What 5 skills are essential to your job?
Communication is key – the ability to convey ideas to everyone from director to construction manager is at the very heart of our job. I’m old school analogue so a pencil and the back of the call sheet are my default tools for sketching something out. Digital technology is amazing these days but you still have to have the ideas…
How did you get into the industry?
There was no other option… as a six year old watching Dr Who (Jon Pertwee was ‘my’ doctor!) I knew that even though it was scary, someone had a job that made the stuff on screen. And one day it would be my job. Coming from a small village in Hampshire and no connection to the film industry, the only route I could think of was through art college. A levels led to a Foundation year at Portsmouth College of Art and then a Fine Art degree in Exeter. I was never cut out as a fine artist and found myself helping out various small theatre companies in the area including Forkbeard Fantasy and Desperate Men. This gave me the opportunity to get involved with the team staging Vivian Stanshall’s comic opera ‘Stinkfoot’ aboard the Old Profanity Showboat in Bristol Harbour. In the summer holidays before my final year, I got a job as production runner on a feature film shooting in Devon – ‘A Summer Story’. This was an amazing experience and I learned so much about how a film is made from artists’ contracts to camera sheets to purchase orders… not to mention producing 200 call sheets every day! The production manager, Christabel Albery, must have been a bit impressed as she asked me to go on to their next feature, a Sherlock Holmes spoof with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley called ‘Without a Clue’. I packed my bags, waved farewell to Exeter and headed up to London. The following year was hard but rewarding, bits of filling in and helping out on productions including three weeks of night and process work on ‘Winds of War’ at Pinewood. Then I went back to theatre to take a show to the Edinburgh Festival – top fun! Back in London, a friend from film brought me on to the arts review show ’01 for London’ which was like being at a party for three months. During this time I had applied for and was accepted onto the JOBFIT scheme. I started in January 1989 and that gave me the opportunity to finally move across into the art department. Fortune put me with David McHenry on my very first placement and as well as teaching me all the fundamental art department skills became one of my best friends in the industry.
What relevant qualifications do you have?
Errr…. none! I left my degree course early so completing the JOBFIT training scheme is the closest I’ve got to a ‘qualification’! I actually think the mindset of a film person is already hard wired in and with opportunity and training people can enter the industry and work their way up through the grades.
What does a typical working day look like?
Really? A ‘typical’ day is not something I recognise!!!
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Teamwork is the best thing ever. When the Art Department is firing on all cylinders and we are delivering the magic then there is literally no better place to be. I love solving problems whether creative or logistical and seeing a plan realised is fantastic. The least enjoyable aspect is when you’ve put every ounce of effort into making the impossible happen and there’s no acknowledgement from a director or the production that the Art Department has worked its socks off to achieve what’s been asked for.
What has been the most challenging project of your career so far?
In 1995, I designed a soap opera for Kazakhstan TV which was quite demanding – reading scripts in Russian is a challenge in itself… However, my toughest project is probably ‘The Harry Hill Movie’. The script was typically crazy Harry Hill fare and very ambitious, unfortunately not reflected in the schedule and budget… but even though it was a painful process the final film is a triumph of Art Department creativity and I am quite proud of it.
What did you want to be growing up?
Making props for Dr Who.
What is your favourite film and why?
‘Cabaret’ – I love musicals, I love Isherwood’s Berlin books, European history is fascinating and Liza Minelli is the best!
If you could work with any Production Designer or Director, who would it be?
Terry Gilliam. My hero.
What is the most unusual location you have worked on?
Almaty, Kazakhstan. Spending 4 1/2 months making a soap opera in a former Soviet state only four years after independence was fantastic.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Appreciate the people in your life. One day you’ll wake up and they won’t be there anymore.
Who would you want to play you in a film of your life?
Someone with decent dress sense.