It seems like the perfect time to chat with Richard and discover some tricks of the trade as he is just about to celebrate his 30th year in the industry …
How did you train to become a Production Designer ?
I studied at Barking College of Technology as a 6th form student doing a Media Course in 84 / 85 – pretty progressive for the mid 80’s in East London. I did O’levels in film, television and theatre design. Then I got accepted onto a West Sussex College of Design course 85 / 86 doing a theatre design diploma, a 2 year course completed in 1. Then finally film school 86 / 88 in Newport South Wales, an HND course in film and tv practice.
It was my Drama Teacher at school who told my Father when I was maybe 14, that I should consider persuing a career backstage rather than trying to be an actor ( something I thought I wanted to do ) as I clearly loved the theatre and was ‘ good at art ’ but not ‘ good at acting ’ – the single best advice anyone ever gave me. I painted the boards rather than tread them.
Is there a process when you start work on a new project and how do you decide what the characters’ homes will be like inside ?
It all starts with a script. Reading it over and over, followed by a meeting or two with a writer / director. Then finding a location which will dictate a hell of a lot. I love the back story to a character. Why are they here ? What they do for a living etc. I think about colour themes, age of the charcter… where they shop, I love giving my characters collections of things… maybe a bit of me there ?
If building a set interior I try and go for sets with depth; sexy transitions from room to room, sets wide enough that you don’t need to move walls or furniture to shoot in. It’s a lot easier to make a room feel smaller on camera than make a room look bigger. Lighting is vital, windows are useful and building a room means you can make an alcove just the right size to fit a particular piece of furniture.
Where do you go to find inspiration ?
The art world more than anything I’d say – for a designer of spaces and interiors maybe more than the architecture world, which I guess you’d expect – installation artists like Esther Stocker I really love. The Comic Relief set of 2016 was inspired by her work … a collage piece by Sharon Elphick inspired the Comic Relief set of 2013.
I think a Google image search is a thing of beauty as it opens up so many possibilities that endless library searches may never find. Graphic art is a huge influence – record covers. I’ve spent a lot of money on records in the past based soley on the cover art. I’m a bit of a culture sponge, a hoarder and have the capacity to remember and reference things not really knowing how or why it’s there other than certain things just stick. Something as varied as the typography and layout of a Live Aid poster, the colour of Tom Hanks bed in the film Big or a Tom Ford suit worn by Colin Firth at the Oscars. I don’t know whether that’s a designer thing – or a thing that I just possess – but I’ve always been very visually aware and a bit of a visual magpie ( sorry that’s a very lazy way of putting it )
I’d love to know which colours you enjoy working with the most ?
I adore colour – certainly when designing the light entertainment shows I’ve done in the past ( Friday Night with Jonathan Ross – the BBC version , Your Face or Mine, Comic Relief – I’ve always gone for a set with colour – the truth is people in light entertainment particularly are quite scared of colour as there is no get out of jail card. If you have a green set, you’re stuck with a green set but if you paint the set grey and light it green, you can change it to any colour you want, which I think is a cop – out. In designing for scripted stuff I love using colour throughout – limited colour palletes, certain colours for certain characters etc.
If you watch season one and two of Sick Note ( Sky One Season 2 starts this week ) there is no yellow on the set apart from one character who wears it and has yellow props and a yellow car. It was a decision based purely on the fact that we thought it would make that character stand out – although she’s not a main character she acts as a linchpin to a lot of the story. I once did a kids show years ago which was like a Japanese Anime and the only colours I used on the set were the colours of the Tokyo Subway lines. Just because. I love the meaning of colours and the way they make you feel. I love playing with colour tones also.
How would you describe your own home style ?
Ecclectric ( is that even a word ?) – colourful and spacious.
I’ve got the ubiquitous Tolix Chairs and the G plan Sideboard but its mixed with a bit of 70’s, 30’s ,50’s stuff.. a sprinkling of kitsch thrown in. A solid Ikea Bookcase and Lack Bed have been with me forever to address the balance. I’ve an Eames Lounger and Sofa that was in a famous film ( I really can’t tell you which one, no really I can’t ) and there is fair amount of film posters going on and random signage from various travels or film shoots. Christ it sounds like a hipster wet dream. Car boot finds and skip grabbed pieces fill the gaps – a £12 1960’s coffee table sits happily on a moroccan rug.
I’ve avoided the trend for house plants as I know I’ll kill them but still have an empty Macrame basket hanging from my ceiling. I’ve got Airfix planes in my kitchen and a 1980’s ceramic Buddha in my hallway. But I love it. Of course it’s a little bit art directed.
There must be some pros and cons of working as freelance designer in television ?
I’ll start with the negatives.
Oh and you never know when the phone may ring, that can be both good and bad. I still havent got used to it either way.
The pros thankfully outweigh the cons. I’ve met a lot of truly wonderful people in my career so far. Film shoots on the whole are great environments to spend your day and although hard work, are also fun. A shoot allows you to work in amazing locations and world famous studios – my current project has me putting a set or two onto the stages at Pinewood Studios. I can’t tell you what a thrill that is to say, working at the BBC was also always a real thrill for me too.
Buyers, Set Decorators, Art Directors, Prop Makers, SFX Designers, Prop Masters, Standby Props and Production Designers are just as likely to be female as male – and equally paid too. Its based on ability and nothing more.
Is there a particular project over the last 30 years that stands out the most as your favourite ? Why ?
That’s like trying to choose a favourite child !
I’m incredibly proud of the 5 comic reliefs and 4 Sport Reliefs I’ve designed for the BBC. I’m part of that wonderful tv family and the history of that show. Always honoured to be asked. It’s where I’ve got to flex my showbiz muscles and every once in a while it’s a good thing to brush off the glitter and mirrored floors.
The 11 O’Clock Show put me on the map as a Production Designer and was the point I stopped being an Art Director so I’ll always have a soft spot for that show. The Inbetweeners for seeing how a show nobody had heard of suddenly become a show that everyone knew – and it’s always a nice revelation to tell younger members of a crew that I worked on it. Their eyes generally light up.
I’m fortunate to still enjoy the job as much as I do.
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask you about your huge vinyl collection. Where do you like to go record hunting and who are you loving listening to at the moment ?
I’ve been buying records almost as long as I can remember. Whats the Abba line ? ” Mamma said I was a dancer before I could walk, she said I began to sing long before I could talk ” well that’s me I think, I’m basically Agneta from abba.
Could you offer some advice to anyone wanting to get in to your industry ?
No matter what anyone tells you getting a foot in the door is all about timing. Yes you can study at some amazing courses – particular shout out to Lucy who runs the BA Hons in theatre at Wimbledon and David who runs the tv production course at the National Film School but those courses not so much arm you with the tools but put you in the right place to be noticed. Talent sometimes doesn’t come into it.
The film school put me in the position to visit the costume store but the rest was just good timing and luck.
What are your upcoming projects for the rest of 2018 ?
The shortest answer I’m going to give.
I try and make the theatre design degree show every year and also the film school degree show, I jokingly tell people I’m only there to steal ideas but I love talking to design students, you know when you’ve met a really good one.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about behind the scenes on TV sets ? Do stop by and leave me a comment if you’d like to. Always love to hear from you.