HT: Truth be told, I just moved from Austin up into the Seattle area. I do miss the Austin community (especially the breakfast tacos!), but I enjoy this new phase of life in the Pacific Northwest. It feels a little closer to my home country having the mountains, lakes and oceans at your doorstep. I feel more inspired when surrounded by the beauty of the landscapes here; it definitely affects my music, too, in the best ways!

INT: What do you do when you aren’t working? What do you listen to in your free time or in the car?

HT: I love spending time with my family! We just a little baby girl in August, who is the cutest wee thing. We're also in the process of renovating a historic farmhouse, so any free time gets eaten up fixing things, painting, installing light fixture etc. Recently I've been listening to a lot of British electronica/trip hop (Bonobo is one of my favorites). I love the way they are able to mash together orchestral samples and loops from completely different genres and create a new piece of music that feels so fresh, its inspiring.

INT: Terrance Malick, as we all know, works unlike other filmmakers, in the sense that there isn’t always a concrete screenplay. How does that affect your process?

HT: My process on Terry's films is a little different from a conventional film scoring experience, because there isn't a concrete screenplay when I begin work on the film. Much of the story is crafted in the editing room. As a composer, I work within this process. Rather than writing directly to picture, I mostly compose music away from the cut. This means the music needs to be adaptable to the project but also allows for the film to be adaptable to the music. While it's not feasible for every project, I do appreciate this way of working. 

INT: What kind of director is he in terms of the discussions you guys have about the music? What are you conversations like?

HT: Each project is different, but I find we often speak less about specific moments or themes and more about the larger questions of the characters in the film, like a particular struggle or doubts, or perhaps their search for purpose. We spend a lot of time experimenting to find the right musical language for each film, I appreciate this way of working as it leads you into new and sometimes unfamiliar waters.

INT: Do you go to the movies often? What do you typically find yourself watching?

HT: Yes, when I can; although, I probably watch more TV shows than films. I really love this new wave of independent filmmakers writing and directing their own shows (House Of Cards, The Knick), I feel like we're seeing a completely fresh take on something that has perhaps in the past has become a little stagnant and predictable. I'm drawn to gritty, dark dramas.

INT: What’s your favorite film?

HT: I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. One film that I love is Darren Aronofksy's The Fountain. I didn't like the film when I first saw it in the cinema, actually, but it intrigued me so much that I ended up watching it three or four more times. As I watched it more, I fell in love with it. The film has such a unique approach, and it blends several genres together in a really beautiful way. The music for the film, composed by Clint Mansell, is absolutely incredible! Another close second is Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood.

INT: Voyage of Time is your first documentary with Terrance Malick. Is there a difference between working on a documentary with him instead of a narrative feature film?

HT: Contributing music to the Voyage Of Time films was very similar to all the experiences I've had working with Terry. In many ways I feel like all of his films are more like documentaries in nature, with their freedom from a concrete screenplay and identifiable experiences and personalities between audience and characters.

Voyage of Time is scheduled for release on October 7, 2016.

INTerview: Daniel Rich

It is hard not to get transfixed on the Art of Daniel Rich. Amazing, Intricate, Architectural works of Art that tell a story. His work looks at political and social narratives transcribed in the built environment. Whether it's political power structures, failed utopias, or politics, Daniel Rich has managed to create Art that is multifaceted and meaningful. 

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we talked to Daniel Rich about his art and his inspirations. All images are courtesy of the Artist and Peter Blum Gallery

Favela, Rio de Janeiro, 2014. 

Favela, Rio de Janeiro, 2014. 

INT: Your work is very much influenced by Architecture and the Built Environment. Has this always been a source of inspiration for you? Or did that develop over time?

DR: I grew up in Southern Germany towards the end of the Cold War and I distinctly remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television. The events surrounding the collapse of East Germany and the Soviet Union really caught my attention at the time- I was only 12, but I realized there had been a seismic shift in the country’s political and social reality. In retrospect, these events had a profound impact on my perception of the world and made me aware of historical legacies and symbolism inscribed in the built environment around me.

I did not seriously set out to become an artist until I was 20 years old and when it came to subject matter, I automatically turned to architecture and history. My early work during my undergraduate studies revolved around the passing of time as it related to place. It was very nostalgic and I was heavily influenced by skateboarding and graffiti culture, which gave me a different kind of appreciation and awareness for the built environment.

I was in my second week of graduate school on September 11th and happened to be struggling with conceptual and aesthetic aspects of my work. My painting was heavily reliant on geometric abstraction and the events on and after September 11th directed me towards painting architecture more realistically. During this time I began appropriating photographs found in the news media and online in response to radio and TV broadcasts, and through research and reading. I realized that pictorial architecture allowed me to introduce a dialogue about changing political power structures, (failed) utopias, the impacts of ideological struggles, war and natural upheavals.

Hong Kong, 2013. 

INT: You mention on your Website that your work calls “attention to implicit political and social narratives transcribed in the built environment”. Can you talk about this process? Does it start as an idea and then transform into the image? Or do you see the image first and start to build the meaning and symbolism? Can you give us an example of the process for a particular painting?

DR: I always work from photographs and my ideas for paintings most often occur with a specific event that I read or hear about in media coverage. A painting that is a good example is “Obama’s Visit to Baghdad” from 2008.  The painting is based on a photograph that appeared on the cover of the New York Times in 2008 of then presidential candidate Obama and General Petraeus looking out of a helicopter window while flying over Sadr City in Baghdad.

The photograph read to me like a staged election campaign photo. I wanted to shift the focus and narrative of the image to the view out of the window. What appealed to me about cropping the image and the resulting composition, was the concept of painting as a window and the potential divergence and duality of the image.

Guangzhou Circle, China, 2015.

Obama's Visit to Baghdad, 2008. 

INT: The topics of your work range from a large urban cityscape to an architectural detail. Is there a particular topic that you enjoy creating more than another? Or is there a particular symbolism that you enjoy examining?

DR: I like “mixing things up” in my work and try to always expand my range of subjects- architectural façades like the strip mall in Dubai, the “Large Hadron Collider”, iconic buildings such as the “Guangzhou Circle” or the “Torre Velasca” in Milan, interiors such as the “Pyongyang Ice Rink” or “Dreilinden”, Favelas in Rio de Janeiro or urban density of Hong Kong… What matters to me is the potential of the image to convey or reflect layers of meaning to the viewer.

Choosing source material is a very intuitive process and there is a certain excitement I feel when I find an image that guides me towards the making of a new piece. Mediating the image from a photograph into a painting is a process of editing, de- and reconstructing the image and working with color.

I don’t have a preference for one subject over another- it mostly depends on what I am thinking about or what is happening in the world on any given day. I see my role as an artist to distill certain moments in time by making paintings that reference or reflect on specific political, economic and social conditions and circumstances as they occur. I have come to see my paintings as portraits- I just choose to paint the built environment instead of people.

Pyongyang Ice Rink, 2015. 

Dreilinden, 2010. 

Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, 2016. 

INT: You describe your interest in the “potential divergence and duality of images” and I’m curious if you’ve ever thought about experimenting with depicting film locations or scenes in your work?

DR: I think my work has a certain cinematic quality- the viewer is always alone in the painting as I do not include the human figure and this has the potential to turn him or her into the subject of the painting. I think I am very influenced by film as I “consume” more of the genre than other art.

I enjoy the uncanny and mysteriousness in the images I create. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s films, especially “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo”, Werner Herzog’s “Lessons of Darkness”, Kassovitz’s “La Haine” and Orson Wells’ “Citizen Kane”. What has always drawn me to painting architectural subjects is the idea that architecture is the backdrop to human events. It would be interesting to investigate theatrical backdrops, movie sets and film locations as subjects for paintings.

CERN (Large Hadron Collider), 2014. 

INT: Your work is so captivating and seems to tell a story. It’s incredible how you are able to blend Art, Architecture, Symbolism and Politics in such a beautiful way. Where do you see your art going? Do you have any goals in terms of work you’d like to do and projects you’d like to try? 

DR: I have been thinking more and more about working with series of images- making different versions of the same image and adjusting the light in the paintings for example. I think there is a lot of potential for creating narratives through the manipulation of color such as working with monochrome or subtle color palettes. I would also like to scale my work up to murals and approach mural and exhibition locations as site-specific installations.

I have been creating more of my own source material for paintings recently and could see myself branching out to photography or documentary film making in the future. For now, I am content with my practice but I think it’s important to always challenge the way you see and approach your work so you can develop new ideas and don’t allow things to stagnate. 

INTerview: Chris Trujillo (Stranger Things)

The Netflix Original Series, Stranger Things, has taken over the Summer of 2016. The show, which tracks the disappearance of a young boy and his paranormal whereabouts, was an instant hit when it debuted and hasn’t looked back since.

Created by The Duffer Brothers (Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer), the show has incredible visual references from classic films like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goonies, to name a few. Yet, it still feels fresh, unique and completely original which is a testament to the incredible cast, writing and production design.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with Chris Trujillo, who is the Production Designer for Stranger Things. The architectural drawings are property of Chris Trujillo and his team. 

INT: First off, we were curious how the opportunity to do the show, Stranger Things, came about? What was it about it that made you want to work on it?

CT: A series of very fortunate events led me to Stranger Things. In the Spring of 2013, I designed a dark little gem of a genre film called Honeymoon for Leigh Janiak. She and I really jived creatively and became fast friends in real life. We kept in touch, and then, in the summer of 2014, I was in Los Angeles for a few months designing a film and staying in an Airbnb around the corner from where Leigh and her then fiance, now husband, Ross Duffer live in Los Feliz. The first time I heard of Stranger Things was over brunch with Leigh and Ross. At that point, the project was still called Montauk and it was little more than a glimmer in the Duffers' eye. It seemed like too awesome an idea, like a perfect pipe dream. I'm a child of the 80s American Suburbs, and, as a production designer, I'm a student of the great American films of the late 70s and early 80s. So once we started throwing around influences like Mike Nichols, David Lynch, and Ken Russell in the same context as Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter, I knew this was a dream project for me. We talked excitedly about it for a bit, I made them promise to remember me if ever the stars aligned, and then we moved on to other topics.

Over the next year said stars did align more quickly than anyone could have predicted as the Duffers made their bones with Hidden and Wayward Pines and then, through sheer perseverance, found producers with the vision to take a shot on this awesome idea. Like the genuinely loyal guys that they are, and, no doubt, on account of a little cheerleading from Leigh, they didn't forget about me and my enthusiasm for the project. As soon as they got in touch, I got to work putting together a lengthy lookbook to give them a broad strokes idea of how I envisioned the look, tone, and texture of the show. Turned out we were on exactly the same page creatively. The final piece to the serendipitous puzzle was the fact that when they contacted me about Stranger Things, I had just finished designing Nerve, a super slick, smart teen thriller produced by Lionsgate and directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman, another pair of fantastic directors that I've been lucky enough to work with twice. Nerve was the first "big budget" film I had designed, and, without the blessing of it's executive producer extraordinaire, Alli Shearmur, I don't know if I would have passed Netflix's vetting process. In the end, it all came together, and Netflix gave us the time, resources, and creative freedom to make the seemingly too-good-to-be-possible pipe dream come true.

INT: The show has a very distinct tone and serves almost like an homage to the Cinema of the Eighties. Did you do a lot of research into movies from that time? Also, were there any challenges along the way with trying to create something authentic from that era?

CT: The cinema of the the 80s was already pretty well imprinted on my subconscious from my having grown up transfixed by it, but, yeah, I spent some very enjoyable hours revisiting the touchstone films of the era as well as some of the deeper cuts that your average movie fan might not be hip to, like The China Syndrome, Altered States, or Ordinary People. It was incredibly useful creatively to immerse myself in the tone, texture, and pace of those films because there's something essential about them that can't really be intellectualized but rather needs to be arrived at intuitively by going into "the bath," so to speak. Additionally, I spent a lot of time pouring over the media of the era: everything from lifestyle magazines and newspapers to comic books and Sears catalogs. 

The greatest challenge is always arriving at the the right level of "lived in." My good friend and incredible set decorator, Jess Royal, is unbelievably exacting in her approach to period correctness, and it is primarily important to us that our sets inform the characters and reflect the era down to the subtlest details. It's easy to pick a wallpaper or curtains that just scream 1980s! and ultimately, it can be very distracting to an audience. So we start with the characters, who they are emotionally, culturally, socioeconomically, and we figure out how all of these factors would have been expressed in the context of the trappings of American life in the late 70s and early 80s. One of the secrets (Jess may kill me for revealing it to the uninitiated) to creating the ever important "life layer" on a set is fastidious estate sale pillaging. Every weekend in the suburbs outside big cities there are time capsules being opened up for the discerning decorator to dig through. One dead man's junk drawer is another man's period perfect set dressing. 

Stranger Things (2016)

INT: The show was filmed outside of Atlanta in small towns like Douglasville, Jackson and Stockbridge. Was there a particular style or aesthetic that drew you to certain locations or buildings? 

CT: Before deciding on Atlanta as our filming location, we were beset by the slightly overwhelming options of an open map. We talked about and explored everywhere from New England to coastal Carolina, from sunburnt Texas to the Pacific Northwest, but then it occurred to us that the world we wanted to create should be ubiquitous, instantly familiar to everyone; Anytown, USA. Suddenly, Atlanta was an obvious choice. It served us so well because Atlanta proper and the various towns that surround it really represent a broad spectrum of archetypal Americana. There are all of these incredible neighborhoods, that, with very little modification, perfectly paint the picture of split-level ranch-style suburbia, born in the 60s, that came to define the look of 70s and 80s American life. So, we get rid of the DirecTV dishes, manicure the lawns, switch out a few mailboxes, fill the driveways with period correct station wagons and sedans and voila! You're ready to travel back in time with some misfit middle schoolers on BMX bikes. 

That's not to say that Tony Holley, our intrepid location manager, and I didn't spend countless hours scouting every inch of the greater Atlanta area for the perfect locations. We definitely did. That's maybe the best part of shooting in an area as big and varied as Atlanta. There are so many interesting options that we were really able to cherry pick the best looking, most dynamic locations to build our world: a quaint downtown here, a creaky country home over there, oh and maybe that imposing brutalist experimental psychiatric facility too, all the while bearing in mind the importance of all of these often far-flung locations coming together and feeling of a piece on screen. It's a big task made manageable by shooting in the right part of the country. 

Stranger Things (2016)

INT: Will Byers’ house goes through a transformation during the show and has an important role throughout the series. What was the process like trying to design that particular space? Was it challenging knowing that aspects of the space would be changing? Also, did any decisions involving the space revolutionize as production began?

CT: Maybe the most gratifying thing for me as a production designer is when a set transcends the scenery and becomes a character in its own right. From the earliest outlines of the story, it was clear that the Beyer house was going to have its own, very intense, trajectory. The first step in bringing it to life was finding an outstanding practical exterior location. When we found the Beyer house exterior there was no question in anyone's mind that it was exactly what we were looking for: a ramshackle old house built between the wars, clad in grey-blue faux-wood asbestos siding, across the tracks, at the end of a grim gravel drive, pressed up against the woods on the far edge of town. Before you get through the front door you start to know who the Beyers are and maybe what Will has been through. 

Beyers Home Floor Plan

As is the case with all of our built interiors, I let the practical exterior determine the basic elements of the interior: placement of windows and exterior doors, rough dimensions, and building materials. From there, the script starts to determine the floorpan. With input from the directors and the cinematographer and with the scripted action in mind, I lay out the interior in a way that allows for the most unencumbered camera movement and interesting framing options, with particular attention paid to depth and the way each room connects to the next. With the Beyer house there was the added fun of building to accommodate an invading monster and a mother with an axe and christmas lights, coming unhinged, tearing the place apart in an attempt to communicate with her son trapped in another dimension. Also, we had to do a version of it completely covered in the membranous tentacles and slime of the Upside Down. The lynchpin to pulling all of this off in one set (we did build a duplicate of the hallway to set on fire) was an Art Department friendly schedule that kept us shooting in script order as much as possible, which our exceptional AD department did their best to ensure. Murphy's law, nevertheless, occasionally intervened, and there were a number of times we had to start the day shooting the living room in a totally wrecked state and then completely un-wreck it for the second half of the day's work. For the relentless graffiti and axe attacks and monster wall breachings, we predetermined which walls would get it the worst and we built them to be removable and replaceable with specially fabricated walls rigged for the various practical special effects we executed. One of my favorite replacement walls was made by printing our wallpaper pattern directly on sheets of latex. I'm starting to run on here, but I'd be remiss not to acknowledge the heroic acts of interdepartmental collaboration that went into making the cacophony of christmas lights behave the way we wanted them to on command. To make them "communicate" with Joyce, lead Holly down the hall, and freakout so beautifully, set dec, props, and a handful of very patient grips and electricians had to work harmoniously and at great length together! OK, next question.

Stranger Things (2016)

INT: Hawkins Laboratory is another incredible space on the show. We see Hopper break into the rooms of the building as well as flashbacks of the facility, but the space is always somewhat of a mystery to the audience. Is this something that was intentional?

CT: It was important that Hawkins Laboratory feel like an imposing, threatening entity looming secretly in your backyard. In that way, it works as a physical reflection of the Reagan Era, residual Red Scare, Cold War anxiety that's lying just under the surface in Hawkins, Indiana. I wanted the main experimental space with "the bath" in it to feel as though it was purposely built in the early years of the cold war as a highly secure, top secret government facility, and that it has probably been modified over the years to accommodate whatever fringe science psychic weapon they're working on at the moment. In designing and building the underground elevator and corridors, we took inspiration from our practical location.

Hawkins Lab Floor Plan

Stranger Things (2016)

Isolation Tank Drawings

Historically the building we shot as the exterior Lab was an experimental psychiatric facility, effectively a mid-century "insane asylum", complete with these terrifying, long, low, stark white, underground corridors that linked the main building to what once were patients' quarters. Above ground in the main building there were a number of incredible, very institutional, dark wood hallways, and a massive tiled half-basement space that seems to have once been, at least partly, a cold storage facility. We were able to retrofit and elaborate that space into what became the rooms and hallways that eleven lives and suffers in at the hands of Doctor Brenner and the insidious Department of Energy. 

Hawkins Lab Elevation

INT: The concept of “The Upside Down” is presented halfway through the series and we start to see this alternate dimension. The Production Design for this universe is exceptional because it perfectly balances the line between reality and fiction. Was it difficult trying to create this balance? Were there different concepts of The Upside Down that were discussed as well?

CT: Dialing in a vision for the Upside Down (which we referred to as "the Nether" while conceptualizing it) was possibly the most creatively laborious and painstaking collaboration of the entire season. It was an object lesson in how tricky the alchemy of turning a shared fantasy into a physical set can be. It's funny because, from the beginning, everyone had a very clear sense of what the Upside Down should look and feel like and we could discuss it fairly clearly: like a dim, sick reflection of our world, murky darkness, a haze of "spores" floating in the gloom, vein-like vines overtaking all surfaces, like a disease is spreading over everything, etc, etc. The Duffers even created a lengthy thoughtful document that does a damn good job of making strange sense of what the Upside Down is and how and why it came into existence, even a sort of physics that applies to it, but fabricating it was not so straightforward. From the outset, it was our intention to be as true as we could to the practical special effects that rose to the level of an art form during the era of film making we were so reverently trying to honor with Stranger Things.

We all learned a lot about the advantages and limitations of that approach and gained a massive new appreciation for both practical effects artists and visual effects artists in the process. Ultimately, we arrived at the Upside Down we all now know and love and fear through a lot of trial-and-error team work between physical effects and visual effects, with a large helping of creative construction, incredible scenic work,  inspired lighting design and consummate camera work. The really magical part of creating the Upside Down, which actually works pretty well to sum up the entire film making process on Stranger Things, is that after all the logistical ups and downs, all the creative ins and outs, and after passing through a thousand different contributing hands, the world we found ourselves watching at the end of the process is exactly what we all hoped it would be.   

Chris Trujillo is a Production Designer and has worked on various Films, Television Shows, Music Videos and Commercials. You can visit his Website to see more of his work. 

INTerview: John Joyce (Anomalisa)

The stop-motion film, Anomalisa (2015), is a story with one location. Except for an airplane, a taxi, a sex shop and a family home, the story mostly focuses on the main character, Michael Stone, as he travels to the Fregoli Hotel for a business trip. It is in this hotel that we see somewhat of a mid-life crisis involving a man that doesn't seem to be able to make any social connections with anyone.

What makes Anomalisa, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, so fascinating is its humanistic quality. Everything from the puppet's mannerisms and movements to the miniature locations make the film come alive. These exquisite architectural sets only enhance the human-like mood that the film portrays.

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, we spoke with John Joyce, who is the Production Designer for Anomalisa. The images and floor plans are property of John Joyce and his team.    

Anomalisa (2015)

Anomalisa (2015)

INT: We realize Anomalisa is your first feature film. Can you share some information about your background?

JJ: I come from a fine arts background.  Both my parents are artists and when I showed an interest in it at a young age they started teaching me the fundamentals.  As I got older my drawings became more dimensional and they encouraged me to try sculpture.  This was a thrilling discovery to then have something I drew be a tangible object.  While in college at Pratt institute I explored ephemeral art, earth art, and installation art.  I enjoyed the topic of how viewers had to view and interact with the work I was creating, which led me to kinetic art.  Conceptually I was trying to tell a story though and I found it to be a constant struggle trying to imbue all the ideas I was trying convey into a single piece of work.  So I decided to try writing and illustrating children's books.  To earn a living I worked as a designer and prototype fabricator, creating lighting, furniture, toys and games. Kids books were fun but they still only represented a series of illustrations of a story and lacked that tangibility that I craved. Growing up in the 80’s I loved films that used puppetry and stop motion animation.  So I decided to go to graduate school at Calarts and study animation.  Stop motion filmmaking was what I had been searching for.  It combined everything from storytelling, design, tangible art, and movement, all into one medium.  It’s an amazing niche of film to work in that requires the collaborative effort of dozens of highly specialized artists.  With animation anything you can imagine is possible, and every project presents us with new challenges to figure out.  We make every commercial, TV show and film one frame at a time and have visual control over each and every one.  Artistically it's extremely rewarding!

INT: How did the opportunity to work on this film come about?

JJ: Stop motion animation is a very specialized form of filmmaking. Everybody who works in the medium knows one another and we travel like gypsies from one studio for a production to the next.  I had worked in the art department on the tail end of Mary Shelly’s Frankenhole years ago.   Starburns Industries was a newly formed studio at the time and it was one of their first productions. Director Duke Johnson and producer Rosa Tran liked my work and invited me back to do production design on their next show Beforel Orel.  We all had such a great collaborative work experience, that when they asked me to come back to do a Charlie Kaufman animated film, I jumped at the opportunity.  I'd like to add that the initial funding for Anomalisa was generated through a Kickstarter campaign. Starburns Industries really wanted to create a film that they would have total control over without any outside major studio influence.  The fact that the filmmakers involved would have complete creative freedom was another huge incentive for signing on to the project.  Kickstarter backers were invited to tour the studio throughout the course of production.  It was a challenging film to make for all involved, and seeing the excitement of these Kickstarter backers about the project during their visit was really what kept us all going.  Whether they were fans of Kaufman or stop motion or both, on a weekly basis we got to meet the people who wanted to see this film get made and their enthusiasium for Anomalisa was very inspiring.

Michael's Hotel Room Floor Plan

INT: Can you talk about working with directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson?

JJ: They were great to work with. Not only are they both strong visual artists, they both are clear and concise when it came to their vision of what the film was.  We spent a lot of time early on putting together an inspiration board. It included all kinds of photos and notes that really set the mood for the type of film we visually wanted to create.  We also discussed aspects of a lot of films that we liked for a variety of different reasons, which in turn led to a long list of things we wanted to explore in Anomalisa. It really gave me a clear and cohesive understanding of how they envisioned the story as well as the overall film.

INT: In the beginning of the film, there is a 14-minute scene that takes place almost entirely in Michael's hotel room. Were Michael's actions choreographed within the space in any way? How were you able to create such a dynamic space for the entire film? Was it constructed in such a way that the camera could be placed anywhere in the space?

JJ: It was very much so choreographed. Storyboards were turned into an edited animatic, which is basically a rough 2d version of the film in its entirety.  In addition Duke Johnson and the animators recorded tons of live action video reference of various scenes.  This allowed the animators to study the movements and have a clear understanding of the their shots.  Before every shot the animator did what's called a pop through.  It’s a rough positioning of all the key poses and placements of the character throughout the shot.  This allows the animator to address issues of puppet access and performance, as well to test out any camera moves and make necessary adjustments before the real shot.

To accommodate for the large number of hotel room shots in the film we constructed eight identical fully realized sets.  All of them were modular to allow for the various camera angles we needed.  Three of them had additional mechanics built in for specific shots that entailed elaborate motion control camera moves throughout the space.  I feel that what allowed us to achieve a dynamic feel in the film was approaching it from a live action sensibility, however we knew going in to it that certain techniques of live action filmmaking aren't conducive to stop motion filmmaking.  Long shots are incredibly difficult to pull off in stop motion.  The materials we construct the puppets and sets out of expand and contract depending on the temperature.  Film lights dim and get brighter over the course of the shot.  Gravity affects the motion control camera move and can create slight changes in position or focus. All of these things needed to be tweaked on a daily basis over the course of the shot to maintain consistency. In live action you can get one minute of footage after filming for one minute. In stop motion it might take you a months to animate one minute of footage and a lot of factors can change in that amount of time.       

Toy Store Concept Art

INT: Is the Fregoli Hotel inspired by any hotel, specifically, or was it supposed to be a generic space?

JJ: It wasn’t important to Charlie that we create an exact replica of Cincinnati, to him it was just where he happened to base the story.  While we wanted it to have a Midwest feel, we took a lot of liberties.  Since it is animation and everything is fabricated from scratch we decided it was more important to create a city that fit the lead character’s perception of the world.  So yes, all the locations including the Fregoli hotel are generic. They are an amalgamation of lots of online research as well as numerous field trips to similar locations.  Interior design like everything else has trends that become popular and are rapidly copied everywhere, so we studied the types of building materials and design features that were common in 2005.  We cobbled together all the glaring similarities from the stone tile walls to the emotionless close up photographs of architectural details that hang on the walls to construct a look for the Fregoli Hotel that is familiar yet universal to that time period.

INT: What was the most challenging aspect about designing and building the scaled-down sets?

JJ: Honestly I'd have to say that designing and building the sets was the fun part.  The challenging aspect was all the preplanning that entailed how we were going to physically and technically accomplish the shots. The stop motion movie magic is all the stuff the camera doesn't see.  While the sets are scaled down, the overhead lighting grids, cameras, motion control camera units and animators are not. In other words you have to cram an enormous amount of stuff around these miniature sets and puppets, all the while keeping in mind that they need to be accessible. With each shot we were presented with new challenges.  Take for instance the hallway shots where the camera follows the characters down the 16 inch wide by 30 foot long set.  The camera was aimed directly down the hallway showing the floor as well as the walls on both the left and right side. A programmable camera mover whose track ran along side the length of the set suspended the camera above the hallway floor, and above that was the lighting grid. This meant that in order for the animator to access the puppets every wall section of the set needed to be independently hinged to open and close repeatedly for every frame as the puppets walked down the hall. On top of that the walls had to lock exactly back into place or else during the animation it would look like an earthquake was happening over the course the shot. Another example is the continuous shot where Michael walks from the hotel lobby to the elevator, down the hall, into his room, and finally into the bathroom before cutting. We spent about half a year planning and setting up the shot and close to a full year animating it. The lobby had to be built in a way that elements of the floor could be deconstructed as the animator progressed through the set. The characters then make their way into the elevator. The elevator set was designed to break away from the lobby set with all of the overhead lighting and camera attached to it and was wheeled onto another stage and connected to the hallway and hotel room set where the shot continued. It was extremely nerve racking. Remember, everything is miniature and we are animating it frame by frame, so even the most minute shifts in the lighting or camera could jeopardize the entire shot. 

Michael's House 

INT: The film has been described as being "atmospheric" with backgrounds not always fully visible. Did this make certain sets and spaces easier to design because you could focus on what was most important?

JJ: Hmmm, yes and no. Working in a film medium where every thing you see on screen is completely fabricated in miniature scale, sometimes makes it harder to hint at something rather than just create it in its entirety. The types of locations we shot are made up of so many seemingly insignificant details that normally are in our periphery but are what help define a place’s atmosphere, such as signage, art on the walls, or light sconces.  In other words I feel both the primary focus as well as the elements we choose to render in a more atmospheric way needed to have those key visual details to create that subconscious sense of believability.  Honestly, when I initially signed on to the project I thought dear lord its one realistic mundane location after another, this is going to be incredibly boring to design. But once I listened to the original radio play and saw the animatic I knew I was presented with a unique stop motion opportunity. We wanted to incorporate enough detail into the sets that they would be perceived to have a sense of realism, but more importantly we wanted viewers to feel the environments. We’ve all been to these types of locations and can relate to the feelings they create and the toll they take on you mentally and psychically.  It's exhausting dealing with security lines, pressurized airplane cabins, layovers, jet lag, hotels that at first seem luxurious, but quickly leave you longing for you own home, all within a city you don't know.  So the environments where meant to parallel Michael’s story and his perception of the mundanity of life.  He travels place to place in his own little bubble; his world is only defined within his personal space and the daily human interactions he has to deal with.  He’s so caught up in himself, his problems, and his delusion that everything outside his bubble falls off into an unobtainable abstract world. And sadly enough, perhaps this is where his salvation lies.

John Joyce is a Production Designer and has worked on various Films and Television Shows. You can visit his Vimeo to see more of his work.