How Production + Set Design Will Help You Develop Your Character

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Photo Source: Aidan Monaghan

“The Lost City of Z” production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos reveals how the set can strengthen an actor’s character development.

Production designers bring the story to life.
“The production designer is supposed to design the movie, to find the look, the color, the texture, and location of the movie; to choose where to shoot it, how to shoot it, either onstage or on location, and in which country. You’re the first one to be hired on a movie, and the one helping the production decide everything about its look.”

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He’s there to deepen character development.
“We ask actors, ‘What do you want more of? What do you think of this bedroom or this living room or this space?’ Most of the time, we are adding more detail because of the actor. If they want to add something very special like a book, some detail in front of the TV, it’s all to develop the dimension and the reality and the life of the character.”

A production’s design evolves.
“It’s very important for the actor to work with the production design team. I am open to communicating with actors, but if I don’t agree, I don’t agree…. Sometimes an actor is a work in progress and [is] guessing what would be good for their character. If I’m obliged to change something, I change it: the lamp, the carpet. It’s not painful for me, but for the director, [it can be] really painful because it’s his vision.”

The set is passed off to the director for production.
“Most of the time, you design, you build, and you deliver the set on the morning of the first day of shooting. After that, you spend maybe the first day on set and you help the director to understand the set, because you know exactly what its strengths are, what the weaknesses are, where to shoot, where’s the best wide shot. You are always helping the director find a space that fits with the story, that develops the story. You’re staying on set to help the director understand what you built, and after that, of course, it’s freestyle. They are making the movie and they are listening to you—or not!”

Production design is fast-paced architecture.
“I am an architect and I was working for a Japanese designer. Suddenly, architecture was too slow for me. Building two or three items every two years was too slow. Doing movies, I do hundreds of sets every year. It’s so cool. When I meet architects who are coming and showing me their portfolio, I push them to jump into production design because there are many ways to enjoy it and, now, there is more and more and more work everywhere. You have so much responsibility designing movies. It’s very exciting.”

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