Ep 35 | Set Design Special - James Chinlund (The Batman), Luke Hull (Andor), Neil Lamont (Secrets of Dumbledore), Jim Clay (House of the Dragon), Sarah Greenwood (Cyrano) - Live from the BFDG Awards

Credit: Warner Bros


Note: Please be aware this transcript is generated by AI, there will be small inconsistencies with the published podcast. Direct quotes are not attributable to the host or guest.

Mike  0:00  
Hello, Mike here. today's podcast is something a little different. This weekend I was honoured to attend this year's British film designers Guild awards to speak to some of the very decorated Production Designers nominated and managed to get a little time with the likes of six time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood, who attended the awards with her recent films Cyrano, James chitlin there for the Batman Luke hall with Star Wars is and or Jim clay with House of the dragon and our second Lamont to grace the show new Lamont, who is nominated for Fantastic Beasts secrets of Dumbledore. Yes, it's a pretty crazy list. I know. Naturally, I wasn't sitting down in 30 minutes since with these guys to go through their full careers at an awards event. But I did manage to get a few quickfire questions in largely centering around how to make it in the art department. I'm sure there'll be on the show in the future to dig into their full stories. But for now, that's enough for me. Here we go. Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet rookies. My name is Mike battle, a film crew member turned screenwriter working in London. Each episode, I bring you life lessons and stories from the people behind your favourite movies and shows to help demystify the business for aspiring filmmakers and fans alike. Thanks for joining me, let's get started. Today's guests are well, a decent number of the world's greatest set designers. And my first port of call was Mr. Luke Hall, where we began discussing what he looks for in juniors trying to get a job in his art department. And whether he likes to ask them any specific questions in interviews.

Luke Hull  1:38  
Zero really good question. And actually, there is something that I make sure I asked every single person who at least who I've met before who's coming in to interview us isn't our department system to be fair, because that's sort of a starting position. And it probably puts him on the spot. But I always ask them what they want to do, where they want to go, what do because it's not always clear cut, it's not like oh, you're gonna be a designer. There's a huge plethora of jobs throughout the art department and beyond. And so it's just good to get a sense of what they what direction they think they want to go in. So we can start to kind of actually help train them because I think we're not as good as we should be at training. So new talent.

Mike  2:18  
Okay, I really like that answer. And I imagine they're coming to this interview with a portfolio. What is going through your head that they might not necessarily know when you're looking through that? And is that these days? Is it handwritten? Is it on a computer? What are we talking about?

Luke Hull  2:31  
To be honest portfolios, I glanced at my supervising art director would probably be more hot on like, drawing skills and things like this. And again, it depends on what kind of job they're coming in for, I'm usually more keen on finding out about them what they want to do. I mean, the portfolio is useful, because it gives you a good sense of the person's work or their skill set or whatever. But ultimately, I suppose as a designer, I'm always looking for ideas in the portfolio. There's, I mean, a lot of work comes in, it's like, I don't want to be, you know, people have to learn to draw, but it's a lot of the same drafting images and things like that, which is useful to see skill. But for me, I'm always looking for something else that says a little bit more about the person and their ambition or their ideas or their imagination as well, because I you know, it's not just for me all about that, but I think Toby might have come to advise I'm working with at the moment might have a slightly different view, because obviously, we It depends. I mean, if someone's coming in to be a draftsperson, then obviously their drawings in their portfolio is hugely important. Even as an art department assistant, it's good to get a sense of where they're at. Whether that be hand drawing, CAD, 3d modelling, I mean, usually we try and get a sense of who usually people will show a range of skills. And then you don't really know though, from a portfolio, what you're getting into. So like on a long job, like, and or like, for example, you can start to understand people's strengths, and also pair them with art directors or whatever, who can help them map out on their weak areas.

Mike  4:06  
Absolutely. Thank you for that very nice answer. And as a final question for you leave today, I'd love to know you're one of the younger designers I speak. I speak to a lot of very established older people in the 80s sometimes on the podcast like Peter Lamont and Sue Craig. So you might be a little bit a little bit more hooked into what art schools people go to these days. And is there any institutions perhaps that you went to or that you know, of the places that people can look to to apply to and somewhere that you would think that's a good place? I would think of that as in high regard.

Luke Hull  4:36  
So I'm a bit of an anomaly in that sense, because I went to film school because I just knew I wanted to make films. Sure. So I actually first thought I wanted to be a DOP. So I turned to the camera interesting. And I ran and did commercials and various things. And I think actually, that's the thing that makes me i don't know like be able to do my job very well is actually story comes for So it's not necessarily like Oh, go to the school or the school, I don't actually have a great handle on that, because I think ultimately people will seek out what interests the interests them, because you shouldn't fool them. Because I mean, I employ people from fine art backgrounds, from theatre design backgrounds, from architecture backgrounds, which I mean is a is a great route, particularly architecture for if you're coming to be a draws person or an art director. But, but then, like, you've got people in the set deck department and people in graphics who come from graphic design background. So it's, it's really varied. But I'd say if you want to be a designer, I don't know where you should go. But I did do a production designer made at the end of Ts, which really helped me, but I went to film school before that, and made films before that. So it for me, it was a good grounding in like grammar, and how to make a movie and story and what comes first and how to work with other people to do that. And that's always still comes first before even like, draw something. So that's honestly the only advice I can give, I suppose. And based on my trajectory,

Mike  6:04  
which funnily enough brings a lovely circularity to our conversation today, because it goes back to your first point about when someone comes in, what do you look for? What do they want to do? Goes back to a point that you've made there.

Luke Hull  6:12  
Well, exactly. Yeah.

Mike  6:14  
Thanks very much today. Thank you. That institution question is one that comes up a lot, so I decided to ask it to all of this episode's esteemed guests, the second of which being house of the Dragon designer, Jim clay. Now to kick us off, of course, we got to talk about how to the dragon. And I was wondering, when you moved on to a project like this, I like to ask the big deals like yourself, Jim, do you have a little bit of impostor syndrome? Is it nerve racking to move on to such a big franchise? Obviously, based off of Game of Thrones? What did you think when that email came through? Potentially the pressure? Or maybe not? Maybe? Or maybe you're still man?

Jim Clay  6:52  
I think it's undoubtedly nerve wracking. I think, you know, we stepped rather tentatively, I have to say, into some very big successful shoes after Game of Thrones. So I think every new project is a little bit nerve wracking. But this was especially so.

Mike  7:07  
Absolutely. And when you have your crewing up for something like this, obviously, you're piecing together your supervising art director, but also some younger people, when they're coming into you. What is it that you're looking for? Obviously, you sit atop the department, I know that supervising art director often is the one actually hiring. But when you're trying to put together that team, what is it that you're looking for in the younger people, I'll let it just be that and I'll let you take it.

Jim Clay  7:29  
I think we're looking for enthusiasm, and absolute passion for the business of filmmaking. Obviously, we're looking for people who are going to have those technical skills, because obviously, they have to make their way up from our department assistant into junior draft and just person etc, etc. But I'm always looking for somebody who has a little bit of artistic flair, who can see their future ahead of them where they want to go. And I encourage them always to, to draw and sketch as well as be able to do technical drawing, just to I think it's the most wonderful thing to be able to draw and sketch and relieve some of the tensions of the day. I always think sketching a sketch a day keeps the doctor away.

Mike  8:16  
Very good. Okay, because I was going to ask you, what's the answer? Dragon has a lot of VFX lots of computer generated imagery and artwork, it's still crucial for them to be learning how to draw on a board. Is that correct?

Jim Clay  8:27  
It's absolutely correct. You know, the drawings are our instructions to the workshops, and without good quality drawings, construction, you know, don't know what they're building. So it is the language between me production designer, and the workshops, and the the art department, the drafts, people, art directors, they convey my dreams into reality.

Mike  8:52  
That's a lovely thing to have as a job, Jim.

Jim Clay  8:56  
It is a nice job. You know, I'm, personally I'm blessed with the regular art department. We tried to keep a regular flow of young people coming through. But I had dominant masters supervising art director, Claire Richards, set decorator. So I'm fortunate in that

Mike  9:11  
lovely stuff. And as a final question, before you get back to drinking the free wine at the FDG awards. I'd like to ask you, this is a bit of a specific one. But lots of people often ask the this podcast basically, what sort of places to apply to and in the sense of like set design courses. I know lots of people do theatre design, perhaps what was your course that you did on Is there somewhere, you know, Wimbledon college of art or something like that you would think of as that's a classy place to hear someone's applied to because often people don't know.

Jim Clay  9:39  
Personally, I came from architecture, and I was training as an architect. And then I found a job at the BBC in their art department. And they were a wonderful organisation for developing career paths for everybody. Suddenly that doesn't exist anymore. We take domino we take people from the National Film School, a lot Still some people from architecture, and but the National Film school used to be Kingston sadolin. No longer, of course at Kingston. But I think you can come in through many ways. And you don't even have to have done those courses if you have a passion for design, and you can show an ability to draw, and imagine the worlds that we want to create. That's a plus for you.

Mike  10:24  
Beautiful answer. I really think for that, and thanks for your time today, Jim.

Jim Clay  10:28  
My pleasure. Thanks.

Mike  10:33  
After Jim mentioned his time at the BBC training, I had to ask if he'd met red carpet rookies Episode Seven alumni, and Lord of the Rings production designer, Grant major, who also trained there at the same time, and he had which made me smile. Sadly, we didn't have time to talk about it that day. But that was only due to the exciting news that the Batman designer James, Finland had entered the building, I began asking him about how he works with longtime collaborator, Matt Reeves, and how younger filmmakers can do the same in their work. Well, I

James Chinlund  11:03  
feel especially blessed in my collaboration with Matt, I mean, I think we've, this is our third movie together. And he came in on dawn for the Planet of the Apes, I had started with a different director, he replaced that director and came in and was rewriting as we went, which really established the, the baseline for us. You know, I was able to design sets as he was writing, so we were able to hit the ideas back and forth. And I could suggest things and it just worked really, really well. So we've carried that on through the next two movies together. You know, again, very fortunate, and it's a sort of unique thing to be able to be in that early with the director as they're breaking ground on story. And so, you know, I feel especially lucky to in the way we work together. And Greg Fraser, you know, has a very close and intimate relationship with Matt. So it's been really it's super tight team and a dream to be able to work in that way.

Mike  12:07  
Lovely. And of course, it paid off. But I'd also like to say that, you know, you obviously came across the pond for this film, and I'm over from you're from New York originally. Is that correct? New York via

James Chinlund  12:15  
la now? Yes, exactly. And

Mike  12:18  
you're in London to film, The Batman, of course, I actually spoke to the casting director about building an American World in London. But I'd love to ask about how you went about putting together an art department and what you would look for in people because you're obviously in a new place. I'm not sure how much you've worked here before. But what is it that you're looking for piecing together that team, particularly maybe the younger ones?

James Chinlund  12:35  
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think Batman was an especially technical film. I mean, I think we we, you know, I had just come off the Lion King, where I learned a lot about virtual reality and those production tools. And I think so you know, and Matt was quite keen to embrace those were using the, the LED screen, you know, and the volume which Greg, you know, is, you know, breaking ground on. So we knew it was going to be a tech heavy show. And I think so I think our primary, you know, Hunt was to find people that were savvy with those tools. And I would suggest to any young person coming in, there's an amazing opportunity right now as these tools are being developed to learn these programmes, Unreal Engine, and basically any 3d software, but I really do recommend unreal as a way of kind of jumping some steps and getting deep into the art department. I mean, we had very junior people that were working side by side with man as he was storyboarding on our sets. So we all the sets, we develop digitally. And then Matt would go into those spaces in VR and explore and we could make changes and then he'd start blocking scenes and actually previous, the whole movie in that space. So watching some of these young pupils are sitting right next to a director who's designing scenes for the Batman. I mean, it was an incredible opportunity for them. But it's really cool.

Mike  14:01  
I'm really good advice, I think, yeah, it's it's a burgeoning industry and something to get into, do you think that it's maybe making it harder for people to learn with a pencil? Do you still need that as much? I

James Chinlund  14:11  
think I think the pencil is equivalently as valuable, I think, you know, I think it's really important to have both sides. I think the computer's sort of limiting in terms of the fluidity of the line and things like that. So Pencils have a very, like important and precious place in my team, and it's a dying art. So I think in a certain way, people are all turning to this technology. But I think if you have a aptitude for hand drafting, like there's a there's real space for that as well. And I think in a way like it could wind up being more valuable in the long run. But, but I do think like the way the world is turning, I think, well, that's the beauty of an art department is that you need everybody you know, you need sculptors and hand draughtsman and computer savvy People I mean, you know, I think we're really looking for a super diverse team when we build a team for something like the Batman. So I think everyone's everyone's got a place.

Mike  15:09  
Thank you. And as a final question, the main question I get asked largely about people wanting to get into the art department is they don't know necessarily whether they need to go to film school, do they do sit design or somewhere or they do theatre design? Is there somewhere that you went to perhaps your background and in a little short way, and maybe there's some of that you want to shout out? Or you went to in New York, perhaps, or LA that some people could look at? Because we have worldwide listeners? Well, I

James Chinlund  15:33  
mean, I think they're, you know, the beauty of the art department. I always say it's sort of like, the circus takes all comers. I think as long as you have a passion for it, I think there's there's infinite number of ways to get in, you can come in as a graphic designer, maybe you have computer skills, or maybe you're a sculptor, I mean, they're the beauty of a tummy is if you're ready to work hard and push the skills that you have, I think there's a way to sort of shape shift your way into the heart of the art department. I think it really just comes down to drive. Obviously, there are amazing programmes, the Art Directors Guild in LA has an apprenticeship programme, that's, that's a beautiful sort of theatre and and AFI has an amazing production design programme. But I also think like it's really about just finding out what's shooting near you and trying to figure out a way to make yourself useful and just get at it you know, and work hard and, and look for those opportunities because a lot of it is just about relationships and sort of like bringing as much passion as you can do and dedication as he can to the work and, and making friends and sort of building from there.

Mike  16:41  
That was a brilliant answer be a shapeshifter. I think I'm gonna keep that one. Thank you very much for your time today. My

James Chinlund  16:46  
pleasure. Thank you.

Mike  16:51  
to shape shift away from that lovely chat with James. Our next stop was with Neil Lamont, who was nominated at the awards for Fantastic Beasts secrets of Dumbledore. We began talking about a very special previous episode of red carpet rookies. Very happy to be here today with one only Mr. Neal Lamont, thank you for giving us a bit of time today, Neil. Good evening, of course, we interviewed your father before on the podcast, which was one of the proudest things I've ever done. I would say,

Neil Lamont  17:17  
I'll bless him. Yeah, I've listened to that many times, and still listen to it whenever I can. whenever, whenever I need a little bit of fortification.

Mike  17:25  
That means to me that's that's really lovely. No. And of course, we're here today because of secrets of Dumbledore, which I believe is the first time you've shared the credit with the one and only Stuart Craig is Oh, yeah,

Neil Lamont  17:36  
that's that is correct. I was Stewart supervising art writer on all of the Harry Potter movies. And so sort of, for me doing the co-designer ship on, on on the secrets of Dumbledore has been the most amazing coming of age for me, really, at the age of the delicate age of 60.

Mike  17:58  
Amazing, and this is a big question. I don't expect you to give all of them. But in terms of things that you learned from your collaboration with Stuart, is there something that comes to mind? No,

Neil Lamont  18:07  
I haven't he's he's, you know, he's taught me so much. I suppose the biggest thing that he's taught me really out of everything is to stand back and think don't make don't jump to sort of instant conclusions or, or judgments when you're under pressure to do that. Are remember, we've done various, we've done so much together. I remember being in the desert on The English Patient. And then, and the director saying I want the shadow of the plane flying over the dunes to get bigger, we'll get him to fly 50 feet lower. And Stuart looked at them and when the sun is 90 million miles away, 100 feet will have absolutely no, it will make no difference. Forget it. But then everything else that we've done together, step back, breathe, and regroup. And think

Mike  19:03  
lovely answer. One of the questions I'd like to ask you specifically, is that a lot of people obviously, as you know, are young who listen to this. And there are different routes into millions of different routes into the film history and the art department. And in particular, because there's a big industry in the UK these days, you obviously worked your way largely through a lot of the huge Harry Potter movies. But there's also other people like James we spoke to today, James, Finland, who did smaller movies did became a production designer, and then sort of moved on from that. What What's your opinion on that? And maybe someone out there who's looking to get into the industry? Would you recommend that apprenticeship model? Or maybe just getting stuck in a bit of both?

Neil Lamont  19:34  
I think, I think the UK model tends to be that apprenticeship and working your way through in stages through the art department through all the various different grades, which is what I did, which is what my dad did, which is I think mainly what the majority of UK based production designers actually have done. James obviously, being American. Thank you I think they have a lot more opportunity out there in America because there tends to be a lot more on offer to be done and to be dealt with. And I have always thought that I've always thought actually that if I had moved and gone to America, earlier in my career, which I'll never do now, it's too late for that. I may have become a production designer earlier in my career, rather than having sort of served a very long sort of 20 year apprenticeship as a supervising art director.

Mike  20:32  
That's really interesting. I didn't know that about the American thing. That's, that's really cool. And as a final question, because I know you want to get back to the dinner, it's about style here at the beef TG awards. I'd love to ask you one the main questions we get asked, which is, younger people often wonder where to apply, or most should they apply to do set design? I know I used to work for Sonia Klaus who did theatre design is there somewhere that you see on a CV and you think, Oh, that's a quality place in the UK that you recommend? Or perhaps you didn't do that you worked very much on the ground on your way up? Yeah, I

Neil Lamont  21:00  
literally came, I left school after doing my GCSEs I went to college, and I did a what was what was called an ordinary National Diploma in those days, the equivalent of a levels in building construction. And nowadays, there's far more courses offered by university. So many, I wouldn't, I wouldn't try to turn anybody from going to university to be perfectly honest. I would go to university, there's lots of incredible film courses, Nottingham Trent, of course, Kingston, and you've got the master's degree at the NF Ts. They're amazing. So it's really, it's really important to to finish your education's, of course, there is one case regarding education. And that's le scales, who is now an art director and a very, very experienced art writer. And she's also a mom, of course, she, she actually decided not to go to university. And she was actually our, also our babysitter, and she became our archivist on Harry Potter three as well. And she worked her way into the department from that sort of age of 18. And so that's really still a very good route to take. But of course, at that point, it's Yeah, I think that point, you're also up against a greater number of people who are coming out of uni, who actually maybe then have more experience to jump into that assistant art, art department assistant role. So I would say Yeah, stick with the uni role, if you can, if you can be bothered to pay back the 2030 Grand at the end of it.

Mike  22:42  
Thank you for that excellent answer on that very specific example. And not a full recap of Ricky's but thank you, Neil, for our little bite sized recoveries today.

Neil Lamont  22:50  
Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

Mike  22:55  
I always love chatting to Neil. But time was ticking until a window for interviews was closing. So I had one more person on the list to track down Uber talented wizard of both period and modern set design, Sarah Greenwood, like many of the others interviewed, she has fostered long relationships and collaboration in her career, most notably with Joe right. So we began there.

Sarah Greenwood  23:16  
I mean, it's interesting. So, you know, the most amazing thing is, is to find the person that you absolutely kind of gel with. And for me, I was lucky enough to meet Joe to see five years ago now. Yes, names numbers. But yeah, so So meeting somebody that you you know, you absolutely click with and, and Joe was fantastic. And it's kind of like my thing. My advice would be is you say yes to everything. It might be, you know, a video pop video, you know, film, school, film, whatever, just say yes to everything. And you never know, you might just meet that person that you're going to absolutely gel with. So yeah,

Mike  24:06  
I guess there's also an element of perhaps taste because if you look back at you guys, your back catalogue, and you know, just the runner as well. Yeah, there's there's an element. Obviously, there's a period Yeah. And to use clearly shit you get on well over a pint. Yeah, that makes any sense. Yes.

Sarah Greenwood  24:21  
Yes, yes, absolutely. You know, but also, here's a here's another shout out for collaboration. I mean, I work very closely with Katie Spencer, who's the set decorator. And I've worked with her for even longer than Joe and Seamus and whatever. And, you know, that's like having That's like having another eyes and ears on it. And, you know, it gives you a certain bravery. So, you know, I would recommend that you have a friend you have somebody you collaborate with. And, you know, so, you know, yeah, I mean, Joe and I, Joe and I, I suppose the closest thing I will describe with Joe is, you know, he's like my, you know, he's amazing. But it's like my little brother. So we have a very kind of quite a passionate relationship.

Mike  25:05  
So yeah, thank you for that lovely answer. And so you obviously you arrive in Sicily you need to put together your department when you've got younger people coming in because obviously can't fly over all of the department systems world, what you're looking for in those people I'll give it to and abroad way yeah, when you've got an art department system coming in? What is it that tenacity or something rather?

Sarah Greenwood  25:23  
Do? You know? I mean, I suppose my thing is, it's a meritocracy is that, you know, some people are good at some things. Some people are good at other things, you know, so I'm a firm believer in, you know, if somebody is fantastic at going out and finding stuff, going out and doing things that's great. If somebody is a real like kind of, you know, kind of intellectual bookworm, then you set them researching, and play to your strengths. That's the most important thing that you kind of, you know, you come in and you do your best at what you're good at. And for me, that will get you through.

Mike  25:57  
Fantastic. Thank you for that answer. And to bring us to the end here. Sarah, I'd love to ask the main question that I get asked from people in the art department. I previously worked the on prem for a few years. And it was it was an interesting time, creative people crazy people. But the last thing they ask is often do I apply to film school? Do I get an apprenticeship Neil Lamont told me, you know, work your way through the department, perhaps with a little sprinkling of what you did? Would you recommend, you know, going to women or college of art or the NF TS or something like that?

Sarah Greenwood  26:26  
Okay, so that's an interesting one and a complicated one. My thing is that, you know, if you want to kind of get into big film, you know, drafting hierarchical movement through, then you should absolutely go for something like the NF Ts, because, you know, they are an amazing college. They are, you know, they, everybody who leaves NHS is brilliant, but equally, come in at the bottom, find your niche, work your way. And, you know, it's not about nobody, I never look at qualifications. I mean, actually, that's not true. I do look at when I see NF TS when I see people who have come through past Maura Tate, for example, amazing, amazing tutor, you know, and lots of my lots of my team have come through more, but you know, you don't have to have qualifications to to achieve things. So yeah,

Mike  27:24  
I like that. Thank you very much. And thank you so much for your time today. Okay, pleasure,

Sarah Greenwood  27:27  

Mike  27:32  
And that's a lot not to toot my own horn, but I'd say that's got to be up there for one of the best pound for pound podcast episodes of art department advice out there. What an incredible lineup. I thank them greatly for their time. I look forward to catching them hopefully sometime in the future for a full episode. Thank you also to the BFD G for having me and Victoria fair to join me on the day to help record until next time. Thank you for listening to another episode of red carpet rookies. To help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals. Please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone or online if you're an Android user. If you're interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is to join our mailing list at red carpet rookies.com. Or alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet rookies or Twitter at RC rookies pod. I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business, Mike battle on Twitter. So please do come and say hi, thank you again for listening. We'll see you next time.