"Having your own voice is the important thing" with production & costume designer Fiona Crombie

Fiona Crombie, production designer and costume designer, known for Macbeth, Top of the Lake and Una talks to Mandy News about getting involved in the world of film, her process of working on 'The Favourite' and advice for upcoming production designers. 

12th March 2019
/ By James Collins

Fiona Crombie IMDB

How did you get involved in the world of film? 

I was raised in film, my father was a film director.  Even though I was warned off by my parents I wound up here.  I did the right thing and tried to be a lawyer but that only lasted around 2 years, then I went to be a theatre designer and after 10 years I transitioned into film.  

I always loved cinema and when I was growing up I was intimidated, I would be on my father’s set and there were a lot of people and lots of things to trip up over and I didn’t really want that then but after time I started working on commercials and short films and always with a really lovely community of friends.  I thought I had a good run in theatre and worked on amazing productions but I wanted to stretch myself a bit.  There is a real energy to filming, you have to be fluid and work on your feet and that was exciting to me.  It wasn’t straight forward though and people didn’t want to give me jobs for a long time.

How did you come to the decision to leave Australia? 

Coming to London to work on ‘Macbeth’ was a revelation. Making a film like that in Australia would be a really big challenge, there is an isolation there that means you don’t have access to warehouses of amazing furniture and dressing, I have never seen anything like it. They don’t exists back home.  I just realised how brilliantly resourced it is here.  Then I was offered a second film here and then while I was here I was getting offered really good work and so we made the decision to give it a go and I’m so in love with London.  I love living here.

How did you get involved with ‘The Favourite’?

Funnily enough I had an intro to Yorgos Lanthimos in 2012 on a little matchmaking exercise but there was no project, just a get to know you.  I love ‘Dogtooth’ and he has such a singular voice and perspective.  

It wasn’t until 2015 that we met for the film.  It was quite a long period before we turned over.  I didn’t get offered the production until 3 or 4 months later and then film got pushed for a year.  We recce’d a full years before we turned over. 

What was the process like working on the film?

It felt clear on an aesthetic level.  We landed early on the ideas of what we would highlight and change, so that felt quite straight forwards.  The tensions of time and money were always there as they are with all films so we had to be really clever and really wrestle with decisions as it wasn’t a big budget film.  I remember the hardest work on the film was mental, my best thinking happens when I’m driving so I was going backwards and forward visiting Sandy Powell’s and having these brainstorms on the journey of how to solve problems.  

Does your process change from project to project? 

I always have the same process now.  I start working with a visual researcher gathering thousands of images in a broad sweep.  Then I will refine it and start to pull out things that resonate for any reason.  We collate them and then they begin to merge, textures and shapes.  On top of that we are doing all the technical and historical research.  You make sure you are informed about those thing.  I love the learning elements of this job 

What are the biggest challenges you face?

We all get tired, it’s a notorious department for being there before everyone and then rolling on to the next thing and making sure we try to stay ahead of everyone.  The art department work incredibly hard and we all need a break so we can regroup. 

What advice do you have for up-and-coming Production Designers? 

Try to be the designer, don’t necessarily work your way up.  Having your own voice is the important thing.  What makes you the designer and the person to lead the department? Go out and do that on everything you work on from short films to commercials.

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