Jess Gonchor: 5 Movies That Shaped My Love of Production Design

Jess Gonchor: 5 Movies That Shaped My Love of Production Design


“To be honest, really no subject is off limits with me,” says the production designer Jess Gonchor. His last few projects have seen him designing films such as the Old West anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Greta Gerwig‘s adaptation of Little Women, and the horror sequel A Quiet Place Part II, all completely different from the last. “When I start looking at a possible project, I immediately look at what the story is about and decide whether it’s a story that I like or I identify with in some way. Maybe it’s a story I think needs to be told.”

“The other big component that is important to me in selecting a project is collaboration,” he explains. “You spend a lot of time together with the filmmaker and the team, and it is so vital to be comfortable with each other and in sync. I want to make sure that we are all drinking the same Kool-Aid to create something special.”

Gonchor’s most frequent collaborators are The Coen Brothers, with whom he has been working since 2007’s No Country for Old Men. He was Oscar nominated for Best Production Design for True Grit (2010) and Hail, Caesar! (2016), both shared with set decorator Nancy Haigh.

His latest project is White Noise, filmmaker Noah Baumbach‘s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel about a family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world. A darkly comedic period piece, the film allowed Gonchor to take a uniquely technicolor approach to the world.

“Using bold, saturated colors was definitely something I wanted to do, and it was a departure from what I have done in the past,” Gonchor reflects. “With the first film I designed, Capote, I stuck to a strict palette of about five colors… Two of which were black and white. In the years since, I have learned to trust my instincts on using color — or not — to tell the story.

“White Noise is a relatively dark story about a family consumed with the fear of death,” he continues. “Not only did I want to capture the vibrance of the 1980s, but I also wanted to juxtapose the bright reality they lived in, compared with the darkness of their obsessions. I wanted the color design to have a strong presence while counterbalancing the dark toned environments, making it a palatable package for the audience.”

Below, Gonchor shares with A.frame five films that have taught him the power of moviemaking and shaped his love of production design.



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