American painter Edward Hopper once quoted “If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” He of course referred to the art of painting here but the same quote holds true for the design of a film also. The look and the feel of any film must be able to transport you into the world of characters of that particular script. Without using words or dialogues, the backdrop of the film must narrate its story in a convincing and evocative style. Whether it’s a real location or a splendid set creation, a great deal of effort and imagination goes into such kind of production design.

In this part of our educative series, we speak to the award-winning production designer Sumit Basu who has visualized and styled various Hindi films. He shares with us the important guidelines to become a great production designer in the industry:

Sumit-BasuAesthetic and visual sense: The first and the foremost thing should be the sense of art and architecture for which you don’t need any institutional training. It can be just an art appreciation but there should be some knowledge of the field. You must have a sense of designing and ability to visualize things. Through your columns, windows, props and color themes, you should be able to perform the storytelling function.

Knowledge of filmmaking & world cinema: Now, because it’s a film production design, you must understand the architecture according to a film. The process of making a real architecture is completely different from the way we replicate it in movies. So, you have to have an understanding of filmmaking for which you should go through the world cinema and watch different kind of movies. This is a part of your education and you must have a passion for it. Besides, these European & Czech movies are rich in aesthetics.

Observe and experience life: You must continuously assimilate knowledge from the everyday experiences. Reading books, meeting people, surfing Internet, watching movies- all these will help you comprehend the small nuances of life. Always keep your eyes wide open and observe things properly, especially when you are traveling. Your understanding about the middle class, rich people or any section of the society will take you closer to your characters, which in turn will enhance the designing of the film.

Understand and support the director’s vision: When you take on any project, you must get a narration from the director because that will give you a clear picture of his vision about the subject and its designing. Before starting the shoot, you need to make an understanding with the director and work out closely with the cinematographer too. As a production designer, you have to think ahead of your director and surprise him with something, which he himself didn’t know. Without disturbing the essence of the film, you are to support the director and accomplish his dream.

Look for references and paintings: Try to find out as much references for your film as you can. For instance, I always search for a painter who has already explored the relevant subject through his paintings. Like, for Dhoom 3, I followed Marc Chagall, the painter and Frank Llyod Wright, an American architect for designing the sets of the movie. Marc Chagall had many paintings on the subject of the circus and I easily got my color concepts from them. Previously, the cinematographers used to follow painters, but I think it’s a huge help for production designers too.

Make it look effortless: The audience should never notice or talk about the production design of a film. Hence, you have to go a subtle way without making it look like a big deal. For example, when somebody is singing, we should only realize how beautiful the song is. We shouldn’t think about the tabla player or the Sitarist and how well they are performing because it’s the overall production that matters and not just one element of it.

Recognize your true motive: Last but not the least, it is very important to fathom that why do you want to work in this industry. Whether it’s for the art, passion, money or name, you have to acknowledge it. Because when you recognize, what you actually want to do, you contribute to it and things become very easy. Everything works out automatically after that.