Motion Picture Production Designer, Brian Davie

Tell us your story. How you got to where you are?

I always had an artistic calling and was fortunate to be accepted into some excellent art schools. After graduation I kicked around between low-paying art jobs like hand-painting jewelry, coats of arms, or signs writing – sometimes getting a commission for some graphics work or a painting. Luckily the movie business started flourishing in Vancouver where I lived, and all the odd art jobs I’d been doing turned out to be invaluable training for an entry-level job in the art department.


What is a production designer?

A production designer is responsible for the visual look of the film. In it’s fullest definition, this extends to translating the script into visual metaphors, creating a palette, establishing architectural and period details, selecting locations, designing and decorating sets, coordinating the costume, make-up, and hair styles into a pictorial scheme, and collaborating with the director and director of photography to define how the film should be conceived and photographed.


What is your creative process? Inspiration?

My creative process always begins with the script. Like most people do when reading a book, I read the story and imagine the setting. I analyze in great detail what the setting should look like and how it would best support the story. The trick is to find the fine line wherein the production design best supports the story, without distancing from it.


Of all your projects, what has been your favorite and why?

I have fond memories of many projects for different reasons, but perhaps the most unique project I’ve worked on was Ridley Scott’s epic “1492: Conquest of Paradise”. It was relatively early in my career when I found myself working in Costa Rica with some of the finest film workers on earth. The film is a biopic about Christopher Columbus and participating in the research, building sets, which included pre-Columbian villages and the first Spanish settlement, then working on-set with the great Ridley Scott was a remarkable and very educational experience.


If you were not a production designer, what would you be?

I’ve been in the movie business for most of my adult life, so it’s difficult for me to imagine not being in the movie business. If I were to start over again, I might pursue a career in directing.


Give advice for those who would love to work with you or have a job like yours one day!

A great advantage that young people have today is information! When I started out, nobody owned a computer and just trying to find out how to get into the film business was next to impossible. Today a person can go to websites for film organizations such as I.A.T.S.E., which often spell out the entry-level requirements. Skills like computer drafting, graphics, and 3D modeling are highly sought after. Although I hire a lot of people, I rarely hire entry-level positions. Film production is like a giant pyramid system where each level hires the next. A director or producer hires me, then I hire department heads like the set decorator, props master, etcetera, and then they hire their assistants and so on.