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Jonathan Paul Green on television series "Episodes"
Episodes, is a unique production.
Paul Kirby on designing 'Kingsman'
“So, how do you see this film?”
“Well…I think it should be bold…unapologetic…it should have symmetry and scale……’.
I realized that, in many ways, I was describing a Matthew Vaughan film….to Matthew Vaughan. But I guess, in reality, it was a description of how THIS should film should look, in the context of his other work. The interview seemed to be going well.
“Ok. Great. Start tomorrow”.
That was it. A decisive man, who knows his mind and trusts his instincts.
I had heard that Matthew can be demanding of his designers and set decorators. He knows what he wants and will not compromise in his pursuit of excellence. But if that is born out of being sure minded and unflinching in his desire to produce great product, then it is a sure sign of a successful director. Sounds good to me.
So now you have the job. The design work begins. Having arrived in this role, following a pathway through the Art Department (I always thought it should be called the design department) I have worked through over thirty projects, starting as Junior Draughtsman on ‘Shadowlands’, before eventually becoming a production designer.
Is that the right way to do it? Is it the only way? Not necessarily, on both counts. Other designers have never known any other role. They are brave souls who set out doing pop videos and small commercials.
Then there are others, like me, who benefit from a thorough knowledge of how the art department runs. There are benefits in both routes. The more diverse
the backgrounds, personalities and experiences that people bring to the party, all the better for the industry.
We have all had a family friend, who approaches us to talk about a nephew who wants to get into the industry. I always respond by asking what they are good at. There is a place for everyone in a film crew…Good with numbers - Accountant. Good with people – A.D. Like the sound of your own voice – plenty of opportunities. Good at drawing – come with us. Then within the Art department the diversity continues. Walk into a studio office filled with foam board and apple macs, you will find it populated with ex architects, fine artists, product designers, cartoonists, and one or two chancers who seemed to have talked their way in (we can all name one or two of those). That rich melting pot of talent and backgrounds is what propels the look of any project into something unique and special.
One advantage that I carry with me, is the privilege of having worked with many differing designers. Some good, one or two not so good, but a few great people that I can take qualities and attributes from, in moulding my own approach to my work. The drawing skills of Tony Pratt, the attention to detail of Caroline Amies, even the political skills of Allan Cameron. Then there is Stuart Craig. The beacon of achievement in British Film Design. I was lucky enough to get my first job with him.
So all of that brings me to the task in hand.
Kingsman. The Secret Service. A British Spy movie.
Where to start?
One cannot ignore all that has gone before it. The Bond franchise looms large over anything venturing into this territory. There are others too, from The Avengers, The Saint, Austin Powers, The Prisoner. James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer.
Looking at those great franchises, all with differing styles, it is clearly evident to me that, in approaching this movie, you cannot / must not ignore those other films. You would be a fool to challenge them in their patch.
But then again, why the hell not.
Talking to Matthew, the discussions went something like this. “It should respect those films, give a nod to them, a homage and celebration in some measure, but do it better, with humour. Be bold and unapologetic. This is a Matthew Vaughan spy film. Lets make a film that Bond films have forgotten to be. The best of British style and swagger”.
This was to be a different approach to the project than the one that I had just completed. I have been lucky enough to work with some great directors. The most recent of which had been with Paul Greengrass on ‘Captain Phillips’.
With Paul, design discussions are always purely and solely about the motive of the scene. How does this character feel in this scene and what should the viewer glean from it? Simple to say, but often forgotten in the process.
The phrase ‘exaggerated reality’ is often banded around in film discussion. But a Greengrass movie exists in a world that I can only describe as ‘a reality that you didn’t know existed’. The viewer has to believe the environment that they are in, without noticing the construct and contrivance of the theatre that is created. Captain Phillips had a palate that had been drawn out of something that was already there to find. It was about eliminating everything else in order to tease out the essential elements. A subtle process, but no less involving. Then looking at an overall design journey. Captain Phillips, on one level plays with scale. It begins with a container ship as a dot on a vast ocean. The ship then looms large in the story. We get tighter and tighter exploring the ship and its characters. Entering a small lifeboat. Finishing with an extreme close up on Tom Hanks eyes as he pleads for his life.
It was a film where all departments worked together to become greater than the sum of their parts, not simply thinking of an overall look and expecting that to be enough.
I take those thought processes with me. But Kingsman is not a Greengrass film.
It is always intriguing to move to a new project with differing demands and personalities. Matthew has a vivid, visually perceptive eye. His films have scale, symmetry, one point perspective and colour. All mixed in with humour and a particular swagger that makes his films unique. He pushes to the extremes, chopping up and reassembling perceptions of accepted genres. You know when you have just seen a Matthew Vaugham film. As with all great directors, his signature is written right through it.
Firstly, it is finding where the heart of the piece is. In Kingsman, the tailors shop is the fulcrum of the film, and so it follows that it is the first to be addressed in the design process. Matthew’s phrase ‘The best of British style’ bounced around my head. Chestnut leather. Dark racing green. Black watch tartan. The ‘Albion’ style of traditional Britain that is in the zeitgeist at the moment.
One of the surprises in the tailors shop, is the accessories room. A cosy womb of an inner sanctum, where only the Kingsmen go. I added an extra element of a washroom, as Eggsy enters the hallowed room. A punctuation mark of bright white light, in contrast to the soft warmth of the room that they are entering. The design edit that I have described.
Colin Firth’s character then takes the new recruit on an underground journey to the Kingsman country headquarters. Inspired by the mushroom shapes and shuttered concrete (showing the wood grain that moulded it into shape) that can be seen at the National Theatre on the South Bank of London. Again I was taking elements of established Britishness.
And so to the Villain – Valentine.
Every spy film needs a good villain. Matthew turned the tables on established film convention in making the villain an American.
If we have established the look of the Kingsman environment. How does the villain’s house differ and contrast with that?
If Kingsman are essential elements of all things British, then where to start with American style? Frank Lloyd Wright. John Lautner. Mid century was the way to go. Wall veneers. Moulded tiles. A specially built steel and glass table, sporting a deep red felt and glass top. A collection of fossils decorates and completes Valentines back story.
Kingsman closes with a crescendo in a mountain lair. Familiar but different.
A mixture of opulence and utility. Bold, Vaughan style, pattern, symmetry and shape is found in the use of concrete pipes, as restaurant booths, to one end.
Unapologetic in the extreme.
Concluding with a Busby Berkeley style, outrageous head exploding scene, Vaughan has set out what he intended to do with Kingsman, with great success.
A visionary director who is never going to be a shrinking violet. His films reflect that. It has been a pleasure to be a part of that vision.
In reading this, if anything should be drawn from my journey so far, I would like it to encourage others to learn their craft. Enjoy the journey of working with other talented people, and take on any challenges that come their way. If you get the opportunity to design, if that’s what you want, then take it. But remember to enjoy the process. I have always taken on a challenge without fear. I sometimes thought that, one day, I might be kicked out the fictional industry door (Truman show style) and think ‘Well that was a crazy and interesting ride, but I worked hard, and contributed to some great things’. Better to do that, than plod along, hoping.
Some never try, so they can always be safe in the thought that they might have achieved something, had circumstance not contrived against them. The other person was simply lucky.
Take on the demands that are presented. Don’t look for reasons why you should not achieve what you want.
There is a rich heritage of British Film Design. Be an important part of it. We all have a responsibility to nurture and protect it.
A proud member of the British Film Designers Guild.
Written in honour and respect to the members of the guild (and others) that I have had the pleasure of working with, especially those that brought their skills to Kingsman. The Secret Service.
Paul can be contacted through his agent Hillary Corrine Cook at The Skouras Agency. Visit skouras.com for more information.
Sarah Horton talks Berlin
From our correspondent, Sarah Horton, in Berlin.
2011 was a good year for Berlin and Studio Babelsberg with two major productions taking up stages and giving employment to local crews for most of the year. 'Hansel and Gretel', hosted by Stephen Scott in the Art Dept shot up until May, to be followed a few months later by 'Cloud Atlas', a complex tale set over several hundred years and ending in the future, based on the successful novel by David Mitchell.
This was a first of its kind, in that it featured two entirely separate units both led by international directors - Tom Tykwer (Perfume, The International) and the by now familiar Wachowskis (Matrix, V for Vendetta , Speed Racer) who just love shooting movies in Berlin and keep coming back for more. Like the proverbial Ark, there were two of everything - two Art Depts., two Construction teams, two Camera depts, two Production teams and so on., Tykwer concentrated on the locations while the Wachowskis remianed mostly in the studio apart from a brief foray to Mallorca. An all- star cast of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant amongst others promise to make this film one to watch when it is released in October this year.
After so much action in 2011, the mood was high for a busy 2012; which so far, has unfortunately failed to deliver. The Studios have been quiet after the abrupt and somewhat mysterious departure in February of 'The Fast and the Furious 6' for an Olympic-bound London.
Since then, Babelsberg has been celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with several spectacular events held during the Berlinale Film Festival including an evening hosted by Art Dept Studio Babelsberg, the sister company of the studios, for all Art, Props and Construction colleagues on the 24th floor of the Kohloff Tower at Potsdamer Platz. Many familiar faces and much champagne made for a wonderful evening and thanks go to CEO Michael Düwel and his team for their generosity.
The latest film from Marvel, from the art dept Assistant Art Director Julia Dehoff, Draftsperson Alexandra Toomey and work experience Ida Grunsodee.
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