Ep 34 | Stuart Craig - Production Designer: The Harry Potter Franchise, The Elephant Man, Gandhi

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.

Hello, Mike. Here today's guest isanother one of those pinch myself moments. I had the privilege of getting alittle time with legendary triple Oscar winning production designer of HarryPotter and so much more, Stuart Craig.

In it. We discussed how he got his start in the business, his experience painting theater backdrops for Laurel and hardy. How the biggest film scene ever made came together when he was working on the street of Gandhi.

How david lynch went about making The Elephant Man, and, of course, his time on Harry Potter, including the story of J. K. Rowling in a hotel lobby, casually drawing him a map that would go onto become the basis for the movie's iconic sets and locations.

Now in his 80s, Stewart was verygracious in giving me his time in the hope that his stories would be ofinterest and help to the younger generation. Thank you for listening. Here'sthe man himself.

So I down to the local ones withhis bookshop and bought two copies and got on a plane for Los Angeles, saw metwith Chris Columbus. 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 favorite movies and shows to help demystify the business for aspiring filmmakers and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let's get started.

Today's guest is one of the mostaccomplished production designers in the world today. Starting his career underthe tutelage of Star Wars designer John Barry, he worked his way through theart department on 1970s classics such as the original Christopher ReeveSuperman and Richard attenborough's Abridge too far. Here he began amultidecade collaboration with Attenborough, which produced the likes ofGandhi, for which he picked up his first Oscar.

As his career moved into the lateeighty s and ninety s, he added a multitude of other legendary works to his CV,including Stephen Freres's Dangerous Liaisons and Anthony Mingella's TheEnglish Patient, both of which he picked up Oscars for. It was in the 2000s,though, that he was introduced to his most famous project, designing Hogwarts,a job that he has done since 2001 on all eight Harry Potter and three fantasticBeasts films, if you can believe it. In amongst all of that, he also found timeto design David Lynch's seminal film, The Elephant Man and much to love classicNotting Hill.

My guest is Stuart Craig. How areyou doing today? Good afternoon. Doing okay? Slightly about my recall ofvillages and talking to you, but it's a pleasure.

The pleasure is all mine, Stewart.Now, I ask all of my guests the same first question, and that is what did yourparents do and did it affect your career choices moving forward? Not asdirectly as that and not as forcefully as that. My mother, in her later life,discovered that flower painting watercolor was something she was quite became quite proficient at.

And the family were alwayssurprised at delicacy of the work. And it was a million miles from what we doin building plot wood sets. But she did have this undeveloped designexpression.

I wonder what your creative motherwould have said about what you went on to do in your amazing career in thearts. Well, she would have been very proud and very surprised, I suppose, inthe first instance. But the success I was lucky enough to have, the truth is,it's exaggerated.

 There was some great work in thesesets. As I say, we were very lucky to be given the chance. And what about yourfather? Did he influence you at all the way your mother did? My dad was in theRAF or in Pakistan in 1922, I think it was.

My father was a very energetic man.He was attending furniture all the time. He was flying gliders that we can Iwas encouraged by the energy my dad had.

 I can't claim to have been as a butwe certainly gave it really good try. Creative people often have a moment intheir younger years when someone points out to them that they clearly have atalent for it. And I understand that you had one, didn't you, Stewart? Whilepainting for an opera, the school that I went to, regular school, had atradition.

Gilbert as many schools, I foundmyself painting the Guard, the exterior of the Tower of London and yeah, justto finish, the yogurt of the Guard. Brickwork stonework. When somebody noticesyou and me at a young age and says, that very effective, I got one or two ofthose mentions, and that was the start, really.

 It's delight to look back on it andrealize that you were flattered by something which developed into something.After getting that early practice painting sets at school, were there anyopportunities in your hometown to paint maybe other local theaters? Becauseoften people work in that before going into the movies, don't they? There weretwo theaters in Orange, my hometown. One was gilbert and Sullivan talked aboutThere was another theater, regular theater, one of which I used to have a jobpainting scenery.

The first job done had aprofessional engagement. It was a weekly production. I used to paint scenery.

 This Elizabethan Apron stage calledthe Meadow Market. There was a designer in place that a lady and a welcome, butshe was kind and sharing with me, which I appreciate. In that same period,Laurel and Hardy, that's what I'm remembering.

 Came on a tour of England with abroker skin. I think stan laura had huge sums. Alimony, may I ask, did you seethem in the flesh? I didn't get a complimentary evening, but I did see thembreak up.

 So you've realized by this pointthat you obviously have a talent for art. But I can't imagine there were manyfilmmaking or art schools necessarily in your hometown. So did you begin tolook further afield? College of Art I applied to because I found out that theyhad a West Darty film design course, which would have been a three weekundergraduate course.

 To my amazement and pleasure, I wastaking on at the Royal College. So that was start of career film. I got intothis course at the Royal College.

 Getting into a college of art isdifficult enough, but it can potentially be even more difficult to get yourfirst job on a film set. So how did you go about that? By then I was luckyenough to have written a letter to Michael Stringer, who was designingSuperman, christopher Reeves Superman letter asking if there was anypossibility that was the bad years. Got a job and things relaxed a bit.

 Michael Stringer, the designer ofthis production of Casino Royale. That film is dire. How many people have seenit? And I thought nobody saw it.

 Anyway, I started this junior taskfor making the tea for Michael Stringer, who is the British designer forDisney. And Michael, that was, of course, your first foray into the businesswhich began your epic career. And there's obviously so much we could talk aboutthat I'm going to take a little inspiration from Eustia.

 As before we began the recording,you were telling me an amazing story about your work on Gandhi with RichardAttenborough. So would you be able to talk about that project again by anychance? The chosen designer. Michael spirit.

 Around the various departments invarious studios, recruit trying to recruit somebody who would go to India. Andsurprisingly, a lot of designers said no. They passed on it and I was rathernot miffed.

 I would like to have done that. Iimagine it was relatively inexperienced that they didn't ask me. Time went onand did, and then Terry Marsh was asked to do that and declined.

 He moved to America and was doingvery good films. Green Mile, he recommended me there for two, and I was veryexcited. A little scared, no doubt, but that was the start of my gun designcareer.

 What was it like to actually filmGandhi in India? Because now, these days, the legacy of the movie is it's superfamous for many really hard scenes with thousands and thousands of supportingartists, isn't it? It was a very difficult sheet, not rather than script, butvery long, endless manager with huge crowds, not least a funeral, which camefrom Notorious for its epic call sheet, along the epic call sheet, just to divein for anyone listening who doesn't know what Stewart is referring to. This isthe call sheet for the Gandhi funeral scene, which is the longest of all time.And the call sheet is the list of everybody that needs to be on set on acertain day, whether that's actors, the director, the crew, all of thebackground artists, etc.

 And I'm just going to read off of afew of the numbers from that call sheet day. So 3000 Home Guard, 1500 Gandhipeace Movement, 30,000 controlled spectators, 50,000 hiyana spectators, 7500scheduled car spectators, 250,000 specially invited guests, et cetera. Stewarthow on earth did the production bring these people together to be there? It'sabsolutely crazy.

 The Rajpower, which is the Pluck,the POW mile of Deli, two mile, approximately. There was an event there, afestival, which happened. Generally, we took advantage of this.

Invited people, held a raffle, Ithink, to draw a crowd which is already anticipated to be very large. Theycame. The army, I think, numbered 1000 people.

 More than that, sorry, a million.Quarter of a million. I think thereabouts the estimate.

That was an incredible story.Stewart thank you very much for sharing it. And you mentioned it was Gandhithat began your film design career there.

 But was it also the Elephant Man inproduction at a similar time for you in the early 80s? Do you have anyrecollections of that job? It was the Elephant Man was we were all in our 30s,Jonathan Sanders and the producer behind it all, smart books, and it was allgood news in those years. New American producers coming to London, period,would always be shown the only available streets of Mopping. And on theopposite side, rather high, we always put that on the list of Victorian 60units.

 There was little cliche. It was onethat the industry survived on. Would have been some estate mountain, ready madecobble street warehouses and said they were then she arrived, I think, nervouskind of cliche, in his view of the world, was very different.

We showed him the London hospitalwhich still exists. The very hospital. Am I right that this is the hospital whereyou can actually see the skeleton of the Elephant Man? It is.

That was a great surprise forDangling Bench. But first we'd been refused the custodian. Then she secured ameeting not to make.

I'm sure that research trip musthave had a lot of effect on the way you guys portrayed John Merrick in the filmand the feel of the movie through your sets. Do you remember John Hurt wearingthe makeup at all? They were then set out to make the iPhone makeup and camethe day when it was finished. John Hurt asked to wear it was too heavy work init, no animation in place at all.

And it was declared no girl. Therewas a makeup artist who made him proceed before and was enjoying somesuccesses. And he came in and work diet, rope, sponge, to go from a very realstory to the more fantastical. 

I would be remiss if I didn't askyou about working on, of course, Harry Potter. Stewart and one of the questionsI wanted to ask is what is the first time you ever heard about the notion ofharry Potter. I was offered the job.

My daughter had a job addicted mesuccess. Have you heard of it? She said she had just about down to the localones with a bookshop and bought two copies and got on a plane for Los Angelesstore. Met with Chris Columbus, who was producing director and had a goodmeeting with Briscolomas.

Then went off on decorating mygrandson Beta at the time, he was expected, but not more. I was there in thepaper in anticipation. I said goodbye, went about my business and heard nothingmore.

And at the end of three weeks, I thinkgot a call to say yes. I was scared, but not scared enough to stop. Well, youcertainly didn't stop.

Stuart, as that first film becamethe next. And of course, the rest is history. But to take it back to thoseearly days on the first movie, I'd love to hear about the map that JK.

Rowling drew for you. Yes. We weresitting in the foyer.

I think it was obviously wascurious about I asked if the map would die. She proceeded on a scrap of paperand Abbey, she proceeded to draw in the top left hand corner drawing startquickly over the lake, the dark forest. The front gave in the back where thebig courtyard of the final battle takes place.

And say this she gave me this mapand I was very thankful for it. As you might imagine could not have beenclearer. The instruction I was getting from a few copies, not many.

It was terrific. She had, onoccasion been useful source of accurate information. Made me amazing.

So with this map in your hand youcould obviously then go off to design what became your famous sets, one ofwhich being Dagen Alley. And I wanted to ask, is it really true that someAmerican producers wanted to do it on the boring streets of Soho instead ofbuilding it at a studio? They did. They happened to be in Soho.

One of the two American languages dashedover and looked at Fred Street if it was and said, look, it could be diagram. Iunderstand why they got excited about it, but it isn't somewhere else. Itcertainly is. 

And out of all of the sets that youdesigned for the Potter franchise do you have one that's your favorite, by anychance? Like come on to yourself the levels. But the whole business wasdesigned for someone else's first entrance. Doesn't even say that.

Spherical 1960s chair. Thank youfor sharing that, Stewart. Now, to wrap up on red carpet rookies I always liketo ask my esteemed guests for certain pieces of advice they've picked up intheir career.

And of course, in your long decadesof work in the film industry. I imagine you certainly have. But is there onespecific thing that you would like to pass on to perhaps the next generation ofdraftsmen, art directors designers or other people working in the business.

One thing I've learned is take withyou the best possible help with them. Do not, as many people have, surroundthemselves with less than top flight people. There are fabulous skills ondisplay. 

They're there to be used andenjoyed. You must see it recognizing teamwork, indeed. What a beautiful,positive way to finish our conversation.

Stuart, thank you so much forgiving me some of your time today. It was an absolute honor, to be honest, andthank you for your advice, your stories, and the cinematic creations thatyou've brought into all of our lives. I really do hope that you enjoyed sharingit.

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