Perspectives on Production Design from the Visual History Program Archives


January 3, 2023

The DGA’s Visual History Program is an endeavor designed to explore the art and craft of the Director and the Director’s team via peer-to-peer interviews with other Directors, Assistant Directors, Unit Production Managers, Associate Directors and Stage Managers.

Created in 2000 by the Special Projects Committee and consisting of more than 200 videotaped interviews, the Visual History Program serves as an invaluable teaching source for those curious about the craft, a preservation of the professional wisdom of DGA members, and a unique repository for Guild history. The interviews, which last between three and eight hours, emphasize reflective and collegial discussions about all aspects of the creative process in film, television and other media.

Visual History interviews are accessible to all Guild members as well as to the general public on the DGA website. The Visual History database is fully searchable by topic, and each interview is indexed, allowing for quick retrieval of segments pertaining to specific interests and topics, either within a particular interview or across the entire collection.

Featured here are a few excerpts dealing with Production Design.

Arthur Hiller on communicating with Production Designers:
“Once you get the concept that you’re looking for, you sit down with your Production Designer and go through what’s in your mind. When I work with my Production Designer, I will tell him what it is I’m looking for. They have their ideas and thoughts, and together we will talk away. But if I have specific ideas, I will sometimes floor plan, just roughly, not to say, ‘This is what you got to do,’ but to say, ‘This is what I need. I need a door here, or I need a corridor here, or I want to be able to look from the kitchen into the dining room. But I don’t want it open, I just, so can you build a wall, you know, with an opening.’”

Click here to see this full interview.


Mira Nair on adapting the production design of her feature, Kama Sutra:
“The Kama Sutra is much less a book of sexual positions, as it is a way to live life, which engages all senses. That is what it is to be kama sutric. Mark Friedberg, the Production Designer, and I decided I wanted to go to that first so, that way the film is very kama sutric. It has you enter this sensual universe. And we kept that extraordinary world of Earth, of natural things, with bursts of color. For me, a big joy of making cinema is because cinema encompasses every art form. So, from painting to color to costuming to music, it all is about creating a world that you are inviting the audience into. But a world, in this case, of the Kama Sutra, that has its own principles. So, we followed those principles.”

Click here to see this full interview.

Ernest Dickerson on developing production design on a television pilot:

Ernest-Dickerson“In episodic, you don’t have a chance to really work with Production Designers that much because it’s pretty much already figured out. But on pilots and on first shows, it can be a lot of fun because you get to decide what the look is. I love working with Designers and trying to come up with what the look of the show is. My life mantra is that creation is a patient search. You’re trying to find what it is that’s gonna really sing to you in terms of how the show is gonna work. And a lot of times if you have a good idea what you want the show to look like, you spend time with the Production Designer and get their imagination going. Then they can maybe take it to the next level.”

Click here to see this full interview.

Randa Haines on the production design of her feature, The Doctor:

Randa-Haines“I came up with a sort of visual image in my mind that he starts up in the realm of the gods at the top of the hospital in the shiny, beautifully lit penthouse of the hospital, and ultimately takes the elevator down, down, down, below ground to Hades where all the suffering people are. And he becomes one of those people and at the end, and he’s transformed by this experience. I had a brilliant production designer, Ken Adam — he did Dr. Strangelove — and we created this sense of this shiny, shiny world, which a lot of Cinematographers would have been frightened by because you could see the camera reflected in everything. To this day, I have doctors saying to me, ‘Where was that hospital? I want to work there.’ [LAUGHS] Of course we totally created it. But the sense of, from the realm of the gods down to the sort of darker, artificially lit, you know, basement of the soul where you have to really confront yourself and confront mortality.”

Click here to see this full interview.

Click here to view more excerpts and interviews in the Visual History Collection.