INTerview: Lucas Bacle

The intersection between Architecture and Film has always been a topic of interest. Movies, such as High-Rise, have looked at Architectural concepts through a Narrative. Additionally, Interiors tries to look at Cinema through Architectural Drawings. However, is it possible to somehow combine Architectural Drawings and incorporate them into a Film Narrative? That's exactly what Lucas Bacle has tried to do with his latest project, Days of Zucco

Interiors spoke with Lucas Bacle about his philosophies and his latest Architectural Short Film, Days of Zucco

INT: Can you share some information about your background? How did you start making Architectural Films?

LB: Before I started my studies at the School of Landscape and Architecture of Bordeaux, I wanted to understand how every tiny thing in this world works, but I didn't know where to start. I chose Architecture. Not because I loved it, but because I had to choose. Then I started to learn. I learned the way to create a project from the beginning (the concept) to reality (the matter). The School of Architecture didn't teach me how to build a building, but how to think critically and, at the same time, become who I am. No matter what kind of Architecture School it was, a wall was broken inside of me. As I started to shape spaces, I started to make stories, intuitively, with no other idea than to do some kind of narrative poetry and to get people interested in what I was doing. Naturally, I started to film these stories by creating short films, not always in relation to Architecture. My final year project was introduced by a 7-minute movie. This project was the first time that I succeeded in connecting Video and Architecture without being too literal. I saw that a bridge could be built. I wanted to create a connection between Film and Architecture. The jury congratulated me for this project. One of the people in the jury was interested to work with me on doing films for his own Architectural projects. He was Xavier Leibar, from the Architectural Studio Leibar&Seigneurin. He allowed my work to become professional. 

One year later, I created brumm.

Brumm is the acronym of “building research of unbuilt matter”. The second “m” does not exist really; it is connected to the other one creating “mm” which is the symbol of the bridge between architecture and cinema, which is the logo of brumm. Brumm wants to talk about life happening every day inside the "unbuilt matter".

INT: Most of your earlier works are a collection of Architectural Documentaries about various projects by Leibar & Seigneurin. Can you talk about what you were trying to accomplish with these films?

LB: I created brumm to build a connection between Architecture and Cinematography and, in the end, to build a bridge between the Architectural World and People. The future of our cities is actually in the hands of the financial system and the political world. My work is about transmitting the Architectural and Urbanism culture so that the citizen can understand the world around him/her and make it change.

Why do people not care about Architecture?

I think it’s maybe because of the Architects, who don’t help people understand what they do. They cultivate a kind of mysticism of the Architectural thought. The biggest Architects in the world work for the most powerful people and not for the masses. As an architect, I think we've made a mistake. The democratic crisis which we are in will one day give power to the people. We have to be transparent with them. This is why I did this movie.

INT: Your latest Short Film, Days of Zucco, was a project filmed at the Vertou Cultural Center and was based on the play, Roberto Zucco, by Bernard-Marie Koltès. How did this film come about and what made you want to develop this project?

LB: Days of Zucco is an experimental piece, an Architectural fiction. This is a radical short movie which tries to set a way to do this type of movie. In the same way the Director Lars Van Trier created Dogma, I wanted to build a protocol which would allow me to call my film an Architectural Fiction.

- The Scenario of the Film follows the Building, its Form and its Structure.
- There is no other Decor than the inside or the outside the Building.
- The Building and Architectural discourse are in the second narrative level.
- The human stories are the guiding theme

INT: Your film, Days of Zucco, includes several scenes where an Architectural Drawing (Site Plan, Elevation, Floor Plan and Section) is inserted to create a type of establishing shot for the audience. Where did the idea to include actual drawings of the building come from?

LB: As I tried to connect these two worlds, it was obvious for me to use Architectural Drawings in the Film. Only Engineers and Architects use them but I think they are really powerful and could be used to create stories.

Days of Zucco (2016)

INT: There is a brilliant moment in the film when the main character, Colas Jardot, is being called and a Floor Plan is shown as he’s walking towards a room. What was your thought process when deciding which drawings would be shown and where they would be placed?

LB: Since I first thought to use these drawings, I wanted to connect it to the stories of the film. I didn't want to put it somewhere just for graphical reasons. The more one enters in the narration of the movie, the more the building expresses itself with the Architectural drawing and the more one can understand it. It was really interesting to give life and scale to those, always still, drawings of a building. To be honest, I did a lot more Architectural drawings for the film than what is in the film. It was during the editing process that I chose to let people discover it piece by piece.

INT: Do you see this technique expanding? Do you have any goals in terms of work you’d like to do and projects you’d like to try?

LB: I have worked on a lot of projects since this Film and one of them is enabling me to develop these techniques. I'm doing a project for the City of Bordeaux where I am directing a short film entirely with these techniques. I want to connect the use of this technique with a real narrative and these projects allow me to do that. I'm also creating a series about Architecture. With this series, we want to do Architectural mediation by explaining how it works in our Architectural and urban world. We use humor as a medium to spread our ideas. At first it will be visible on YouTube and possibly other sites. 

On the one hand, I want to find my own art between Cinema and Architecture. On the other hand, I want to permit people to understand the way our Cities, Landscapes, Countries and World are, so that they can change it and make it look like theirs.

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.