A production designer's life
With just a few weeks to go until the Media Production Show on 9 and 10 June, we wanted to get an insider’s view from an expert who will also be appearing at the event on a vital and varied role in film and TV, that of production designer.
Morgan Kennedy (pictured right) will be appearing at a seminar called The Production Designers on 10 June, the second day of the show which is being held at London’s Business Design Centre.
Kennedy has worked on a wide variety of projects including several ad campaigns; Channel 4’s Babylon; the big screen adaptation of The Sweeney and, most recently, Anthropoid, a period drama feature film starring Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy.
The role of production designer is crucial in film and TV, often coming on board a project ahead of many other HoDs to advise the director on his or her vision of the project as well as working on the schedule and budget.
The production designer will manage all visual aspects of the film or TV drama, and is a budget holder and decision-maker in making hires.
We asked Kennedy to give us an overview of some of the main aspects of the role, which gives a real flavour of the work – most of it positive.
Kennedy was clear that the most exciting part of his job is “starting with a blank page and creating a environment from scratch. It’s a major thrill to see a set that was once just a thumbnail sketch idea be built, dressed and lit and then have all these talented actors come and bring it to life.
“It’s pretty amazing to have a job where you get the opportunity to do that - I think I’m guilty of taking that for granted most of the time.”
Access and travel
For Kennedy, being granted access to locations which may otherwise be out of bounds is a huge plus. He says he loves “snooping around other people’s houses. I do find it fascinating going on a recce and being allowed access to places you’d never see otherwise.
“It’s also an amazing source of reference that’s very hard to find from books or on the net. I tend to photograph everything I see, however strange, as you never know when it might come in useful in the future.”
The designer cites the late dictator Ceausescu’s private villa in Romania – where Michael Jackson reportedly stayed while on tour - as a real highlight, describing it as “a weird insight into such a terrible person.”
Kennedy clearly thrives on working alongside some very strong creative talent and crew, about whom he says: “There’s a huge amount of very talented, enthusiastic, instinctive people in this industry and it’s a pleasure to spend time and energy collaborating with them.”
There are very few negatives about the job according to Kennedy, as he admitted the life of a production designer is pretty privileged. But when we pressed him he came up with the following (slightly) more negative parts of the job:
Never having enough hours in the day is a concern for Kennedy, who admits “an eight-day week would really help”.
Travel is described as “a double-edged sword. You get to travel the world in comfort and spend a short time in amazing locations meeting new people, but it does put pressure on relationships at home and can be a quite a selfish existence.”
This seems to be a universal bug bear for crew generally, as Kennedy sums up: “Phone, laptop, headphones, tablet, tape measure, sunglasses, wallet…. I’m in a constant state of having lost at least one or two of these things which can both frustrating and costly.
“My sincere wish is that someone in the near future will invent a device that will combine all of them into one.”
The Media Production Show has a wide range of seminars held over two days, with well-known names from across all fields appearing to discuss, debate and inform. The event is free to attend - click here to register.
Many thanks to Morgan Kennedy for his help in compiling this article.
Photos via EOne Entertainment and Channel 4.
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